As water is to fish, power is to people. It is the medium we swim in and paradoxically it is what we're most unaware of.
Our new definition of ‘power’ is not an act of domination but more importantly how we relate to each other...it expresses itself in how we get listened to and how we get any attention at all.
Most times our usual understanding of power in romantic relationships tends to have negative connotations. We may feel that power is a barrier to intimacy, or that it blunts sensitivity and hampers connection. Yet this connection is what we all crave and need....it satisfies deeply.
Here, what I want to emphasise is that shared power in relationships is the ideal and most desirable too. It gives us our well-being and determines whether we have satisfactory relationships or live our lives in resentment and depression.
Psychologists say that having a relatively equal power balance is the one single factor which enhances health in any relationship.
Intimacy is the other glue which is responsible for durability and well-being in relating. It helps us withstand stress and cope with change. This isn't a new idea that seeking support, feeling close, forming close emotional bonds and expressing feelings is essential to the human experience. But how we view intimacy is certainly new.
Up until now, we defined intimacy as the sharing of feelings and insecurities. Necessary as it is, it is no longer sufficient....confiding can be confining too! It doesn't help us grow as individuals necessarily. As Harriet Lerner says," Intimacy rests on two people who have a capacity to both listen and speak up, who have the courage to bring more of themselves into their relationship. Both need equal power in defining what they want and what they really think and believe. And you have to know that you can leave a relationship too. If you believe you cannot survive without a relationship, you have no power to be yourself in it."
Because intimacy is more important than ever, relationship equality is more necessary than ever!
Let's consider how relationships get imbalanced?
Too often one partner gives up too much self, one person does more than their fair share and relationship pressures compromise priorities. Historically speaking it has mostly been the woman who does that....she accommodates and accommodates and grows to resent it. No surprise! And she may even end the relationship when all she needs to is to reclaim her power earlier than she did. She needs to say, “I don't want you to treat me this way and I will not be in this conversation when you talk to me like this."
Real power does not have to involve coercion or force. It's the balance of power that is crucial! A relationship has to feel fair, and that requires flexibility and responsiveness to emotions.
The critical element here is RESPECT. What most characterises good friendships is equal dignity....which is respect. Respect means that someone takes my humanity into consideration and sees me as worthy. We can all accept unequal division of responsibility too, as long as we are appreciated and not demeaned.
By being aware and interested in the relationship we allow the other to not only feel important but supported as well. When our worth is affirmed we can share and allow our innermost thoughts, admit weaknesses and express true concerns....in other words we can have the courage to be vulnerable. This is how we can be straightforward and communicate directly.
Traditionally women have used power to manipulate, which is indirect power, and that makes things ugly. Conversely, men say they want the relationship to work but they haven't internalised the idea that part of their job is to figure out how to preserve it.
When women can say directly, "that this is what I'd like to do", she does not need to force intimacy and more importantly, she will also learn that 'intimacy' is also unspoken and is shown in practical acts....which is the male approach to love.
We need to understand that when one partner wins and the other loses, they both lose. They both lose because the loser will usually make the other pay!
So what are the elements of equality?
To me these five strengths are important to realise...
ATTENTION - Both partners are attuned and supportive of each other. They feel invested in the relationship and hence they listen. They recognise the others need for connection, attention and conversation.
RESPECT - Each partner sees the other as admirable and realises the worth of kindness and consideration.
SELFHOOD - Each retains a viable self, capable of functioning without the other if necessary. Each feels the freedom to express their individual needs and goals.
REPAIR - being conscious of differences of opinion and function, yet focused on making efforts to de-escalate and apologise for harshness. Replacing defensiveness with active listening.
WELLBEING - both foster wellbeing of the other, physically and emotionally.
Sometimes this can sound like cliches, yet I do believe, that if we can start with a tiny step and then another.... We can do it!
Until next time.....