All of us seem to have a craving for power. We are all driven to get control over the situations we find ourselves in, and mostly, over our partners.
We think to ourselves – “If she would only do what we want her to do,” or “If he would only do what I need him to do,” then life would be better. In some ways, these things might be true.
How we go about getting what we want often turns into attempts to get power and control over our partners. This, of course, happens when we ourselves feel powerless.
When we feel powerless we feel overwhelmed, out of control and helpless. It’s unbearable. So, we try desperately to regain a sense of control.
Common Ways of Gaining Power Over Our Partners
Some of us do it by puffing ourselves up as big as possible, yelling, screaming, intimidating with our full force. (If we are physically large it’s easier to pull this one off).
We can do it by throwing out intimidating words if we are smart or college educated (women have an advantage here, having more command, generally speaking, over language than men).
If we are charming we can do it with our manipulative pleasing behaviors, charming our partner into doing what we want them to do.
Oh, another great one is to threaten to abandon our partner. If our partner is really attached to us, this can be very effective.
My personal favorite is to withhold information. Yes, this is a power play. I know it doesn’t seem like it on the surface, but it is a very controlling behavior.
What we are doing when we withhold information is that we are controlling our partners’ reactions to what we are doing by not telling them. If they don’t know about it, they can’t get mad at us.
All of these are very effective if what you want is a partner who is controlled by you, intimidated by you, and kept at a distance.
But, if what you want is an intimate connection where you and your partner are truly partners, you have to find a different way to not feel powerless, helpless and despairing.
Focus on Gaining Control of Yourself Instead
Most of the time when clients come into my office they are both trying to get control of their partner. It’s the only way they know how to get their needs met. The good news is that there is a better way.
When we stop the controlling behaviors it can feel scary, because it feels like our only other option is to stay in the out-of-control state. Fortunately, it’s not the only option.
Learning the skills of navigating an interpersonal relationship that is deeper than one based on power and control is an ongoing effort. We have to learn how to stay in the fear. We have to learn that feeling out of control is not going to kill us or make us crazy.
To simplify the process for you I am going to give you the following steps as a starting point:
5 Easy Steps to Help You Cope with Your Fears
Step 1: When you feel out of control and powerless, stop and breathe before you react.
Step 2: Look at your partner and remember that you love them and wouldn’t want them to feel trapped and controlled.
Step 3: If there is something that they said or did that triggered an emotion on your part, reflect back to them what you heard them telling you through their words or behavior.
Ask if you got that right. Then let them know that what they are saying makes sense (coming from their perspective…not that they are “right”).
Step 4: Find something in what they said that you can relate to (Have you ever felt that way?)
Step 5: Let your partner know what you are feeling, don’t try to “save face.” If you feel ashamed, fearful, angry, hurt…whatever it is, tell them! You may think they should know, but trust me; they can’t read your mind. Don’t be afraid to let your partner see you cry (this goes for you guys, too).
If either one of you gets triggered into controlling behaviors, ask for a time out. Come back to the topic later when you are not so upset.
Love is not simply a feeling. It’s an action. Taking the time to connect in this way will give your relationship life. It may mean more intense interactions, but at least it’s not dead.
One sweet, intelligent couple I worked with has been together for 20 years. They have spent most of that 20 years controlling each other’s reactions by not telling each other what they really think, what they really do, and how they really feel.
They came into therapy because their relationship had lost its luster. They had become so distant and lifeless that they had not had sexual intercourse in a year!
Connecting through sharing of real feelings allows for the spark to be reignited between you.