Couples don't get married hoping for a life-long power struggle. The problem typically arrives unnoticed as baggage from previous relationships.
The husband had a domineering mother or a former wife who walked all over him. He's determined never to let another woman “do that again.”
The wife had a father who treated women like servants, or an emotionally or physically abusive former spouse. She's equally determined never to be run by another man.
Every request by their spouse becomes a demand to be challenged and every suggestion is seen as an insult to be rejected.
Healthy marriages are defined by teamwork and mutual respect and support. Power-driven marriages are defined by who's “right,” who has the most “say” or who “wins.”
You probably have a power-driven marriage, if either of you begins thinking:
*“I can't admit I was wrong; it would make me look small/stupid/incompetent/unworthy.”
*“If I admit I'm wrong, my spouse wins and I lose.”
*“I earn the money; I'm the one who decides how to spend it.”
*“Can't you ever do anything right?” or “You criticize everything I do.”
*“I do all the important work around here!”
*“We always do it your way? When's it my turn?”
Ironically, the more power you insist on taking, the less you'll get out of the relationship.
“Trying to control your mate — actions, thoughts, feelings — will always boomerang eventually and will have a harmful effect on your relationship,” expert Nancy Wasson explains. Worse yet, when you stifle the individuality of your spouse, “you run the risk of smothering and stifling the very things that you value most — your spouse and your marriage.”
“Control issues contribute to increasing the anger, resentment and bitterness in the relationship," Wasson says. "This is the natural spin-off of feeling disrespected or controlled by someone else.” True intimacy becomes impossible.
Counselor Robert Caldwell warns: “Power is the booby prize for failure of respect, care, et al.” You're afraid that you can't get your spouse to love or respect you, but at least you can exercise power over them. So you become obsessed with winning instead of loving.
If you're constantly competing with your spouse or trying to control them, Caldwell asks, “what are you feeling inferior about” that you always insist on going for the “win?” The more you feel it necessary to control your spouse, the more likely “your love and positive connection are out of kilter, and you have surrendered to a power trip disguised as a marriage.”
The only way to get your marriage back in balance, Caldwell notes, is a willingness “to invest in the delicate and vulnerable reinvention of a balanced and reciprocal marriage.” It's a matter of caring without insisting on a payback; being able to actually listen to your spouse without interruption; and putting value in your spouse's perspective and feelings. When you do all this, you're not making yourself smaller, you're making yourself, your spouse and your marriage bigger and stronger.
Love is built on mutual respect, giving and caring. The ultimate value of marriage is having someone who loves you for who you are, not someone you can dominate. If you're in a power-driven marriage, take the steps to turn it into one defined by love so you can both be winners.
©2014, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan's website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.