What is the Biggest Obstacle to Relationship Success?

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Power is the Biggest Obstacle in Relationships ?? Episode #25

Sharing Power is the biggest problem that prevents relationship survival. It is not easy for anybody to do. Everyone comes to therapy talking about COMMUNICATION problems because it sounds more bearable & ordinary. Underneath communication problems are power struggles.

Power struggles are everywhere; at work, at home with family & in friendships. Three year olds are magnificent at grabbing for power at every opportunity. Adults fight & snipe for power in all kinds of ways. Keeping secrets is another grab for power. There are so many ways to WIN both big & small: whether it’s the shopping bags that you sneak into the house, not responding to texts or calls, the financial picture that goes unshared, the undermining of one parents authority with the kids or avoiding the topic of why there is not any active sex life.

We can be loud & noisey or sly & silent about it. We can be honest & direct or manipulative. We can be selfish or too focused on catering to others.

The movie with the ugliest power struggles in a marriage is Blue Valentine. It’s painful because it’s so raw as we witness the deterioration of a marriage. He does the ugly “male male” energy, very loud & ugly while she gets caught in maintaining the victim role. Both of them contribute to their problems.

When a relationship is developing over time there can be a lot of power struggles. There are so many issues & decisions to make that it can be hard to sort out who has the best idea. While two heads are better than one, it’s also a lot more struggle.

So many relationships solve power struggles with one partner taking the lead. It’s certainly a lot easier that way. Most couples don’t really want to do the hard work of figuring out how to share power. While Feminism interrupted the habit of that solution, it absolutely did not disappear.

The problem with one person being mostly in charge is that the partner who is silent is often resentful. Unspoken resentments pile up and create terrible cracks in the foundation of relationships. Resentments are lethal to relationships & they are impossible to avoid if one partner is catered to.

Sharing power requires every couple to stop & consider how to utilize the strengths of each partner. Can you both honestly evaluate your own & each other’s strengths & weaknesses? Consider how the US, the two of you as a couple would benefit the most…..this is complicated & requires experimenting until you get it right.

The most important ingredient for a couple to share power well would be to have discussions based in a foundation of respect. Respect means you don’t have to like or be enthusiastic about the differences you have with the other person.

The second most important ingredient would be to have 25 to 75 conversations about especially difficult issues. Why? Because many, many conversations are the ONLY way to soften the differences.

The third ingredient: negotiate in the precious middle ground: the in between the two of you. This is really hard & many people have a tough time with this because it’s impossible if you just want your way. So to negotiate well you have to give up control & having what you want on your terms.

Both of you have to change your definition of winning. Winning has to be reframed as getting some of what you want & not all of it. Winning would mean you take pleasure in both your needs being met. This would be a change of perspective that is unappetizing to some.

What makes negotiation so difficult? Values collisions. Whether it is countries negotiating or people everybody believes their values are more important & whats right. This is a very closed off frame of reference. Negotiation requires being open to the other person’s values as also being important.

Values collisions are all about self righteousness & certainty. True negotiation requires uncertainty, neither of us knows where this is going to end up.

Real negotiation requires imagination about how can we meet each other in the middle.
There are so many values to negotiate. We are all brought up differently & some values we may not even be aware of until we collide.

Real negotiation requires imagination about what could be good about the other side. This is not role modeled in society or the culture at large. We are so polarized about so many issues when there is usually merit to both points of view. One of the things I really enjoy after all these years of working with couples is how easy it is to share with them the value of the in between & how they both make sense.

Both individuals have to recognize the primary importance of that third entity “THE US”. It’s not just me, I got to win it’s the US that needs to win so how can we agree that’s what matters most??? So address when one partner has a habit of catering too much & they need to ask for what they want. Address when the other person has been the one to win most often and needs to see the lopsidedness is unfair.

Negotiation is about dealing with complicatedness. It’s complicated because you must think about 2 people at the same time, not just yourself. Winning is attractive because it’s simple & more fun. Growing up is facing painful situations is one of my mantras & while it is far more difficult to consider & think about negotiation & middle ground it is also very much worth it over the long haul. If you want relationship longevity you have to be interested in learning fairness & how to negotiate in the middle ground.

Change is hard, growing up is hard, negotiation is a hard skill to learn. It is sooo much easier to just take the easy way out & win however you may go about it.

My Challenge for you today is #1. Ask yourself is there anything that interferes with your ability to respect the other person? #2. Pick a difficult issue & be committed to more than 10 conversations #3. Find the middle ground in between the 2 of you in your imagination about a sticky issue and #4. Determine the values that are colliding

I’ve spent a lot of time considering a tag line for my podcast & I’ve finally decided on “Keeping it Real with Rhoda”. So my next episode will have that title & I will talk about some basic principles of healthy relationships, ways of thinking about them with greater authenticity. I hope you’ll join me in October.

Thanks for listening, you’re keeping it real with Rhoda. Please subscribe & leave a review on iTunes, I’d love it.

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About the Rhoda Mills Sommer

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