In successful relationships, partners take the basics seriously, and handle the yearnings of each to feel heard and understood as unique beings as really, really important; in short, they treat one another with dignity, recognizing their own and one another’s personal power.
As top trial lawyer Gerry Spence notes, what we face when we interact with one another, is what we most fear in our relationships, and that is: the power of the other as an agent of their choices.
The other has the power, for example, to choose to say no, to deny some need, want or yearning, and so on, and because this directly challenges our own sense of personal power (to realize dreams, wants and needs), it touches our deepest intimacy fears, such as fear of inadequacy, rejection, abandonment.
Not surprisingly, this dynamic is particularly intense in couple relationships.
Each partner seemingly holds the power to grant or deny what the other most needs to matter, to feel loved and valued by the other, perhaps to heal, and so on. And because of this power dynamic, sooner or later, partners find themselves feeling less and less like kindred spirits (romance stage), and more and more as threats, indeed “enemies” (power struggle stage).
What stage of love is your relationship in? Too often, in attempt to get back the love they felt they once had, partners activate their defenses and other desperate actions. To the extent they allow fear to drive their actions, however, they give their power away.
As best selling auther and lawyer Gerry Spence states in a book (misleadingly) titled, How to Argue and Win Every Time, you have the ability to own the power you need to “win” every conversation or disagreement with another. However, it may not be what you think! For a partner to “win” in a relationship, they must necessarily support the other to also “win.”
What is personal power?
To start, you and your partner need an essential understanding of where personal power resides and what personal power truly is, so that you are no longer fooled, swept away by, or tempted to go after illusions of power.
In its purest sense, your own personal power always resides inside each of you, as an action-agent or choice at any given moment of how you respond … and it is not something anyone can really take away. It is a form of energy that you choose to move or get moved by automatically, as a human being, to feel, think, say and do certain things.
The energy you activate when your brain and body are in growth and learning mode (parasympathetic nervous system) is 180 degrees different from what you activate when in protective or survival mode (sympathetic nervous system).
The former consists of love-based emotions, and the latter fear-based.
In relationships, the choice is between a win-win for both — or bothlose. In other words, for the relationship to grow and strengthen, partners must “learn” to treat one another as they would if they were a doubles team in tennis — rather than individual competitors who, in order to win the prize, must necessarily make the other lose.
And treating one another as partners is key in challenging moments.
It’s tricky, no easy matter, and it’s notfor the weak; it’s rather for those who love challenges, learning, growing, getting stronger and better, and the like.
What gives power away
There’s so much confusion on what personal power is, thanks to myths (illusions) passed down from generation to generation, and exacerbated by media and entertainment, and other sources. Most couples bring their own combination of limiting beliefs, tactics and strategies to their couple relationship.
The following are the most common illusions or ways in which partners, wittingly or unwittingly, relinquish or give away their power:
- Pummeling their partner into silence with the logic of words.
- Seeking to silence any painful communication with various nonverbal tactics.
- Preaching, lecturing, haranguing just to get pseudo quick-fix feelings of being heard.
- Demanding, complaining/venting, mumbling under their breath to get pseudo quick-fix sense of taking action.
- Withdrawing, avoiding conflict, appeasing, pretending their feelings do not matter.
The above are illusions of power at best. Though common practices, they merely waste and scatter each partner’s power, and leave them feeling drained, ineffective, depleted, even worse, unloved or unappreciated.
So why do partners so often use them?
In part, it has to do with beliefs about what “power” is and how to use power to matter in relation to the other. Thanks to a widely array of punitive tactics learned in childhood experiences, among other influences, many of our beliefs are limiting. They scare us into unnecessarily getting defensive because they persuade that, somehow, punitive tactics (i.e., using words or actions that hurt, attack or withdraw love) are what will get back the love and security we seek.
And thus, instead of doing what makes a partner feel loved (as they did when they first met), these illusions get us to scare them into loving us instead. So we:
- Think of ways to dismiss, disregard or demean the other (either in our heads or verbally, or both)
- Plan what words to say to tear down the other’s sense of value and worth, uniqueness and personhood.
- Obsess on what to do to avoid conflict to make sure no one gets angry or upset.
To support our actions, these limiting beliefs also get us to pretend that what we’re doing works. So we pretend for example that:
- The only chance of being heard or getting what you want is to yell louder and louder, make demeaning or sarcastic statements, or get more and more “logical,” and so on.
- The only way to avoid losing the other’s love is to avoid anger, upsets and conflict at all cost by saying away from risky discussions, withdrawing emotionally, keeping your distance, using tactics to appease or silence the other.
In reality, the real problem lies in the approach and action of each partner (and the limiting belief that activates the behavior).
Partners who attempt to resolve issues using these approaches relinquish any possibility of creating happiness in their relationship. These approaches should come with a warning label as follows:
Warning: Use these methods only if you want to guarantee to create distance between you, increasingly feel lonely and start treating one another more and more like strangers.
Regardless how solid the”case” of one partner “against” the other, logic that proves one right and the other wrong never works. It makes one partner a winner, and the other a loser. This works in contests, debates, or athletic competitions, however, the effects are disastrous on relationships in general.
For authentic communication to take place, each person much feel free to speak their truth in an argument, each must retain their own sense of personal power. While this balancing act of sorts is not easy, it is essential.
There are no “ifs, ands or buts” about the fact that: Words are powerful. They have power to build or destroy our most cherished relationships.
Our greatest fears are intimacy fears, and it’s always about the exercise of power, and whether we will primarily rely on emotions of love or emotions of fear to “move” the direction of our couple relationship.
Wittingly or unwittingly, when partners fail to own their power (to make optimal choices), their actions (also choices) often make matters worse. Partners must let go of their reliance on tactics that scare the other into doing what we need to feel loved and secure. Certain illusions are blocking from seeing that the real problem is tactics of fear.
And, when you think about it, trying to scare your partner into giving you the love you aspire doesn’t make sense at all.
In Part 2, what actions to take to own and stop giving your power away.
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