A power struggle is, just as it says, a struggle for power or control. In most marriages a power struggle begins after the honeymoon phase, as the differences between partners become more evident. Partners then attempt to influence each other and gain control. Often the subject you argue about doesn’t matter. It takes two to maintain a power struggle and this interaction becomes extreme when two very competitive people are married to each other.
If the primary goal of both partners is to win the argument then the battle may escalate to name calling, increased anger and even violence. Certainly, in the heat of competition, respect for each other lessens or vanishes. What occurs is a see-saw back and forth of attack and counter attack. “You did such and such….” “I did that because you did....” Neither partner hears the other as they continue to argue — “I’m right.” “No, I’m right.”
No one wins a power struggle. In fact, in a marriage, either both partners win or both lose. You are on the same side; you are teammates in the battle of life. The outcome of conflicts affects you both. If you win a battle with your partner what have you actually won? If he or she feels defeated, put down or controlled, where is your victory?
Couples in a power struggle have never learned how to negotiate differences or how to compromise. Compromise does not mean giving in. The literal meaning of the word compromise is “to promise together.” To change your marriage you must first listen carefully to your partner. One listening technique that will improve communication is the use of mirroring. This is simply, mirroring back what you hear your husband or wife say. Give your partner a brief summary of his or her position.
For example, if your partner says, “The sky is green,” you would mirror back, “You’re saying the sky is green.” Mirroring this back to your partner does not mean you agree with it. But it shows your partner that you have heard and it will encourage your partner to tell you more about his or her thoughts.
Use this kind of response especially when your partner’s words feel like an attack on you. This will be hard to do as it involves letting go of the initial defensive response you feel and using your reason to find out more about what the other person means.
There is much to learn in order to stop power struggles. You both need to learn to respect and understand your differences. You both need to learn to listen to the feelings behind the words said and respond to these with caring. You both need to learn to say you’re sorry and to not see this as giving in. You both need to learn not to fight over minor issues and you both need to learn that most issues are minor.
“It is better to be patient than powerful; it is better to have self-control than to conquer a city.” Proverbs NLT