“I promise to be faithful to you in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, all the days of my life.

“I, for one, love you… as my wife and give myself to you, and promise to be faithful to you in sickness and in health, for as long as I live.

Those are the promises we hear over and over again when couples have the illusion of living together happily and peacefully after marriage. But… what happens when conflicts start? Is the fairy tale over?

Conflicts in the couple

Conflicts in couples respond to multiple factors. Today I would like to share one of the reasons why couples start to have conflicts and it is imperceptible in the eyes of newlyweds, to the point that they start to get tangled up until they generate the effect of a snowball.

At first, for the same effect of falling in love, couples often put aside their needs, interests and personal preferences, to be at the service of the loved one. But once a certain stability or security is obtained from the love of the other, the person returns to focus on his or her own well-being, once again taking up his or her life thinking about his or her interests, tastes, preferences, without having to suppress his or her opinions or decisions or accessing situations that are unpleasant to him or her. In other words, can be shown as he is, without worrying whether he will be accepted or rejected , because there is a commitment that makes him feel that “the other person must adjust” to his world.

At this point a form of power struggle begins to be generated . This is a usual phenomenon in couples that did not acquire the necessary emotional tools during their courtship to solve the daily problems of living together.

What is power struggle?

The struggle for power is defined as the confluence of internal forces where self-centeredness and the intrinsic need for self-affirmation prevail in each of the partners .

When this condition occurs in a couple, initially they may not recognize that each other is fighting for power. Therefore, they often point out or blame each other for the problems that occur.

Typical phrases in couples: “She’s always the one who does…, she doesn’t understand, she doesn’t listen to me…, she wants what she says to be done and that’s it”. “He doesn’t understand me, he just wants me to do what he says, I don’t have to let him, he doesn’t command me.”

Becoming aware

There are also cases in which the members of the couple have recognized that they reproduce this dynamic of relationships but do not know how to get out of it. Examples of these situations in consultation are the following comments: “I tell her, but she doesn’t listen to me, she takes a while to tell someone else the same thing, she just rejects those ideas because they come from me”. Or: “She has to do exactly the opposite of what I ask her to do”.

At this point, the couples do not realize it, but have started a war in which the goal is to show who has the power . They stop serving each other to use the relationship. In other words, the relationship “must be” rewarding for me or meet my expectations and it completely forgets that it involves two.

Now, the most important question with which to start analysis in therapy is this: why do you fight for power? Also: what are you feeling or what have you stopped feeling for you to consider that you should have the power? Or: at what point did you miss the promise “I give myself to you, to take care of you, to respect you every day of my life? However, digging into these questions to find an honest answer is not easy.

The symptoms of power struggle

Let’s look at typical cases heard in therapy where a power struggle has been generated.

  • Always be right : clinging to your point of view, losing the ability to listen to and understand the other.
  • Seek your own interests : focus on your needs and interests without caring about the other person’s. In this way, the other person should take care of his own well-being.
  • Being perfect or perfect : maintaining arguments in which as a person you never make mistakes, you only have qualities and the other person is the only one responsible for the problems in the relationship. It is very easy to find the defects of the partner, but it becomes a very difficult task for him/her to find, accept and above all to modify his/her own defects.
  • Idealization of the perfect couple : There are people who focus their efforts on having a perfect relationship, without problems, crises or discrepancies. Therefore, they need to feel that they are in control in the relationship to avoid disagreements; preventing the other person from feeling like a symmetrical part of the relationship.

Why does the power struggle occur?

In all cases, the main reason for the above symptoms is the same: the feeling of inferiority.

When people feel undervalued, excluded, minimized or unable to satisfy their partner, they channel their frustration, helplessness, anger and sadness through a compensatory feeling: superiority . That is, people find in “the power” the security they have lost in themselves. Unfortunately, they make the other person responsible for their discomfort, that is, instead of resolving their lack of worth, they place the cause of their ills on their partner: “if only he would listen to me once…”, patients often say. But they lose sight of the fact that it takes two to generate this power struggle.

One person alone cannot start the “battles” that sometimes come to the practice. Both are trying to defend their territory, both feel they are failing the other, both have lost a lot of things

Resolving the situation

Stopping fighting for power in a relationship is no easy task. Many times professional help is required, because the problem is mixed with the lack of affection in each of the protagonists and the failures in communication. However, when couples gradually realize the deterioration they are suffering because of this attitude, they take on challenges that allow them to relate with more security and this in turn generates more tranquility and openness.

Below, I propose some exercises you can do while the professional help arrives l:

1. Courtesy

Let’s imagine for a moment that our partner, is not our partner, is a very good colleague, who in difficult times is there for us. Now, let’s have a conversation, whatever it is. We will easily notice that he is usually more polite, subtle, kind . We will take care of our gestures, tone and words so as not to offend or hurt their feelings.

2. Finding the point

Let’s forget for a moment our desire to win the fight, and focus on listening to the other person. Let’s find a point where we can prove him right.

3. Taking care of each other

It is more than clear that there are many resentments as a result of the fights, which should be addressed with the professional, but at this time when we express our desire to fight for the relationship, it is worthwhile to have as an objective to take care of the other person . To do so, we can do the following: let’s ask the other person, before going to bed: “what do you want me to help you with tomorrow? And let’s try to fulfill that task as if it were a sacred request.

4. Physical contact

It has been shown that couples who lose physical contact have a greater propensity to think for themselves without communicating effectively, and thus open up space to start fighting for their own interests. That is why, although at the beginning it is not natural or comfortable, before starting the day you can hug the other person strongly, hug each other strongly, without expecting anything more than to enjoy the hug .

5. Surprise

Let’s try to surprise the other person according to what they like or are interested in . Let’s concentrate on breaking the fear of rejection or looking bad.

6. Asking for opinions

Each case is unique, and the best way to know if you are doing the right thing is to contrast your opinion with that of other people . Sometimes professional help is undisputed, but in some cases we may not need this help.

7. Making us happy

Let’s not put our happiness on the other person. Let’s look for activities that we enjoy and make us feel good. Let’s treat each other with love and value each other as people . Once we feel capable and secure in the relationship, without realizing it, we won’t need to fight for power… for we will be happy with the gains of a stable and equal relationship.