Aspects of Healthy, Generative Relationships

Equalization of Power is a basic concern in relationships. Often when power is unequal, one partner will end up subordinate to the other often causing anger, fear, and resentment. Unaddressed it becomes one of the bigger factors related to divorce, not power itself, but the conflict and resentment it causes between partners.

#11 Control/Power

“Unacknowledged power festers and destroys relationships.” Dr. Michael Aaron

“Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.”Mae West

In relationships, power is most often domain specific. One partner knows more, cares more, or exerts more influence about certain things in a relationship than the other. This is not necessarily a problem in itself. Unexamined, this can create problems and dysfunction.

How are you in your primary relationship related to power/control? You can think this through, feel into the question and see a certain set of examples. Do you feel equal overall? Do you feel your opinions matter? Do you feel you partner dignifies you? Do you feel resentment? Our feeling self, which includes moods, emotions, and our felt sense of things, is our ground for knowing ourselves. In language we can rationalize, fool ourselves, and even lie to ourselves. Our felt sense of ourselves can’t do that. What we feel in the moment is who we are, our truth in the moment. Learning to listen to this aspect of ourselves is a skill, and using this as a feedback loop of verifying our feelings related to how things play out in our life offers a glimpse into internal alignment.

The key to success related to power/control in a relationship is communication and respect. Take nothing for granted. Talk about it. The power conversation is optimally important in the beginning of relationships and useful anytime. Did things start off well and get weird? Bring it up, talk about it. One of the difficulties for conversations related to power is when the behaviors and structures are in place where one partner is exerting control over the other partner. The “controlled” can often feel powerless to speak up. Fearing the loss of the relationship, attack, projected anger, or any kind of real or imagined consequence can influence or halt the bringing up of the issue. This has the possibility of being shifted by using the communication suggestions in the section above. If communication around this issue breaks down and becomes impossible to resolve, there is nowhere to go and the relationship will most likely be in peril. As with many of the other issues related to relationships, one’s own personal work becomes one of the keys to resolution.

One of the keys to the power/control dilemma is respect. If there is a practice of respect within a relationship, power over other is only an issue as a mistake, not as a pattern.  So what does it mean to treat your partner with respect? Well, you could go with the “9 Valuable Principles,” or learn “How to Treat Others Fairly,” or learn “How to Treat People with Respect,” or learn “How to Demonstrate Respect in the Workplace.” All good tips! Most of us really already know what to do. Treat other like you want to be treated. It’s not about what you know, it is about what you do or don’t do. If there is an positive practice of resect in a relationship, most likely power and control will become secondary issues.


Have each partner look at their own issues related to control. What is easy and what is hard related to facing the issue. How are you contributing to imbalance? Even if there doesn’t seem to be an imbalance, this practice is useful. Are you seeing yourself clearly or rationalizing to be right? For each partner, what would equality of power in the relationship look like?

Come together for a conversation. Be curious about yourself and your partner and take nothing for granted. Live in the knowing that every issue has two sides and invisibility happens, and we can only see through our own lens of what is real and true. Be open to what you can’t see. Make agreements about how both partners want to live this, commit to the agreements, and gently hold each other accountable. If respect seems to be an issue, the practice is to make request about how your partner can show you more respect. Be clear about what you want and support having the conversation move to completion. Completion means that some form of a promise is made and there is clarity about what is being asked (See Communication blog). And as always, follow through on your promises.

If you see a recurrent issue that is difficult or seemingly impossible to shift, the practice is revealing a place for your continued self-work.

Cartoon courtesy of Meredith Broome