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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Psychotherapy Blog: Relationships: Overcoming Power Struggles

It's not unusual to engage in occasional power struggles when you're in a relationship. Occasional power struggles seem to be an inevitable part of being in an intimate relationship. The problem occurs when the power struggles are ongoing and they begin to put the relationship at risk.

Overcoming Power Struggles


What are power struggles in a relationship?
On the most basic level, power struggles in a relationship are about trying to get our way. On a deeper level, usually just below our consciousness, power struggles are about much more, as I will explain later in this post.

Power struggles in relationships often begin just after that initial "heady" in love feeling begins to wear off and our feelings mature into a more enduring kind of love. This is usually when our most basic, normal dependency needs (our need to feel loved and cared about) really come to the surface. It's also when we begin to realize that our partner has the ability to either meet our needs--or not. It's around that time that we think, "Wait a minute...I could really get hurt in this relationship." If we're able to accept that we all have these emotional needs, that they are normal, and we trust our partners, we're more likely to be able to express our needs to our partner in a way that is positive and constructive. However, if we feel too vulnerable or ashamed of these basic needs, we might react in anger and get into a power struggle with our partner to try to get what we want.

When core emotional issues get triggered in a relationship:
Why anger? For most people, feeling angry allows them to feel "stronger" than allowing themselves to feel and express their vulnerability. Getting angry is often a way to push down and cover up those basic emotional needs when it feels too scary to feel and express them. Maybe we grew up in a household where our needs were not recognized or met. Maybe we were made to feel that these are shameful feelings. Maybe we were raised to think that we "should be more independent" and not rely on others.

There can be so many early core issues that get triggered in our relationship. This is why ongoing problems with power struggles in a relationship are usually complicated and can become so difficult to resolve. On one level, we're dealing with the current situation with our partner, but on a deeper level we're also dealing with our own emotional history, and it's all happening at the same time.

Trying to separate out the current problems from the earlier core issues can be very complicated. If you're able to cool down and step back after a heated power struggle with your partner, you're often able to see that you overreacted to a situation. It takes a certain amount of self awareness, insight, the ability to feel compassion for yourself and your partner, and a feeling of basic safety in your relationship to be able to do this.

If you realize that you overreacted with your partner and got into a power struggle, that's often a clue that there's something more going on beyond the current situation. Often, it means that certain earlier core issues are being stirred up. Realizing this is one thing, but knowing what these issues are can be harder to see unless you've already done a fair amount of work on your personal core issues. Even then, with everything getting stirred up at once, it can be hard to see and even harder to resolve on your own. Add to this that your partner has his or her own core emotional issues that might be getting stirred up and you can see how difficult this can be to overcome.

Getting Help:
If you and your partner get into ongoing power struggles that are putting your relationship at risk, you might benefit from couples counseling where a couples counselor can help you to overcome these issues so you can feel better about yourself and have a happier relationship.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist. 

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

Feel free to call me at (212) 726-1006 to set up a consultation.

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