Power Struggles in Marriage
Power Struggles in Marriage
3 Steps to End the Exhausting Tug of War Forever
When every negotiation at your house feels like a battle, you waste a lot of energy.
Whether it’s about how to handle a baby who won’t sleep, a budget that doesn’t add up, or a growing mess in the house, it takes a lot longer to accomplish things when you have to debate and argue about them first.
Instead of feeling light and energized, you’re already tired before breakfast when you’ve had a back and forth about who should drive the kids, walk the dog or stop spending so much.
You just want to be logical and do what makes sense to solve the problem, but your husband doesn’t see it the same way, or he won’t talk about it or do things the way you need them done.
This is not teamwork–this is an endless argument, most of it petty. But how do you stop the tug of war when nothing you say seems to make any difference?
1. Look for the Hero
Alexa and her husband, Tom, had a longstanding power struggle around planning family vacations.
She started by pointing out that they hadn’t been on vacation for ages and that they never did things together as a family, so she thought they should visit an area a day’s drive away.
Tom responded with a noncommittal shrug and reminded her that he didn’t like driving long distances.
To Alexa, that meant he expected her to do all the driving, which seemed completely unfair.
She explained why he should be willing to drive his family on a vacation at least once a year and that logically he couldn’t expect her to do all the driving.
As Alexa started planning the trip, Tom seemed to find fault with every suggestion. He obviously didn’t even want to go.
She couldn’t understand why he didn’t want to be a good husband and father who saw sights, hiked and relaxed with his family!
This clash had been going on so long that Alexa felt anxiety and pain just thinking about a family trip. “I know he’s going to drag his feet, and it would mean so much to me if he would just support my efforts to take a vacation.”
This issue came up every year, but in the meantime they also had power struggles about how much he worked, how often he missed family dinner and who should have to go to parent-teacher conferences.
Alexa couldn’t understand why her husband was so removed and unwilling to show up for their family. Exhausted with the status quo, she decided to do something completely different: She started with looking for the hero in her husband as part of practicing the 6 Intimacy SkillsTM.
At first, it wasn’t easy to see past all his glaring deficiencies. But she reluctantly admitted that he worked to support the family, helped the kids with their homework and was great about making sure the cars were maintained.
Her instinct was to rebut that list to point out his faults, but as an experiment she decided to forgo this temptation and stay focused on what he was doing right.
She expressed her appreciation and happiness to Tom about his strengths. That’s when a funny thing happened: He stopped taking his food to the TV room to eat–like he had been for years–and started showing up for family dinner the way she’d always wanted.
Alexa was quick to tell him how much she loved having his company at dinner. Soon, eating together as a family in the evenings became the norm.
This seemed like a miracle to Alexa.
But what about those teacher conferences and especially the family vacations, she wondered?
2. Say What You Want
Alexa realized that she had fallen into the habit of complaining and trying to reason with her husband in their negotiations instead of giving him the vital information that he needed to make her happy: what she wanted.
At first, she was able to come up only with what she didn’t want: She didn’t want him to work so much. She didn’t want to have to do all the driving on the vacations. She didn’t want to go to those dreaded teacher conferences alone.
All of that would have landed as the same tired complaints her husband had heard from her for years.
It took some real effort to figure out what she did want.
She realized that she would love to go on weekend getaways in addition to the annual vacation. She would also love to relax on the way. And she would love help with the stressful teacher conferences.
When she expressed those desires to her husband, she was amazed at how quickly he responded.
First, he offered to handle teacher conferences himself so she didn’t have to go.
She couldn’t believe her ears.
Alexa felt some anxiety come up and realized that she was attached to how their family was represented at the school. If she didn’t go to the conference, how could she make sure they gave the right impression?
After noticing that fear coming up, she decided to trust that her husband would represent their family well. So she stayed home while he went to meet with the teachers, and she found great relief in relinquishing that job to her husband.
3. Let Him Know When He Makes You Happy
What about the loaded topic of family vacations?
As Alexa maintained her focus on all that her husband was doing right and kept saying what she wanted instead of complaining, a shift happened at their house.
No longer were there nightly power struggles.
He wasn’t working as much and he seemed to be enjoying their family time together.
Then, he initiated and planned an entire week-long family vacation, a road trip to a beautiful national park.
Alexa was clear that this never would have happened prior to her practicing the Intimacy Skills.
Even more surprising, the question of who would drive them never came up. Tom drove the entire time.
Alexa felt some guilt knowing that he didn’t like driving long distances. She was tempted to offer to drive half the time, but instead she trusted him to speak up if he wanted a break from driving.
Then she focused on singing, chatting and telling Tom how great he was for driving them and how happy it made her. Somehow, he never did say he wanted help with the driving.
Instead of complaining about all the driving he had to do, he beamed at how happy he was making his wife.
That was the first of many such travels. And at home, Alexa and Tom now spend more time snuggling than power struggling.