Personal Power within Relationships
BY ANITA MARTIN
Equality is a primary component of healthy relationships. Without it, confidence may waver, power imbalances may occur, and the relationship may suffer. Power is a challenging concept, especially in intimate partnerships. Over the relationship’s course, it is sometimes necessary for one to act on behalf of the other. However, if power imbalances become common and recurring, multiple conflicts may surface. Perhaps the most destructive consequences are loss of self-assurance and individual empowerment. One’s perception of personal power may be influenced by a host of factors including prior experiences, personal beliefs, family dynamics, and history of victimization. So, I want to introduce the concept of power and discuss ways in which it may impact relationships.
Three Types of Power
Power To Power given or delegated to a person or body. Examples include governmental agencies or law enforcement. Power of attorney would be a common example where significant decision-making rights are assigned to an agent.
Power Over Power over others is the ability to direct or influence the behavior of others and/or the course of events. Power over others, depending on the relationship’s dynamic, may be healthy or unhealthy. In abusive relationships, methods of emotional and/or physical control reinforce toxic messages and the cycle of violence.
Personal Power Personal power is internal power used to resist the control of others. Empowerment refers to helping someone become stronger and more confident in controlling his or her life, claiming personal rights, and making choices.
You may be wondering why a discussion of power is necessary. Within love relationships, sometimes a power imbalance can occur. Of course, consciously assigning mutual decisions to one partner is part of positive relationships and results from years of cultivated trust. However, if decision-making power is divided unequally and is an enduring part of your relationship, you may want to be mindful of potential problems. This can be especially detrimental if you find yourself becoming uncomfortable or unclear in your decision-making. Why should you be concerned? Powerlessness develops quietly and may, in some situations, even be considered a “normal” part of an intimate relationship. It is not normal. Even though we all experience life’s highs and lows, maintaining a sense of personal responsibility and power over the course of your life is imperative. If an individual believes his or her life is beyond personal control, helplessness may result. Does anyone enjoy feeling powerless over his or her life? I don’t believe we do.
In the context of a healthy relationship, both individuals need to feel empowered to make personal decisions. The partnership should be generally balanced with both participants sharing equal access to resources, responsibility, benefits, and choices. If you feel as if your partner makes all the important decisions related to finances, parenting, relocation, and/or career, it may be time to discuss your feelings and concerns with him or her. Together or with professional help, you and your loved one can shift the balance of power in your relationship. By doing so, you will create a partnership where both of you will thrive.