How to Avoid a Power Struggle with Your Partner

How to Avoid a Power Struggle with Your Partner October 20, 2021

During a counseling session with Teresa, 46, and Jeff, 49, they described a negative pattern of relating that usually starts with Teresa demanding Jeff finish projects around their home or plan a vacation with her. In both cases, he feels pressured because he owns his own business and has difficulty taking time off from work.

Teresa put it like this: “I try to be patient but it feels like our home and family life always come last since Jeff works longs hours.”

Jeff replies: “It’s true that I have a new catering business and work a lot of weekends but I love my work and I’m building a future for us and our two boys. Maybe if Teresa was a bit more patient or asked me in different ways, I would feel better about her requests.”

What I explained to Teresa and Jeff is that good communication takes effort and that it’s a good idea to spend at least one night a week discussing positive things that can bring family members together. Further, during these discussions use a “soft start up” such as “I would love to spent time with you. Can we talk about our winter vacation tonight if that works for you?” This strategy will work better than being demanding and stating something negative such as “You never spend time with me and I’m just not a priority.” Notice that Teresa’s first statement was an “I Statement” and was less blameful that the second one which started with a “You Statement.”

That said, people may come across as angry, resentful, and blameful when they feel disconnected from their partners. For instance, when feelings of disconnection arise, instead of being vulnerable and sharing your true feelings, you might become demanding rather than asking for what you need. A demand-withdraw pattern then develops. According to Dr. Sue Johnson, the longer this pattern persists, the more negative it becomes.

In The Science of Couples and Family Therapy: Behind the Scenes at the Love Lab, Dr. John Gottman’s research on thousands of couples, revealed that partners who get stuck in this pattern the first few years of marriage have more than an 80% chance of divorcing in the first four or five years.

Why is this relationship pattern so common? John Gottman found that men have a tendency to withdraw and women tend to pursue when they are in intimate relationships. Further, he explains that these tendencies are wired into our physiology and reflect a basic gender difference.

In his classic “Love Lab” observations, John Gottman noted that this pattern is extremely common and is a major contributor to marital breakdown. He also warns us that if it’s not changed, the pursuer-distancer pattern will persist into a second marriage or subsequent intimate relationships.

So the next time you want to have a meaningful, productive conversation with your partner, start with a “soft start up” and an “I Statement.” Also, ask for what you need in a specific and positive way rather than throwing in the kitchen sink and magnifying the negative. Spending quality time together at least once a week can help you and your partner feel more connected. Put away your phones, cook a meal or get take-out, and turn towards your partner with love and affection, to ensure better communication.

Find Terry on Twitter, Facebook, and, Terry’s award winning book Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship is available on her website. Her new book The Remarriage Manual: How to Make Everything Work Better the Second Time Around was published by Sounds True on February 18, 2020.

I’d love to hear from you and answer your questions about relationships, divorce, marriage, and remarriage. Please ask a question here. Thanks! Terry 


Browse Our Archives