Alice came home from a very stressful meeting. There had been an intense discussion, and she could not wait to tell her partner all about it. Alice was the first one home, and when her partner arrived, he was carrying a bag of food. Alice was so excited, thinking that he had been thoughtful enough to bring her lunch. What she soon realized was that he had stopped and gotten his own lunch, but nothing for her.
She was both disappointed and hurt. He had gone to one of her favorite restaurants at the same time that she was looking forward to good meal. Then, to top it off, she felt he had not considered her need and desire. She believed he had not valued her in that moment. She felt that when she said something about it, he looked confused.
For him it was a non-issue; for her, it was very important. What came next was a power struggle. They argued about who was right and who was wrong. She insisted he had forgotten her, and he felt misunderstood. The day ended with a stalemate.
We all know what it feels like to be in a power struggle with someone. At times, when it is done for educational purposes, it can be instructive and expand our perspective and knowledge. It can be fun when we are in a friendly debate about what team is the best or have a spirited discussion about ideas.
More often it is a painful and difficult conflict that ends in an impasse, where you agree to disagree so that the relationship will not end. The worse case scenario occurs when a friendship, relationship, marriage or job does end because of this unresolved conflict.
The months leading up to and following our recent presidential election saw an unprecedented number of these occurrences. People were unable to listen to one another when expressing their views. Long-term friendships ended and new relationships were lost because there was no way to resolve the conflict. Have you ever wondered what could be at the heart of such conflicts and why some can be resolved and others cannot?
When I talk about resolution, I am referring to being able to come to a place of hearing, understanding and respecting the other person’s perspective. I do not mean being able to persuade the other person to come to your side of the table.
First, let me say that many times the root cause of the power struggle is unknown. In fact, most people end up believing that it is obviously the other persons fault that there is a problem. If that other person could be reasonable and see our point of view, people say, then there would not be a problem.
I believe desire sits at the heart of every power struggle. This desire can take many
forms: the desire to be right, to be seen as smart, to be loved, to be right, to be wanted and special. Ultimately, I believe it boils down to the desire for the other
person to be who you want and need them to be.
On a conscious level, I think we do believe people are free to be whomever they please, to say whatever they believe, and believe whatever they wish. If you love
someone, let them be free to express themselves and fully develop as an individual.
Where the rub comes in is when we have personal desire and need. We have needs
and desires and specific conditions for them to be satisfied. Sometimes we are fully aware of our desires and what conditions it takes to fulfill them, but many times we are unaware of what is operating inside. Our conditions are hidden deep inside.
I Want to Be Special
In our example above, Alice had deeply buried a desire to be special and a need to feel that her partner thought of her even when they were apart. What was needed was for at least one member of the pair to realize those desires existed. Alice's condition for being satisfied that day was to feel she was special to someone and was remembered even when she wasn't present. The food was simply a scapegoat – a means by which those feelings had not been recognized. Alice's partner, meanwhile, wanted Alice to believe that he had thought of her even without buying her lunch. The result was a collision of desires, and the ensuing power struggle.
Taking responsibility for your desires is not about placing blame. Instead, it is being able to self-reflect and see inside yourself. It is knowing what is important to you, what you need and want. These are important aspects of creating a happy life for yourself. Responsibility is the key to resolving power struggles.