Blog 60: Relationship Realities: Do You Understand How Power And Control Is Used Within Relationships?
Relationships are about power, control, sex and money.
How couples utilise their power and control methods can vary between each couple. However what I have observed most frequently is the following:
1) Power, Control, Negotiation and Compromise.
We learn very early on about power and control.
We learn this as babies when we are hungry and when we need to feed. We learn very quickly that we do not always have total control over every situation. Often it is mummy who controls, it is mummy whose milk is either available to us or not. And very quickly we learn just how long we may have to cry, before mummy satisfies our hunger. But sometimes we also learn that we don’t always get our own way. And other times, we know that our crying will get mummy’s attention immediately, and so on.
Lessons like these are learnt very early on, and they continue to mould us, as we learn about our power and how we can control or even manipulate mummy or daddy, in order to get our needs met.
But control and manipulation of a parent doesn’t always work. As a result, we learn about negotiation.
If we have siblings, they may add to our lessons about power, control and negotiation. And they may also teach us about compromise.
These behavioural lessons which we learn and absorb from our parents, our siblings and eventually our teachers, our friends and life in general, determines how we behave as adults – how we use our power, how we control situations, how we communicate, whether we are able to negotiate or whether we are prepared to make compromises and so on.
If however, a child has been spoilt and if they have been allowed to always get their own way, then negotiation and compromise may be very hard to achieve later on in life. Maintaining relationships, without understanding the value of compromise, may prove very difficult – especially if they continue to demand that everything goes their way.
On the other hand, some children may have grown up feeling utterly powerless. They may never have felt they had control over anything. Consequently, they may give up very easily, knowing from experience that trying anything is just futile.
But also, what we learn originates from our parent’s relationships, partners, colleagues and their friendships. From observation, we learn about communication and how issues are either resolved or left unaddressed. We learn who holds the power strings and why, or we learn what sort of behaviour affects others and so on.
We also learn about the power of money or debt, what it means to be poor or rich. We learn about being an adult from our parents and from them, we learn about personal power – or the lack of it.
And we learn that power and control have other facets too:
2) Power and Control Used To Silently Punish.
One method many use to assert power over or control another – is to become silent and uncommunicative. This is often referred to as ‘giving someone the silent treatment’ especially if someone feels hard done by, angry or offended.
This behaviour is also known as sulking – which can involve not speaking to someone for hours, days, weeks or even months and years, depending on the situation.
This kind of sullen, resentful behaviour can be very powerful. And it is often used to punish.
It is a very powerful because it’s a hostile form of rejection or even revenge.
Teenagers usually excel in this behaviour, especially if they don’t get their way. However they normally grow out of the behaviour soon enough – when they realise that mostly it gets them nowhere.
However, adults sometimes resort to silence if they feel that it’s an easier option than trying to communicate or resolve issues verbally. They may feel or they may have realised, that talking is just fruitless and that silence is the only alternative.
And possibly not having been taught how to communicate effectively, silence can often be seen or experienced as the best form of communicating unhappiness and discontent. Or they may have observed their parents use this form of communication and without questioning it’s effectiveness, they may repeat what they experienced.
But this method can be excruciating for anyone who has to experience or witness the silence, especially if they have abandonment issues.
Unfortunately, silence between two people can go on for hours, days, weeks, months, even years.
And silence is a controlling behaviour – which can leave others feeling immobilised.
Withholding information, withholding feelings, withholding your very presence, can leave others worrying about what they did wrong, or it can leave people feeling guilty, rejected, sad and possibly very angry.
But although this behaviour may seem powerful to the sulking silent one, it’s not always useful the best solution.
It can drive people away. Silence can be very destructive, especially if it lands up shutting out people without explanation, communication or reasoning.
And worse still, is that the sulker may themselves land up feeling isolated and lonely.
It is therefore imperative to try to work through issues or grievance with people.
All too often, misunderstandings or unexplained expectations of someone and their behaviour, can get in the way of intimacy or friendship and it can leave people feeling very lonely as a result.
3) Power and Control Used In The Bedroom.
Withholding sex is another powerful behaviour. Couples often withhold sex from one another as a further form of punishment.
How a couple relates is often mirrored by the sex they experience.
If silence or withholding is used in their daily life then it can also be utilised in the bedroom too.
Unfortunately, and sadly, withholding sex from a partner may become a habit and consequently, it may drive a wedge between the couple. Feeling rejected, a partner may begin to lose trust and slowly they may begin to seek intimacy elsewhere.
This often leaves partner feeling rebuffed, lonely, sad and very isolated.
It could also press all their childhood buttons of abandonment.
It is therefore imperative for a couple to learn how to communicate their feelings and needs with regards their sex life – what they enjoy, what irks them and so on.
By doing this often reparation can occur because – what happens in the bedroom is often only a reflection of the couple’s inner emotional lives.
And so, by sorting out what bothers a couple in the bedroom, other emotional issues get sorted out too .
4) Power and Control Used Through Verbal Abuse And Violence.
Controlling people often demean or criticise others as a means of building themselves up and appearing superior and in control.
In fact, it is easy to spot an controlling person from how they put everything and everyone else down, in order to try to vindicate themselves. Unfortunately, this occurs mostly when a someone feels very insecure about themselves or if they feel afraid of failing.
In some instances, power or control over a partner can be taken to the extreme. As a result, emotional and verbal abuse, bullying and even violence, can occur.
I have also written about emotional abuse, bullying and violence in previous blogs, so I won’t bore you with it here too. (Blog 48 and 53)
However, do remember that emotional abuse can be gradual and it can eventually develop into a total control of a partner’s behaviour, what they wear and how they behave.
A partner can slowly be drawn into believing that what has been decided is best for them and that their partner cares deeply for their well-being.
They can begin to control their every movement and consequently, anyone experiencing this can become utterly isolated from friends and family – even their children.
Often they become scared and frightened victims, locked into the manipulations of their insecure bullying partner.
The bully is often someone who has either been bullied themselves or they may have experienced childhood abandonment, trauma, loss, neglect and so on.
Consequently, the bully’s fear of losing a partner usually outweighs any rational thought, hence their often controlling – ‘you are mine, and only mine’ kind of behaviour. This would be especially true if they were abandoned (and remember too that smothering or spoiling a child is similar to abandoning a child – see blog 12) sometime in childhood.
Their partner may therefore be seen as a replacement parent which they may want to hang on to – and whom they may indeed fear losing.
Often too the abusing bully can be very clever and they can easily try to outwit their prey.
This is why understanding the process of abuse and violence is crucial. Abuse and violence between a two people is very complex and if any healing is to ever occur then I would suggest long term individual and then couple therapy.
Please do not suffer in silence. There are many support networks either in your area or even on the Internet.
You are not alone. Domestic violence is far more common than you may think.
Please find help. Please speak out. You do not have to live with an abusive partner – ever.
But be careful. Get advice. Find out what your best options are before you leave. Leaving an abusive partner can be dangerous and you may need support to do so.
But remember this – you are worth far more. Take courage and please find help.
5) Power, Control – And Money.
Money is a very important tool when it comes to exerting power – especially if you have a lot of it. If used effectively, money can bring success and happiness. In some cases it can be a blessing. In other cases, it can be destructive and it can destroy lives.
And money is often connected to self-worth. Often, if you don’t believe you are worthy of riches or whatever that may mean for you – you will not manage money well.
And within a partnership or marriage, money is often a massive bone of contention: who earns what or how much, who spends what or how much, whether a couple can save any money or whether a couple can manage their financial affairs and afford what both require, not only for themselves but also for their children – can lead to many arguments.
Unfortunately, money for many is represented by a terrible struggle, debt and possibly even poverty.
Worries about money can have a detrimental effect on people’s health, their relationships and some have even committed suicide as a result of the shame that debt can bring.
But what we learn about money usually starts with our parents.
We learn about social standing, poverty or wealth from how we are brought up.
We learn this also through the community that we are surrounded by: who our parent’s friends are, where they work, or whom they work with and whether they have a job at all.
Some are luckier than others. Some learn about money, building a business, bookkeeping and accountancy, the stock market from observation as they grow up. Some may even learn important financial ropes by working in their father or parent’s business.
By watching our parents, by listening to their understanding and absorbing their attitude toward money, we develop an understanding of what money can or may mean. And often as adults we continue this belief system.
It is therefore crucial that before a couple becomes too serious, they discuss money and their relationship to it. It is important to find out what attitude a partner’s family may have towards money or how effectively they used it. Who holds the purse strings, or who is expected to work and what the financial goals are.
And know this: a child often copies their parent’s values – especially when it comes to money.
Understanding this basic concept, understanding that you will glean much knowledge about your partner from observing their family, or their attitude toward their family, will help you make the right choices to suit your life goals. This, as well as communicating and having many conversations about money and so on, with your partner, before you commit, will help inform the choices you make.
By communicating this to one another, a couple can check whether their ambitions or needs actually match. Without this knowledge many continue with marriage, only to find themselves disappointed, sad and even angry.
Better still, you need to take extra care.
Before you commit you need to check whether a partner will wield their power through hanging onto the purse strings. This can be very unsettling to anyone and it can undermine confidence and self-worth very quickly.
6) How Do Use Use Your Power To Control Others?
It is imperative that we all try to understand, how we individually, use our power to control others.
Some people are unaware and others are fully aware of how their behaviour can and does affect others.
However in certain cases, how we behave – may actually be causing us more pain and it could be affecting our relationships negatively.
In order to face these issues, and in order to understand our behaviour or that of others, it helps if we refuse to run away. Facing these issues head on, learning to understand them and finding out why you behave as you do, will help you heal the fear and pain. Suppressing or resisting underlying feelings does no one any good. Buried emotions always land up erupting at some point – and when they do it usually lands up being more destructive than often intended.
If you are battling with any issues mentioned in this blog, please try to find support. you can do this with via a support group, therapy, life coaching or start by telling a friend.
You don’t have to live with anyone who feels they need to control you in any way.
And know this: When you see or know someone who needs the exert their power and control over others, what you are witnessing is actually someone who is afraid of life.
“Giving in and trying to ‘keeping the peace’, may actually be the start of you colluding in a very toxic relationship.
And although you may not be able to control how someone behaves, you can control how long you participate in it.
Incredible shifts occur when you decide to take control of your own life – instead of those of others.
So what’s stopping you?
© 2017 Information Copyright Deidré Wallace
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