Mutual Respect and The Power of Intimacy

Power is a very interesting phenomenon. I remember having numerous conversations about the complex intersection of power and relationships in graduate school. There was a lot of confusion as to what exactly power even is.
One of the most common misunderstandings about power is that it is a linear phenomenon. In fact, power comes at us from numerous sources all of the time.


The second most common misunderstanding is that power is a zero-sum game— either you have it or I have it. And whatever you have, I can’t have, and vice-versa. This fundamentally flawed way of thinking about power greatly impacts our experiences in relationships.

There are two main ways we experience power in our relationships: power
with and power over (you have power over someone else or some else has power over you). The Man Rules say that real men have power and are never weak or powerless. Therefore, from a very early age, young boys are encouraged to find power over – power over others, power over their feelings, and power over themselves.


The Woman Rules say that women should be cooperative, passive, nurturing, selfless, and not too strong. Therefore, from a very early age, young girls are encouraged to find power
with. Women are expected to share power with others even if it puts them at a disadvantage; even when it means they have to give up their own power.

And that is the rub in so many heterosexual relationships.

Making Peace with Power

You cannot have a relationship that doesn’t involve a complex interaction with power. What some people don’t often consider is that power can be healthy. In fact, it is an essential part of the day-to-day human experience.

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To help us explore the complexity of power in relationships, we can look to the classic Karpman drama triangle which illustrates the shifting, and sometimes destructive, roles of persecutor, rescuer, and victim that people play in relational conflicts. In this “drama triangle” each person involved in a conflict experiences and acts out all of these roles at different times. The role we take on can determine how we perceive our partners, interpret their behavior, and interact with them.

The reason these triangles arise, and often endure, is that each person, regardless of their role, finds that they get their unspoken, and often unconscious, psychological needs met by playing these roles—roles which they most likely originally “perfected” through the power dynamic that played out within their family as a child.

Whether they play the victim or persecutor, or some combination of all three roles, in the end, each person feels justified in acting upon their needs. Feeling satisfied, they often conveniently fail to acknowledge the dysfunctional ways they tend to go about getting their needs met, or the harm that is being done as a result to themselves, their partners, or any third parties (like children) who may be directly or indirectly involved in their conflict.

Hope is here

When there are times of disconnection in the relationship and even if, for whatever reason, there is a loss of respect between partners, intimacy can only be restored in the space of mutuality. We have to move away from the desire to have power over our partners toward the experience of having power with them. When we are able to uncover how our emotional needs arise from our childhood trauma, and release some of that pain, we have the ability to break free from the drama triangle and build an intimate and nurturing environment of mutual respect. Is it easier to let our relationships fall into a series of power plays or to maintain a space of mutual respect? I would suggest the former.

We have to build up our emotional and spiritual muscle in order to truly listen to our partners and maintain respect, especially when they are being their very human and imperfect selves and not doing what we want them to do or being who we want them to be.

Source Link : Mutual Respect


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