Relationships and Power Balance

A friend of mine wanted advice about his relationship. His girlfriend and he had a number of issues that had caused an on again/off again type of scenario over a number of years. At this moment they were broken up, she had broken his trust and he was wondering if he should give her another chance.

Most of his other friends disagreed with me, but I advised him to go for it.  It was clear that he wanted to be with her and try to make this relationship work.  I think it can be a very brave move to try and make a relationship work where there has been issues and broken trust.  It is very possible that trust can be restored.  A healthy relationship was not out of the question here.  But, I also provided a warning.  “It can’t just be you trying to make it work,” I offered, “if she really wants to make this work too, you need to see some effort from her end.” A healthy relationship never involves only one party doing whatever they can to make it work.  It requires cooperation and a commitment from both sides.  Love, in the romantic sense, is never all you need.

What I’m really talking about here is the ‘power dynamic’ in a relationship. Too often I have seen (and have experienced) a relationship break up and one person (usually the one who was broken up with) is ultra-committed to getting this relationship back together again.  This is always a red flag for me.  I have spoken to so many youth over the years about being cautious not to give all of their power away in a relationship.  “Oh, I’ll do anything to get you back!” The person who utters these words is in big danger of ending up with no power in their relationship and probably will just get hurt again.

I know that after a break up things can be excruciating (I’ve been there).  You might be devastated, nothing can console you, everything reminds you of him/her and your music choices become a soundtrack of misery and despair. And I’m not trying to belittle this experience.  It is so real while you are in it.  It can be hard, in that moment, to remember your own value, worth and dignity.

You are worth so much more than trying to do everything you can to please a boy or girl who is not willing to do the same for you. We get so comfortable in our relationships. I think that a lot of what causes us pain at the end of a relationship is the idea of change. We’ve put so much time and effort in and it seems much easier to just be with that person again than to start all over and maybe even... duh, duh, duh (menacing music)... be single for a while. Is it love that breaks our heart?  I’m not so sure.

You have to learn to love yourself before you can recognize what love looks like in a healthy relationship.  It certainly doesn’t look like one person promising to change this and change that and do whatever they can, while the other person is holding all the cards and dictating all the rules.  YOU ARE WORTH MORE THAN THAT.

A relationship at its healthiest involves one person who is comfortable and confident in who they are and knows their own beauty and value creating a friendship with another person who also has those characteristics. A romantic relationship at its best looks just the same (the physical part of ‘dating’ is far from primary and often will only obscure the important part if it is given too much attention/focus).

Let me give you another example of an unequally powered relationship. A young woman I knew was entering into a new relationship. She was a teenager and dating a guy in his 20s who had fathered children before. I had earned a level of trust with this girl and knew that she was a virgin. She ensured me that she was being respected in this relationship and that her boyfriend had told her that he was willing to “wait”.  Alarm bells screamed in my head.  It seems good.  He’s willing to wait, what could be wrong with that? All I heard, however, was an unequal distribution of power in this relationship.  She had expressed her desire to not have sex.  That was not what he wanted, but he’ll wait until she’s ready.  What that means is that as soon as this girl has a moment of ‘weakness’ and can be persuaded to do it, he’ll be all over that in a heartbeat.

In the case of sex, if you want to not have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend (and there are a multitude of reasons why this might be the case), it will take a commitment from both of you to keep it that way in order for it to work. That brings a share of the responsibility and effort.  Otherwise it sets up a situation where it is you against him or her.  He/she may even be trying to find every opportunity to make you ‘cave in’ and you find yourself not in a caring, sharing relationship, but a power struggle, where they are not taking any of the responsibility for commitments that you ought to be making together.

As it turns out in the case of my friend, she also ended up pregnant as a teenager. A lovely young woman with a lovely family, which is great, however, this power dynamic is often imbalanced in the case of high school girl and 20+ boy relationships.

Other signs of imbalance;

-          Insulting each other all the time, even if you could call it ‘sarcasm’

-          One person in relationship ALWAYS wants to spend time together and doesn’t like it when you spend any time apart

-          One person in relationship is constantly texting, phoning etc. to know where you are and what you are doing

-          One person is always giving the advice and the other person is always the one with ‘problems’

-          One person in the relationship always acts like they wouldn’t care if the relationship broke up.

-          One person repeatedly asks questions along the lines of “would you ever break up with me?”

There are a whole bunch of other examples, but I hope you start to get the point.

It might be a good time to examine your own relationships, whether they be romantic or friendships and question whether or not there is a power imbalance. Maybe you feel powerless in your relationship, terrified for it to end and doing everything you can to keep this person interested in being with you.  It might be time to face your fears.  Or maybe, you have found yourself in a situation where you are clearly the one with the power. While that might feel good and like you are in control, you are in an unhealthy relationship and it won’t be good for anyone in the long run.

So why would I tell my friend to take a chance and get back together with his girlfriend? I believe that an unhealthy relationship can have hope of becoming a healthy one. It might very well be worth fighting for.  But this will only be true if both of you are ready and willing to fight for it. Both ready to treat each other with Love, Dignity and Respect ALL THE TIME. Otherwise, it is time to face the fear of breaking up, because, believe it or not, being in a bad dating relationship is NOT BETTER than not dating at all. And while it can be scary to face it, you don’t have to face it alone.

 
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