Reality Check: Marriage — Who’s in Charge?

If you’re happily married, you may have an easy, good-humoured response to the question of who’s in charge in your marriage. Did you say, “my wife/husband”?

If you’re struggling in your marriage, however, you may also have a quick response to the question of who’s in charge, or at least, about who is trying to be in charge. And the feelings that go with your answer may not be so good-humoured.

In “Eight Lessons for a Happier Marriage” by Wm. & Carleen Glasser, the issue of marital compatibility is addressed in the context of our most basic, fundamental needs. Among those needs is the need for love and belonging; a need that draws us together and urges us to make connections with our fellow humans. Most profoundly, we make those connections in marriage.

Other needs, however, have different effects. Our freedom and power needs can take us in a different direction, that of, “I don’t need you; I’m fine on my own; thank you very much.” That’s easily seen in a child who has recently learned a skill: “Don’t help me; I can do it myself.”

The needs are neither good nor bad; they just exist. Each of us has each need, but at different levels.

For example, let’s say that you and I are discussing how we want to spend our vacation. If I have a high need for freedom and low need for belonging, I might suggest that we go on an independent road trip with no reservations or itinerary. We’ll just take it as it comes.

However, if you have a low need for freedom and a high need for belonging, you might suggest that we book a cruise with like-minded people where we can be part of a group, always doing things together.

What’s delightful to one can be dreadful for the other!

Now, consider the influence of the power need in a marriage.

The Glassers suggest that when both members of a couple have a high need for love and a low need for power, they tend to be happy together.

They also say, “Couples who share a high need for power and a low need for love will spend a lot of their time bickering about who is in charge and who is right.”

If that’s your combination, then your road to marital happiness may have a few potholes. However, this is not to say that such a couple cannot be happy together.

If your choice to satisfy your power need is to do so at the expense of your partner, that doesn’t bode well for a long-term positive outcome. However, if your genuine wish is to have a happier marriage, then ask, “How can I satisfy my needs in a way that is compatible with my spouse satisfying theirs?”

As with the other needs, the power need is neither good nor evil, and you can satisfy it without demanding to be in charge. Satisfaction can take many forms, such as accomplishment, self-esteem, recognition, and so on.

Next time, we’ll take a look at some suggestions. In the meantime, let me know how you satisfy your power need without creating conflict in your relationship.

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