Reality Check: Relationships and the Power Need

Last time, I suggested that a marriage where both people have a high need for power and low need for love and belonging may present challenges. However, that doesn’t mean that such a couple is doomed to a life of bickering and power struggles.

In “Reality Therapy,” Dr. Robert Wubbolding discusses the need for power as, “Human beings desire the self-perception of being capable of achieving, of accomplishing something, of pride, status and importance.”

There’s nothing negative in itself about the power need, and there are many ways to satisfy it. Feeling that you have control over your life, that you have worthwhile achievements, feeling respected and recognized, knowing that you are competent; those are all need-satisfying perceptions.

If, however, you choose to satisfy your need for power by demonstrating power over the person you have declared to love above all others, that doesn’t bode well for the relationship.

Polly and Paul, unfortunately, live in that kind of relationship. Paul’s complaint: “As soon as I sit down, she’s nagging me.” Polly: “I’ve wanted things done for years that he keeps putting off. It would take him 10 minutes.”

The conflict may have little to do with undone chores.

A question for Polly and Paul to ask is, “Do I want a happier marriage?” If the answer is yes, then, “Am I prepared to make a change so I can have a happier marriage? Am I prepared to negotiate with my partner?”

If your answer is, “Only if s/he will change too!” or, “I shouldn’t have to change; it’s all his/her fault,” then there’s not a lot more to say.

It’s more effective if both partners commit to making an effort. However, even if only one partner is prepared to make a change, that can help create movement in the direction of a happier marriage.

Polly has decided that’s what she wants. Her first change was to tell Paul, “I don’t expect you to change. However, I am choosing to no longer nag. I will make a list of what I would like done. If you choose not to do them, and if I can’t do them, then I will hire someone. It will mean that we have less spending money. If this doesn’t work for you, then we can negotiate something different. But I will no longer nag.”

Polly’s second change is to actively help Paul satisfy his power need. Some couples are remarkably stingy with praise or recognition of the other. Polly recognizes that Paul is a hard worker and achiever. Now, Polly has decided to look for opportunities to recognize Paul’s accomplishments and tell him.

Even small recognitions are effective. “Thank you for washing the car. It looks great.” There is no need to point out that taking out the garbage would have been more helpful.

If this is a new behaviour, your partner may seem a little skeptical. Also, don’t expect that they will do the same for you, even though you deserve it. Fret not. Do what you can to help the other satisfy their power need.

Finally, think about ways to satisfy your own need for accomplishment and recognition that aren’t at the expense of your partner. Polly has started volunteering for a group that values her particular skills. Remember that every need doesn’t have to be met through the relationship.

So, how do you satisfy your power need?

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