The recently deceased Barbara Bush, former First Lady, had this to say about marriage: “…you have to have influence. When you’ve been married 47 years, if you don’t have any influence, then I really think you’re in deep trouble.”
I couldn’t agree more. In couples counselling, I’ve found the word “influence” to be hugely helpful, mostly as an antidote for another word that’s almost universally problematic – “control”.
I’ve never met anyone who likes to be controlled or who likes to be described as “controlling”. Few things are as poisonous to a relationship as unbalanced power dynamics.
When both partners have influence on one another, power dynamics are fluid and have a good chance at being fundamentally in balance.
To have influence doesn’t mean you always get your way, but it does directly imply that:
- You are heard.
- You are understood.
- Your thoughts and feelings matter.
- The course of your common life together is determined together.
The control of one person by another via physical, emotional, financial and/or sexual means is abuse.
When relationship power dynamics are shifting in more subtle ways, consider asking yourself these questions.
Is a partner who is starting to seem somewhat controlling in some areas of the relationship doing so because they don’t feel like they have influence generally or in specific areas?
If your partner seems to be unfairly describing you as controlling, can you hear that as an ask for influence?
One of the best metaphors for a healthy relationship is that of dancing. In a healthy relationship we share the responsibility to lead at some times and at other times we can trade the lead back and forth seamlessly, depending on the situation. We influence one another as we make our way across life’s dance floor.