Is There an Imbalance of Power in Your Relationship?

Generally one spouse within a drifting marriage notices first that there is a disconnect or loss of closeness. Usually, this spouse is the wife, says marriage and family therapist Tim Heck, PhD. Women just tend to be more in tune with the emotional health of the marriage, he says.

Depending on how she (or he) addresses the issue and is responded to, the relationship may go in different directions. Hopefully, the other spouse will understand that a perceived disconnect is still a disconnect, and will be motivated to work together to solve the problem. This happens in relationships where there is a balance of respect and power, and a mutual desire to stay connected. If approached in an ideal manner (“I feel…” or “I miss you”), the other spouse may respond very positively.

Sometimes the spouse who is hearing the concerns will feel attacked and will instead become defensive. And sometimes he (or she) doesn’t see a problem and is not at all motivated to change. Maybe he even knows there is a problem, is not committed to improving the marriage, or has one foot outside the marriage.

The latter scenarios can lead to an imbalance of power in the relationship, with one spouse asking for more, and the other spouse pulling away. In these couples, there is often an imbalance of respect, too, says Dr. Heck. As one partner pulls away, it’s natural for the other spouse to pursue them, but it continues to distribute the weight toward the partner who is pulling away. The pursuing spouse loses respect in the process—often self-respect as well as respect from the distancing spouse.

A skilled therapist can often help this couple get back on track. Dr. Heck says he often recommends in order to re-stabilize the relationship that the pursuer pull back. This can work effectively unless the spouse who is pulling away has already reached a point of “seemingly no return,” where perhaps there has been an affair or emotional alienation. In these cases, pulling back may be a catalyst for the emotional divorce to turn into a real divorce, says Dr. Heck.

Another scenario that sometimes occurs involves the pursuer becoming frustrated after sometimes years of trying to get their spouse to respond. By the time the distancing spouse realizes the marriage is in crisis, the pursuer has given up and has made plans to end the marriage. Dr. Heck sometimes hears from husbands in this situation, who are suddenly willing to read anything and do anything and want to be in counseling immediately; however, the wife has lost her motivation due to years of unresponsiveness from her spouse.

Understanding of these kinds of patterns and causes and effects are what makes a trained therapist so helpful during crisis periods. For instance, a wife may be working to do anything to win her husband’s love back, but in the process be pushing him further away.  The problem is not the wife, but the husband’s lack of motivation. Unfortunately, couples may wait an average of seven years before seeking professional assistance. During those years much damage can be done, and sometimes the spouses are too far apart to come back together.

Of course, Dr. Heck recommends preventive strategies to help keep marriages from reaching these crisis points. “Friendship is so vital,” he says. “Have fun together. Be a student of each other’s life. Don’t develop two different worlds. Be aware of and on top of what is going on in each other’s life. Maintain regular conversation. Take care of the marriage even if it means pulling away from the kids.”

Dr. Heck also recommends bringing faith into the marriage. “Praying together makes a great deal of difference,” he says.

Whether couples are doing well or in counseling due to a crisis, Dr. Heck suggests focusing on your strengths, not your weaknesses. “If you keep talking about your problems, it tends to get depressing,” he says, adding that this “problem approach” is not highly motivating. The average spouses he sees have good motives for their actions, but are dealing with entrenched conflict or disintegration. The strength-based approach calls out the good, even within less-than-good situations.

Finally, Dr. Heck says the sexual relationship within a marriage often becomes a metaphor for the rest of the relationship. Sometimes couples are afraid to address this, but “you give them a language to address all areas.” They may not have broached the topic before, but therapy “gives them permission to talk about the untalkable.”

I found Dr. Heck’s insights to be thought-provoking. What do you think?

Have you thought about the balance of respect and power in marriage in this manner? Have you experienced an imbalance in the past that you were able to rebalance?

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7 responses to “Is There an Imbalance of Power in Your Relationship?

  1. Will you be willing to listen to some input from a man and a marriagecoach. The number one complaint and the number two complaint that I get from men clients about their wives; Women don’t make it safe for men to share their feelings with them, especially if it in any way involves any critique of the woman. Invariably the woman goes on the attack bashing the man with the intent of teaching him to never do that again. The men learn the lesson all too well and seethe in silence. This of course cuts off all effective communication harming the relationship. It also cuts at a man’s sense of self worth and is disrespect. Respect is a man’s number one need even more than sex.

    The second most common complaint that I get from men about women is the lack of sex. Studies indicate that 60% of married women with children have thier husbands on a starvation diet of sex once a week or less. When he complains she will again go on the attack and put the man down for his sexuality. Again the man grudgingly accepts this and seethes in silence.

    The bottom line is that men are reactive rather than proactive in a relationship. Whether or not thre relationship survives is largely up to the woman in that relationship. Men tend to live up to or down to the woman’s view of him in that relationship.

    I generally agree with your posts and have even reposted your posts on my blog, but I simply think that you have omitted vital information here,

    Blessings on you and yours
    John Wilder

    • I understand and concur with the first paragraph that too often we don’t let our spouse voice their critique of us, and in fact we should be kindly helping one another grow. I also agree that men have a strong need for respect. However, the next paragraph is problematic for me with regard to this topic. In these situations, I would suggest the lack of sex may be a symptom of a greater problem. Some men and women pull away from the relationship for other reasons, and to pursue that (distancing) spouse with offers of affection, sex, etc. can (in the eyes of the marriage experts I interviewed) cause the distancer to pull further away. I hope that makes sense. I’ve seen it happen. Re-read the post if you need clarity on why they think that is. Best to you as well,

  2. I find this post very informative.
    I will pass this along to some of my online friends,
    as I find it will relate to them as well.
    Thank You for the interesting information.

  3. Hello, I find this post very informative.
    I will pass this along to some of my online friends,
    as I find it will relate to them as well.
    Thank You for the interesting information.

  4. Pingback: Let her hear you praying for her

  5. Pingback: Let her hear you praying for her | Simplify Marriage

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