Power Struggles


My wife and I are constantly getting in power struggles. How can we get beyond this?


Can you name the devil’s greatest ploy to cause trouble in relationships? I’d like to suggest two words: power struggle. And why do power struggles cause us such trouble? It’s simple. In every power struggle, participants become adversaries; they take up opposing positions. And as soon as a husband and a wife set themselves up as antagonists, Satan can just fold his arms and walk away, because he knows they will destroy each other. He’s already accomplished his dirty work.

Many couples set themselves up for failure because, from the outset, the individuals face off as adversaries. This can be as subtle as insisting on “making a point.” Even if one member of the pair “wins” the point, it means an automatic loss for the relationship. If one person in the marriage “loses,” then both persons in the marriage lose. There is no other option.

Why is this so? It’s true because people in a marriage are on the same team. If one team member loses, every member of that team loses. If Jimmy and Bobby both play for the Lobos baseball team in a game against the Desperados, it is impossible for Jimmy to win and Bobby to lose. Either both win or both lose.

I encourage you to make a commitment to a new way of doing things and determine to abandon the failed, old model. This begins by establishing what our colleague Bob Paul calls a “No Losers Policy.” In a No Losers Policy, couples agree that it will never be acceptable, from this point on, for either of them to walk away from any interaction, feeling as if they had lost. Each spouse has to feel good about the solution.

Creating a No Losers Policy goes a long way toward creating the kind of relationships that yield joy and satisfaction rather than grief and frustration. It’s worked for my wife, Erin, and I, and it can work equally well for you, regardless of the type of relationship in which you apply it.

Greg Smalley, PsyD
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Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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