Stop the Communication Power Struggles and
Open Up to Deeper Connection and Trust
By Susie and Otto Collins
In your love relationship or marriage do you tend to be the
stronger-willed person or the one who is more passive?
We all fall into roles with the people with whom we are
Sometimes we can get so stuck in these roles, tension and
conflict develop or increase. This dynamic often play out in
communication power struggles that usually only serve to
disconnect and erode trust.
Some of these dichotomous relationship roles include: strong
one/weak one, bully/wimp or winner/loser.
Of course, there are probably times when you don't play the
role of the "strong one," for example.
But, when stress is heightened or a
button-pushing issue arises, you might gravitate toward your
usual role which can exacerbate the power struggle and
Let us be clear here.
There are certainly times when it can benefit you and your
relationship to be more assertive than usual.
And there are times when taking a deep breath and allowing
your partner to try out his or her resolution to a situation
is helpful and connecting.
Troubles can become more intense, however, when you and your
mate are so stuck in the roles you are accustomed to
playing, you become inflexible and even stubborn.
This is when communication tends to break down and the
distance between you two grows.
Recognize your patterns.
Take some time alone by yourself. Think about a tense
conversation you had recently with your partner.
Can you identify the role you might have played?
If this isn't clear, try to remember which of you did most
of the talking during this conversation. What types of words
did you use when you conveyed your perspective, if you spoke
about it at all?
You might remember yourself saying something like: "Is it ok
with you for me to do ________?" Or "I guess I could do
__________ if it would make you happy."
There's nothing necessarily wrong with either of these
sentences. It's the potential feeling of hesitancy about
what you really want that's there that is limiting.
Words like those in the examples above may indicate that you
were adopting a more passive role in the conversation.
Once you've identified the role you think you played in this
recent incident with your mate, think back to other times in
Is this the role you are most comfortable with or likely to
Think of yourself as a researcher when you do this
recognizing. It is most helpful for you to realize your
habits and usual role with as little criticism or judgment
Address your need to play a particular role.
Our habitual roles are often those that we've practiced
Being aggressive or even a bully about your ideas might have
been a survival strategy that helped you deal with
challenges when you were younger.
But in a relationship, today, it will mostly drive you
further apart from your partner.
Keep your researcher hat on and try to understand why
adopting this usual role when communicating seems to fill a
need for you.
Perhaps you feel insignificant or insecure and when you are
able to push your ideas on your mate, you momentarily feel
This may be uncomfortable to admit to yourself, but it's
vital that you do, if it's accurate.
Once you have pinpointed the holes or old wounds that your
usual role seems to fill, you can begin to look for other
ways to heal yourself.
There are many ways to boost self esteem and gain a sense of
empowerment that are not dependent on your mate being
inferior or passive.
Without thinking too much about it, make a list of possible
ways that you can fill those holes within.
Don't dismiss any idea-- no matter how unlikely it seems.
After you've come up with several possibilities from this
brainstorming, pick one or two that you will actually take
Try something new.
So far, we've offered you a lot of internal work to do to
improve communication with your partner.
This is actually vital to you being able to create a closer
and more trusting connection through communication with your
If you choose, you can share about your inner findings with
This is up to you. You can make improvements even if you
Set an intention to loosen your attachment to your usual
role when interacting with your partner. We are NOT
suggesting that you try on bullying if you tend to be the
"wimp," for example.
What we do suggest is that you bring with you to your next
conversation your increased awareness of what you usually do
and the way that this contributes to roadblocks in
Even in the middle of a tense talk, breathe and be willing
to try on a new role.
If this feels good to you and it seems to benefit
your relationship, we highly recommend that you keep on
trying it out!