[The following is a reprint of an article I wrote for the Brisbane Circle magazine as requested by some of you who do not receive it.]
Most relationships go through a phase, perhaps best understood as the ‘power struggle’. Typically it occurs after the honeymoon phase is over. A good way to end the honeymoon phase is to come back from one, but more and more these days, it comes to an end much earlier. Often it happens once a couple move in together – way before a honeymoon is booked and paid for!
During the honeymoon phase, passions run high (so sex is good and comes naturally) neither can do wrong and the future is so bright they both need to wear shades.
But perhaps the best way to induce the power struggle is to have children. Now, there is lots more work to do and less sleep to do it on.
(Whoever still thinks of having a child as a way of ‘bringing us closer together’ methinks is having a child for the first time!)
Whenever it begins, we all need to understand what the power struggle is really about, if we want to survive it with our sanity and relationship intact.
Ironically, the power struggle has its origins in the honeymoon phase. For many couples, the greater the lift in the honeymoon phase, the greater the fall into the power struggle. This is why the more intense the attraction initially, the higher the relationship failure rate later.
There are two major forces at work here. We need to understand both of them if we are going to avoid the worst outcome of all – children involved and parents who are coming to hate each other.
The simpler force is that in a strong honeymoon phase everything is easy. Each partner falls over themselves to anticipate their partner’s desires and to meet said desires. Birthdays and special events are not only remembered, but celebrated thoughtfully. Boys do the washing up and talk late into the night, girls laugh at his jokes and can’t wait to jump into bed, he gives foreplay and afterplay, she happily tries different positions and gives oral sex. (Mind you, if these things are not happening in this phase do not expect them later in the relationship, it is downhill from here!)
This all occurs, and here is the key word: ‘effortlessly’. Why is it relatively effortless? Because it is fuelled by the promise of living happily ever after – nothing releases love hormones, like oxytocin, more strongly. The hope is ‘this person will make me happy’. I call this the ‘promise of happiness’.
Note that I did not use these words, ‘we will make each other happy’. No, the hope is ‘you will make me happy’. So guess what happens when the honeymoon is over and both parties, or even just one, starts to sit back hoping to reap the rewards of ‘being made happy’.
It is not only that the hormonal fuel of the promise has burnt out, it is also about it becoming time to collect. And guess what happens when both partners start to sit back and collect on the promise of their partner making them happy? You guessed it, bring on the power struggle.
Usually, one partner will go first and sit back and hope to collect.
You see, the ‘effortlessness’ was an illusion. It did take effort but the effort was fuelled by the promise of happiness, but at some point we want to collect. The more effortless the relationship appeared in the honeymoon phase, the more we feel cheated and confused when it comes to an end. Couples can feel they have fallen out of love.
If there was less of a honeymoon, this can be easier to survive as the couple are more used to having to put in some effort along the way.
So, after one pulls the trigger, the other quickly works out how the game is played. If you are not going to do that for me, then I’m not doing this for you. Maybe I will articulate it, or maybe I will just let you find out … in due course.
The second force at work here runs much deeper. All of us are wounded as children in some ways. No childhood leaves an unwounded child. If you had a childhood, you’ve got wounds.
Good, bad or indifferent parenting, you have a wound. No parents can be all things to their children nor should they be. Wounds drive us to achieve, other wounds mean that we expect the world to look after us. For example, if you had a parent who was distant and emotionally unavailable to you, leaving you with the wound that there was something wrong with you, then your partner, by fully connecting with you, could make you better again. There are many kinds of wounds.
Guess when we all hope to heal our wounds? Outside of therapy, there is only one way: in the next intimate relationship that comes along in our life.
Of these two forces, it is the ‘seeing our partner as our potential wound healer’ that runs deepest. This ‘promise of healing’ is even more powerful than the promise of happiness. Long after the promise of happiness has been broken, the promise of healing will keep a couple together even while they make life tedious for their partner as they power struggle on.
So, what to do?
I will pick that up in the next edition. Stay tuned.