By Dr. Steve
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Take It to the Limit
One More Time
creates an us without destroying a me.
Honoring your partner rather than fighting for your self-interests will
lessen the conflict in your relationship.
want to join this club, but I dont know. Theres so much they expect from
what? I asked.
off, they have this meeting you have to attend. Its the third Thursday of every
month. Im not going to give up my Thursday night just like that.
sounds like its important for you to have a say in how, when, and where you spend
your time, I observed.
yea, of course it is. What if I want to do something the week they have their meeting? I
should have the choice of whether I attend their meeting, shouldnt I?
feel like youre giving up a lot by joining this club? I asked.
yea, of course I do. And I havent told you the half of it. Theres more to it.
They expect you to join a committee to head a yearly volunteer project.
disturbs you? I asked.
yea. Why are there so many conditions? Look, Im paying dues to join this club.
Isnt that enough? What are all of these hoops that I have to jump through just to
become a member of their club?
sure sounds like you believe you have to give up a lot to join. Whats so great about
being a member in the first place?
told you all about that before. It will be great for my career. Ill be able to meet
a lot of people who can help me out. You know, you cant get anywhere in this field
without somebody who will take an interest in your career. And this is where all the main
players hang out.
that, it cant hurt my social life any. There are functions that go on throughout the
year. And some of them are pretty impressive to attend.
it sounds like theres a lot for you to gain by joining. Whys it so hard for
just dont like being told what to do and when to do it. I feel like somebody else is
controlling my life. And if this is what you have to do just to join, then whats it
going to be like a year from now?
theyre taking away my Thursday nights. Then they want to assign me to a committee to
work with a bunch of people I dont even know. Then, they have this whole list of
rules about how you have to act if youre a member of their club.
just seems to me that I should be able to have some say in all of this.
it sounds like a real dilemma. On the one hand, you stand to gain a lot of visibility for
your career. Youll have the opportunity to rub elbows with important people who can
support your development. Youve been complaining lately about how bored you are with
your social life. This sounds like just the shot in the arm you were hoping for.
Youll even have the opportunity to do some good work for the community.
the other hand, youre digging your heels in because you dont like other people
telling you what to do. Youre fearful of how much control this club will exert
over your life. You feel like your ability to make decisions is being curtailed. You
resent having to do things somebody elses way. Most importantly, you dont want
to surrender in any way to somebody else.
can understand how this decision is so hard for you.
struggle my friend is experiencing is not unique to him. Relationships challenge us to
master the delicate balancing act of maintaining and surrendering parts of our
individuality. The art of building relationship-bridges challenges us to cooperatively
blend two separate lives into a singular entity that honors the needs of each individual,
yet preserves the integrity and well-being of the relationship.
get me wrong. I assure you that last sentence was much easier for me to write than it is
for any of us to execute. However, its the secret to the ongoing work we take on in
no question that the road gets rocky from time to time. And Im sure that you can see
by now, that when the road gets rocky, theres something important going on beneath
the surface of the relationship that isnt getting expressed. However, how many of
you focus more on the drama created by the power struggle rather than what the power
struggle is masking about the underlying relationship issues? For instance...
you get caught up in defending the correctness of your position, do you lose sight of what
the drama is expressing about you and your partner and the emotional needs of both?
you get caught up in creating a space in your relationship that protects your
individuality, do you compromise the well-being of your relationship?
you get caught up in enforcing your position, do you totally disconnect from what your
underlying fears are?
you get caught up in justifying the righteousness of your cause, do you turn your back on
the dignity of your partner?
and control is fear driven. The more you want to disconnect from feeling your fear, the
more you will mask your fear with controlling behavior. One of the many fears that lives
beneath all the drama that power and control creates is the fear of losing our autonomy.
For instance, think about this conversation I overheard one night while I was visiting my
friend Sylvia at her bar.
was nursing a Miller as I munched on a bowl of mixed nuts. Sylvia was in the midst of some
animated conversation with one of the patrons at the bar. I had one eye on the Bulls
game on the big screen TV, but what had really caught my attention was the conversation
going on at the table next to me between two gentlemen.
she said, I would appreciate it very much if you would trim your mustache. It
tickles me when you kiss me.
told her I wouldnt do it. That I would trim my mustache when I was ready to trim my
mustache, not when she tells me to. When she asked me why I wouldnt do it, I simply
told her, Because I cant have you believe Im going to do something for
you everytime you ask me to. I need you to know that when I do something its because
thats what I want to do.
friend nodded his head as he said, I know what you mean. I just went through
something similar the other night with Laurie.
continued, Laurie had been staying away from me lately. All we seemed to do was
argue about how much time we were going to spend together. Well, I figured if she was
going to be that way, I would fix her. I knew she called me every night at 9:00 p.m.
sharp, so, when she called me one night, I let the answering machine pick up the phone.
spent the next three hours trying to get ahold of me but I wouldnt answer the phone.
next day when we did talk to each other, she asked me where I was last night. I told her I
decided to go out to a couple of bars. Let me tell you, she was out of her mind with
jealousy. She became enraged. She asked me how I could do that to her. Her exact words
were How do you expect me to trust you if youre going to act like
man finished his story by telling his friend, Of course, I showed her. I told her
that I didnt care whether she ever trusted me or not. That seemed to solve it right
mustaches. Going to bars. Is that the root of whats going in these guys
relationships? Or is it more likely that theres some struggle taking place between
them and their partners that they havent even begun to talk about? Is it more likely
that the power struggles that theyve created mask the fears that they have about
trying to cooperatively solve the problems in their relationships?
you guess what theyre frightened of? Frightened that they wont get their way?
Frightened that they wont get what they want when they want it? Frightened that
theyll lose some essential part of who they are if they give into their
partners demands? Frightened that if they give in one time, theyll lose and
their partner will win? Frightened if they give in just this one time, theyll always
have to give in?
are many of the fears that bubble beneath the surface when two people try to blend their
lives. Its only natural to want to cling to our sense of autonomy, our own way of
doing things. Yet, its this very natural desire to want to hold on to who we are,
how we do what we do, that becomes the precipitant for so much of what gets fought over
without ever being acknowledged.
no question that the fears need to be honored. They cant be wished away, talked
away, or even threatened away. The best any of us can do is acknowledge that the fears are
present. If you can acknowledge to yourself and to your partner what youre so
frightened of, then you can begin to support rather than fight with each other.
see, thats the only way you can defuse the situation. Supporting each other. Support
means compromise. Support means shifting priorities. Support means balancing the
relationships needs against the individual needs of each person. Support means being
there for each other rather than competing with each other.
the biggest shift that needs to be made. Shifting from seeing your interests as competing
to creating shared interests that support the well-being of the relationship. Thats
the ultimate art of blending your life with your partner. Creating an environment of
cooperation rather than competition.
lets take a look at your relationships. Lets see what shifts need to be made
to make your relationship less competitive and more cooperative. More importantly,
lets see if we can discover what your fears are that create the power struggles that
exist in your relationship.
identify some power struggles that you experience with your partner. It could be as silly
as the infamous toilet seat battle. It could be as important as the politics that revolve
around your sexual life. It could be as boring as who cleans the dishes. It could be as
fundamental as who controls the money. Im sure you can think of at least three
points of conflict where power and control keep you and your partner paralyzed in winning
and losing rather than emancipated by the spirit of resolution.
Next, look more closely at each example you wrote above.
Answer this only from your perspective. Whats the fear thats buried under the
power struggle? Why do you cling so hard to your position? What are you afraid will happen
to you if you let go of your position and create a solution of compromise?
Now, the hard part. One by one, examine each example. Examine
the fears that you associate with each example. Whats a compromise that incorporates
your partners interests with your interests?
Take your time. Thoughtfully consider what a favorable solution is for all three
concerns--you, your partner, and the relationship.
This is hard to do but its where youre going to
eventually wind up if you want to move beyond the power struggle. Ask yourself, just how
much more do you want to invest in the power struggle? Have you invested enough or do you
want to keep it going? If youre ready to be through with it, heres the path
out of the struggle.
key point to remember when were talking about power and control is that youre
really dealing with fear. Fear is something that you need to respect. When you respect the
underlying fears below the surface, youre much more able to work with the fears
rather than untangle the knots of the power struggle thats raging above the surface.
it for the themes of the four underlying relationship issues. Rest assured that they
wont always appear as obvious as they sound in this book. But as you become more
sensitized to what these four themes are and how they appear in your relationships,
youll begin to feel more comfortable with how best to resolve the underlying
Recognizing the themes
is one half of the battle. Resolving the issues once you recognize the theme is the second
half of the battle. To more effectively resolve these issues, youre going to need a
blueprint and some tools to execute the plan. Join me in the next section to learn how to
do just that.
chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your
children to choose to be alcohol and other drugs
free. Learn how
to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D. Recovery book series.