At some point in every romantic relationship, the honeymoon phase wears off and a power struggle begins. This new relationship phase differs from couple to couple. Some experience it after they say “I do.” Some experience it once there is a ring involved. Others experience it the minute things become serious in the relationship. No matter the time frame, a shift occurs in the regular relationship dynamic. No longer is each member of the couple tip-toeing around to keep the other person happy. At this point, expectations are increased. However, despite this drastic shift, the changes are hardly ever discussed!
So what are some of these new expectations? They vary in each individual depending on their upbringing. The female member of a heterosexual couple may suddenly expect her male counterpart to perform the same household tasks her father did, such as balancing the checkbook, taking out the trash, and cleaning the gutters. Likewise, the male member of the couple may expect his female companion to cook, clean, and sprinkle breadcrumbs on the macaroni and cheese because this is how his mother did things.
Although some of these tasks may come naturally to each person and they may find themselves happy to do them, other demands may seem out of place. Since none of these expectations were agreed upon prior to the relationship shift, these demands can be the cause for a good deal of tension within the relationship.
This newfound tension will most likely lead to a realization that our partner is not exactly how we thought they were. For example, you may have been inspired by your partner’s free-spirited nature at the beginning, but it now reminds you more of laziness and a lack of responsibility. This is where the first of the three parts of the power struggle begins.
Anxiety Within Ourselves
Now that our partner’s once beloved traits are now irksome, our unconscious begins to sense something all too familiar. Our partner begins to make us feel anxious by stirring up forbidden parts of ourselves. These forbidden parts are the aspects of our self-image that we do not entertain due to their negative connotation.
When our partner’s habits begin to take a negative turn, we identify with them, realizing that our partner is not making us completely whole and making up for what we lack. This realization, despite being below the surface of consciousness, brings us to a new level of anxiety about our relationship and ourselves.
Similarities to Negative Traits of Our Parents
Not only do these realizations about our partner make us anxious over the similarities to forbidden aspects of ourselves, we also begin to see similarities between our partners and our parents. Our unconscious screams in fury because it deliberately chose this person to resolve childhood issues, not relive them! However, more often than not, negative similarities between our partner and our parents can be found.
Denied Negative Traits
The final aspect of the power struggle involves seeing our own denied negative traits in our partner. These are traits that we disowned long ago, not wanting to be associated with such things. For the most part, these are creative adaptations of childhood wounds. No wonder we try to ignore them!
Many of these traits come from our parents at an early age. We take them in as our own without even knowing it but also find them appalling enough to reject. Still, they remain a part of us and our unconscious is aware of that. Therefore, we set out to reclaim these traits in our partner. Our unconscious deliberately seeks out these traits when looking for a potential romantic partner. Despite the negative aspects of these traits, they are still a part of our self-image that is always yearning to be complete.
With all three of these aspects of the power struggle now in play, the illusion of romantic love begins to slowly erode in the relationship. Instead, conflict begins both consciously and unconsciously. First comes shock. Then denial. And finally, betrayal. This stage can be overcome by time and patience. At this point, it yields to bargaining. Couples can use this time to communicate needs and negotiate expectations in a healthy, productive way. However, if a level of communication and understanding is not met during this time, the end result can be the final stage: despair. In this stage, there is no longer hope of finding happiness within the relationship. At this point, many couples withdraw from each other completely and file for divorce.
What stage are you in?
(Source: Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D)