POWER STRUGGLES AND CONFLICT
By Roland Watson
This article is based on an idea from the introductory series on behavioral form, where I described how form inevitably engenders power struggles. This occurs when someone has a simplistic view of you, and wants you to act in a particular way, but you don't want to. You know that their view of you is wrong, and refuse to accept it. Or, you may be stereotyping other people yourself, and then get surprised when they are upset about it.
Power struggles can only be resolved, and conflict avoided, when people have a fundamental willingness to compromise. This in turn only happens when we don't always have to win.
Don't live to win
The situation is like this. We are innately selfish. We want what we want, many times without even thinking about it. And, if another person is somehow opposed to us getting what we want, we view it as a competition, which we must win. It is this definition of life, as a game that we must win, which leads to one conflict after another.
It of course does not help that social messages glorifying competition, and winners, are ubiquitous in modern society. Our natural tendency to view life as a game, and which you have to win, is one of the most reinforced messages of all in the universe of behavioral form.
Unfortunately, a willingness to suspend the competition of life is typically only evident with people who love each other, and between the best of friends, in other words, with people who will sacrifice their interests for the other.
Who gets the last word?
You should ask yourself: are you willing to compromise with other people, or are you addicted to winning?
The form of conversations, or of communication rather than language, is a good test of this willingness. In other words, in a conversation do you have to have the last word, just the actual last word spoken?
Many people are addicted to having the last word, and it is a nightmare when they come together. Their conversations go on and on and on. You should reflect on a few of your recent conversations and ask yourself, how often did you have to have the last word? If the answer is always, you may be able to improve your ability to compromise by learning to control this habit.
The small stuff counts
The fight for power manifests itself at all levels, but as the last point shows, it is particularly noticeable in small matters. You should strive to limit your desire for control, your need to demonstrate that you are the one who has the power, over the small decisions of life.
This is particularly important if you want to maintain a loving relationship, since such a desire for control, so evident in the "games" that partners play, can easily lead to a breakup. A simple example of this is to not always insist on controlling the television remote.
A similar issue is the division of chores between partners. The best policy is: if something needs doing, you should do it, now.
Bite your tongue
This is another situation where it is essential to use your will. In relationship conflicts, and all other highly charged emotional situations, the best course of action is usually not to say something. You must use your self-control, to bite your tongue.
Also, what regularly happens in arguments is that the person who has the weaker position will refuse to listen to reason. They will attempt to counter it in some way, to maintain their power and the strength of their position, such as by:
- Reacting with emotion.
- Reacting with silence: a refusal to talk.
- Responding with a purposeful misinterpretation, of what was said, and then an emotional reaction.
- Accusing the other person of something that they are actually worried about in themselves.
- Shifting the argument, either directly or subtly, to another subject, one that they can win.
- Or finally, taking something personally, that wasn't intended that way at all.
If you think about it, I'm sure you can come up with example after example of all of these, in your own disputes with other people.
Once again, the best response when something like this happens is not to say anything. You do not want to escalate the argument. Instead, walk away from it. Allow for a cooling down period, after which a compromise should be easier to achieve.
It is also important to recognize that arguments over small matters, and which explode into all-out brawls, can reflect more than an unwillingness to cede control. Particularly in romantic relationships, there is often an imbalance of power, in one way or another, between the partners.
Examples of these types of differences include in the depth of feeling for the other person, in the interest in sex, and in who has more money, or control over the money.
To return to an idea from one of the introductory articles, this is the equilibrium issue. A relationship is also a system. If the system is not in equilibrium, if it is out of balance in some way, it can easily fail.
What regularly happens is that the partner who feels at a disadvantage may escalate and redirect small arguments, to try to resolve their real concern, which is the lack of balance, and, it is worth noting that this redirection is rarely conscious. More often than not it is driven by the unconscious, and manifests itself in emotional and even irrational behavior. But, while the behavior, this partner's passionate words and actions, may be objectionable, it is essential to understand that they reflect a legitimate and underlying concern.
So, and in conclusion, the best way to reduce the number of power conflicts in your life is to refuse to compete with other people, including by learning to control your desire to always get your way.
You should also reject standard definitions of success. Don't compete with other people and try to beat them: to win over them. Only compete internally, with yourself, to see what you can do: what you can accomplish.
In the next article, I will examine one of our greatest challenges, the problem of desire.