Today, I'm going to talk about three ways to share power to create an equal partnership in marriage. Of my top six marriage steps recommended for happiness this is number three. Learning to share power and remembering marriage is a partnership is a problem for a lot of couples I see in my practice. Before going further, let me define my terms.
Partnership in Marriage
Marriage is a partnership means both partners have an equal voice on all decisions in the relationship. In addition, both partners feel like they can influence one another and there's a spirit of equality in the marriage. This benefits the relationship because both partners feel respected and it fosters a sense of teamwork.
Unfortunately, a lot of times one partner doesn't share power. Instead, they suck up all the power and won't listen to their partner and they do whatever they want. That type of behavior creates problems because it makes the other partner feel voiceless, powerless, and disrespected. John Gottman, in his marriage research, showed that partners who feel like they don't have power or a voice in their marriage have harsher startups to conflict and desire sex less often, which makes sense. If you're constantly feeling like you don't have a voice and your partner won't accept your influence it's going to make you feel resentful and angry, which will result in harsh startups and less sexual desire.
Some people struggle more than others with sharing power and one possible reason is how we were raised. For example, a child raised in a permissive home where the parents provided all love and no rules will grow up doing whatever they want. That existence could give them a strong will, which could make it hard for them to compromise and share power in marriage. In contrast, someone growing up in an authoritarian home where their parents provided no love and all rules didn't ever get listened to so they are used to having no voice. Not surprisingly, they may enter marriage passive because they were trained to be passive growing up. My wife and I have struggled sharing power in our marriage. I was raised with a permissive mother where I did whatever I wanted whenever I wanted and that developed a very strong will inside of me for doing things my way. My wife, on the other hand, was raised with an authoritarian mother who ignored what she wanted so she learned to be passive and lost her voice. We both brought these tendencies from our childhood right into our marriage, my bent to do whatever I want and her bent to be passive and give in. This pattern created frustration for both of us because I wanted her to be more vocal and direct with what she wanted and she would feel like it didn't matter what she said because I would do whatever I wanted anyway.
One example with this pattern is our dishwasher. We have the type of dishwasher where the silverware rack has a grid that can be lowered or left open. If lowered, silverware can be placed into the individual slots so they don't touch in the wash. I'm not as hygiene focused as my wife so I would lift the lid and throw all the silverware into the rack together because it was faster. My wife would hate that because she wanted the rack down so all of the silverware would be separated so they could get cleaner. So she would make this request to me as I'm loading the dishwasher to put the lid down but I would judge and ignore her request because I didn't think it was necessary. Then, she would unload the dishwasher and see I didn't listen to her and would get upset because it made her feel like she didn't have a voice and couldn't influence me. This pattern continued for awhile until finally it hit me. What am I doing? Why am I not listening and honoring her preference? So I decided to start honoring her preference by putting the grid down so the silverware couldn't touch and immediately she felt heard and respected. Now I load the silverware like that every time without thinking about it, it's my new normal!
Partnership in Marriage - Marriage is a Partnership: 3 Steps
One way to share power and act like marriage is a partnership is to practice honoring your spouse's preferences instead of judging and dismissing them. Imagine the change you can create in your marriage if moving forward each time your partner makes a request you honor it, rather than judge and dismiss it. Talk about a game changer!
The second way to share power and act like marriage is a partnership is make a graph with partner A on one side and partner B on the other and list all the categories of your life together, such as parenting, money, sex, socializing, hobbies, etc. Next, think through who calls the shots for each one. Who has the final say? For example, if you have kids who decides how the children should be raised. Is it partner A, partner B, or do you decide together. What about money? Does partner A or partner B determine how much of your money will be saved and spent or do you decide together? What about sex, does partner A or partner B determine frequency or do you decide together? Some of the categories you may not care so you defer to your spouse. That's fine, as long as other categories they defer to you so it balances out. At the end of the graph, you want it to look roughly 50/50 where both of you have equal voice and power in your marriage. Doing this graph often shows couples if one partner or the other holds more power in the relationship and what categories need to be adjusted for things to feel more equal.
The third way to share power and act like marriage is a partnership is to use a technique called "bounce the ball." The ultimate goal with all decisions is for you and your partner to reach enthusiastic agreement. Not just agreement but enthusiastic agreement. The word enthusiastic is important because it demonstrates both partners are fully on board rather than one dominating and the other giving in. So, to "bounce the ball" you state your opinion and the values and reasons underneath your position then say "What do you think?" Then, your partner does the same. Once you both have shared your position then you each start adjusting your position incrementally to honor your partner's position until you reach a win/win. That's bouncing the ball. If you think about soccer or basketball, no one likes a ball hog. Being a ball hog on decisions in marriage is when you state your opinion and do what you want without ever considering your partner. Instead, state your opinion then say "what do you think?" to bounce the ball and become a team player. Use this technique on all decisions big and small that impact your marriage to share power. See the example below on a couple bouncing the ball on how much tech time to give their kids.
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What else do you think could help couples act like a partnership in marriage because marriage is a partnership?