Relationships can be complicated. Ultimately you hope to have a balanced relationship where each person cares about the other and all is equitable. Often, however, couples find themselves engaged in power struggles with each other within the relationship. Depending upon how these are handled they can either result in growth, or stand in the way of being truly connected and happy.

The idea of a power struggle sounds bad, but not all power struggles are destructive. Some actually help a relationship grow. They help us figure out where our boundaries are within the relationship and can serve as a method of understanding the level of respect our partner has for us (and themselves). So what is the difference between a positive power struggle and a negative one?

Positive Power Struggles

Power struggles in a relationship are normal. After all the excitement and romance of the initial portion of your relationship fade you are ultimately left with two people who, although they care for each other, are unique. Opinions, viewpoints, and occasionally priorities are likely to differ. And, as people age and grow, these things will continue to shift.

This means that as a couple you must continue to learn about — and to respect — your differences. These differences can be the source of tension or arguments as each person tries to assert their position and secure the respect they feel they deserve. This is where the power struggle begins.

A positive power struggle is one that results in the growth of your relationship. In this type of struggle you establish, or reinforce, the rules of engagement when it comes to arguments and common issues. You are able to determine where lines are that cannot be crossed, and see the issues that your partner feels strongly about. At the end of it all you will have determined where compromise is appropriate and where you each can give. In doing this you are also growing your connection and respect for one another and therefore making it stronger.

Negative Power Struggles

Negative power struggles are really a struggle for control over your partner and the direction of the relationship. Whether it is a controlling wife or controlling husband, negative power struggles often involve manipulation and controlling behavior that strives to force the other person into seeing and accepting things your way. It is very much a “my way or the highway” attitude toward things.

The negative power struggle isn’t ever really won. Even if the controlling individual gets their way, the dynamic is unhealthy and can result in resentment and an imbalance within the relationship.

Negative power struggles are often repetitive occurrences. They become a regular effort by one partner to control or influence the other. The result is not compromise and respect, but usually a constant state of unhappiness.

Healthy relationships do not require one person to resign themself to the will of the other. This dynamic will never result in a balanced and truly happy connection. A healthy relationship will, however, experience a regular give and take. This can feel like a struggle as you are moving through it, but the result is one of compromise and respect.

So if you find yourself in what you consider a power struggle with your partner and feel frustrated, give some thought to your history as a couple. How do these things normally end? Sometimes in your favor and sometimes in theirs? If so, you are probably working through things in a healthy manner. If, however, it almost always tips in one person’s favor there could be a problem that needs to be addressed.