Power & Control
Power & Control in Relationships
Having an element of power and control in our lives is essential in order to be able to manage our lives with confidence. It is the misuse of it in relationships which cause problems of varying degrees. Relationships come in all sizes and shapes. They are complex structures requiring a fine balance to make them function well. Two separate individuals are coming together with different parenting experiences, upbringing, family values, social and work interactions. Some may come from different cultures and religions – even living in different areas of the UK can have an impact. All these plus different previous relationship experiences are brought as ‘baggage’ for good or bad into the present relationship. Everyone comes into the relationship with expectations and whether consciously or unconsciously, wanting the other to meet those expectations. Unless a couple have identical needs and experiences, then there will be differences and it will be impossible to meet all of those expectations. This can lead to disappointment and feeling let down which can be interpreted as not being loved or cared for properly. It is at this point that partners start to put pressure on the other to conform and this is where the dynamic of power and control plays itself out. Every individual needs an element of control in and of their lives – to be able to make decisions which affect the direction we take at in any given situation and the power to make choices. When single, this is more straightforward, but it is more complicated as a couple.
When both partners have strong ideas about how they want to live – ranging from housework, cooking, discipline of children, time spent on hobbies, how to spend money, communicate and express love. Then pressure is often exerted on the other to conform.
There are varying levels of control in relationships. When a relationship functions well, there will be a good balance of control – a couple will communicate and negotiate, and recognise the rights and needs of each other.
Problems arise when either arguments increase as partners pressurise each other to get what they want – either verbally or physically, or one is dominated by the other more powerful partner. If not equally assertive and confident, or if one is afraid of challenging and confronting the other, then the dominant partner takes control. Often the consequences of challenging the dominant partner can be too great, such as heated arguments, especially if the children can hear, withdrawal, or moods. In extreme cases it can lead to emotional, verbal or physical abuse.
How can counselling help?
Counselling can be either as a couple or as an individual if one refuses to come or the other wants to discuss the situation alone.
Learning to communicate and manage and diffuse arguments requires skills which can be learned. Counselling offers the opportunity to explore and understand the dynamics of the relationship at this point. It is a calm environment where a couple will be able to listen to and be heard by each other without arguing. They will start to understand how important respecting each other is and that being different isn’t a fault in the other. They will be able to learn the difference between being assertive and being controlling. If a couple want to stay together, these skills can transform their relationship.
When control becomes extreme and domestic violence is involved, then safety is paramount. If incidences are sporadic and not severe and the partner being violent (sometimes the man or woman or both) agree to stop, then counselling is appropriate if there is no further occurrence.
If violence is severe, repeated and life-threatening, counselling is only appropriate for the victim with the emphasis on personal safety.
How many sessions will I need?
As in couple counselling, this will depend on how fast a couple or individual is able to put their learning into action. It will usually start at weekly intervals until the relationship is calmer and functioning better. Then it may reduce to two weekly and monthly until counselling is no longer needed.
Counselling for the perpetrator is not appropriate. There are perpetrator programmes available for them to seek help. For the victims of domestic violence, counselling will focus on a client’s safety. Thereafter, the client may want on-going personal counselling or choose to go on a recovery programme in a group situation.