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A power move you can celebrate

And I can celebrate it too. Who’d’ve thunk it? Mira Kirshenbaum saying YAY! to a power move. Have I lost my mind?

But the more we open the issues behind Xiao Zhen Xie planking the guy who attacked her in San Francisco two days ago, the more interesting it gets.

You’ve heard the story, I’m pretty sure. Here’s the account according to the Washington Post:

Xiao Zhen Xie was standing at an intersection in San Francisco on Wednesday, waiting for the traffic light to change, when a White man with shaggy blond hair ran up and punched her face.

Xie, 75, picked up a wooden plank and hit back, striking the man’s face.

Police soon arrived on the scene, where Xie stood sobbing and clutching the makeshift weapon as the bleeding assailant was strapped into a stretcher.

“This bum, he hit me!” Xie said to onlookers, a video of the aftermath shows, as she held towels up to her bloodied eye.

Police arrested Steven Jenkins, 39, on Thursday and said he was also responsible for another unprovoked assault of an elderly Asian person that day. He is now charged with two counts of assault and elder abuse.

This story was, of course, horrifying and disturbing. That an older woman, minding her own business, could be viciously attacked is both unthinkable and yet, these days, all too common. Many, many women will have nightmares, sleepless nights, and anxiety attacks just from hearing this story. Some men, inspired by the evil idiot who did this, will want to copy what he did.

But then there was the part where Ms. Xie fought back, grabbing a plank and hitting that evil idiot on the face so badly that he needed an ambulance. Perhaps he really did need to be hit in the head with a 2 by 4 to get the point!

And I, like millions of other women of any age, were thrilled with Ms. Xie’s counterattack. Immediate justice. Appropriate, proportionate justice. Nothing more or less than this guy deserved. Who among us didn’t immediately think, “Good for her!”

Why? Because a horribly disempowering thing had happened to her—let’s face it, she could have been seriously injured—and right away she re-empowered herself as she so justly deserved to do.

So why am I saying Yay! to Ms. Xie and Boo! to power moves in relationships? Am I a big fat hypocrite?

As I said, this is where it gets interesting.

First of all, Ms. Xie, as far as I know, acted instinctively in self-defense. Which is why the police, of course, did not prefer charges against her. Duh! A small old woman is attacked by a big young man, is injured, and in response grabs a piece of wood and hits back. What else would you expect her to do, if she were able to do that?

But more importantly—and this is where the stuff we say in our book Why Couples Fight comes in—Ms. Xie wasn’t in a relationship with this guy and wasn’t in the process of trying to work out some conflict over who does what. The issue of her possibly poisoning her relationship with her attacker is never going to come up.

Let’s just say they went straight from having no relationship at all to having a permanently poisoned relationship based on his opening move. A 39-year-old guy punching a 75-year-old woman in the face is exactly NO rom-com’s version of a cute meet.

In relationship therapy language, what Ms. Xie did was to say, “Given that you began our relationship by punching me in the face, let my pounding you in the head with a plank serve to inform you that I want the maximum amount of distance between us starting now and lasting forever. If I never see you again, that would be too soon.” Ms. Xie, I think, used fewer words.

Things are completely different in an on-going committed relationship. If you and I are married to each other and our biggest problem is one or both of us not being hit, then we shouldn’t be married. Our problems would normally be trying to find a way for me to accommodate your needs and you to accommodate mine.

Now that’s not easy under any circumstances. But if the way we go about it is some version—less violent but no less emotionally destructive over time—of my punching you in the face and your hitting me over the head with a plank (let’s say, my calling you a total loser and you saying you’re sorry you ever met me), then in no time we will be in an escalating cycle of more intense power moves and fewer needs being met.

We know that’s true if you look at a situation between two people being strangers like Ms. Xie and her attacker and two people being married. Let’s look at two neighbors. Neighbor A annoys neighbor B, neighbor B takes some action, neighbor A taking some stronger action, and this goes back and forth until the cops or the courts are involved. The power moves A and B used just made things worse.

If there’s any kind of relationship at all, power moves will poison it.

So yeah, three cheers for Ms. Xie and everyone else who refuses to take shit from some shit-dealing stranger.

And we shouldn’t take shit in our relationships either! No way!

But we now know, and Why Couples Fight is there to prove, that power moves in your relationship will just make things worse. As our book offers, there are much better ways to get your needs met.


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