People often ask, especially since there are so many relationship books out there, what do you have to say that’s new?
Why Couples Fight is the first book to show that the reason couples get in trouble is they battle for power. That’s what’s new.
It’s the power dynamics in a relationship that destroy a relationship, and the tragedy is that no one wants this. People in a relationship don’t battle for power because they want power for themselves. No. It’s just that they don’t want to feel disempowered, and sadly we all have a hundred and one ways of making our partners feel disempowered, whether we intend to or not. And when we feel disempowered, it’s instinctive for us to try to re-empower ourselves, which in turn is perceived as a power move by our partner, and the battle for power is off and running. No one wins and no one’s needs get met.
Here’s an example. Here are Mary and Will Friendly, the nicest couple you’d ever want to meet. It’s just that...well, watch.
Mary knows that Will doesn’t like to spend money, so she starts out big when she brings up her need: “Will, I’ve been looking and looking at that lawn of ours and we just gotta do something about it. You work too hard to be able to do anything, so let’s just bring in a landscaper before the neighbors start picketing our house. We just gotta do this, and we gotta do it now!”
Right away Will feels steamrolled. That is, disempowered. Sweet li’l ol’ Mary is trying to take him out with one move, even though she’d never describe it like that. But Will definitely feels one down and that he’s got to deal himself back in the game.
So much more loudly and assertively than he might have done if Mary’d approached him differently, he says, “What! No way!! We don’t ‘gotta’ do anything. The only thing we gotta do is not go bankrupt. You should be worried about saving the house, not the lawn.”
Good ol’ Will is happy with this take-out move, thinking that the sheer logic of it will lead to Mary smacking herself on the forehead and saying, “Oh, my masterful man! I’m such a silly billy. You’re right! A house is more important than a lawn.”
The thing is, though, that while we may hear logic, we feel power, and it’s power we respond to. So Mary hears sweet Will telling her she’s an idiot, unqualified to even participate in a discussion like this.
Now she’s got to deal herself back in. “You’re not gonna bamboozle me with your ‘lose the house’ BS. You always pull that. Things are tight, but you’re like a scaredy-cat old lady in a falling-apart dress pinching her pennies. When we’ve got plenty! And what’s a ratty-looking lawn gonna do to the value of our house?”
Well! Now Mary has said that Will is like a crazy old lady. You tell me: will this attempt at re-empowerment on Mary’s part result in Will becoming compliant and reasonable? Or has the battle for power just taken yet another turn for the worse, which will keep on going back and forth till you hear the sound of doors slamming?
Now of course you and your partner aren’t Mary and Will. But I’ve witness thousands and thousands of whatever you might want to call them—fights, arguments, disagreements, “discussions,” “attempts at a compromise—and they all follow this same pattern. It doesn’t matter if voices are raised or not. Or if people are rude or not.
In all cases, the pattern of one person doing or saying something that makes the other person feel disempowered, and the other person re-empowering themselves, and then the first person needing to re-empower themselves, back and forth, on and on, until things blow up and everyone is discouraged and miserable—THAT’S the dynamic that takes over and brings nice, normal, loving, sane people down the road to not getting their needs met and to feeling that divorce is the only solution.
What’s brand new in Why Couples Fight is this understanding and the solution we provide so you never have to get stuck in a cycle of power struggles and unmet needs ever again.