Power plays by any other name

So relationships are hard, right? Let me give you at least one example of how definitely not to go about it, and why it's a bad idea. It's a tangled mess.

This one may touch on some new agy subjects, but bear with me, I haven't gone to lalaland.

Let me start with telling you about the woman who called into my line at 5am in the morning. She's a business woman, tries to think logically, rationally, and financially responsible. She came to me for advise on business: What is going to benefit the company? What is a good long term strategy? This person we are employing, are they going to bring more to the company than they cost? We're looking to start a business relationship with someone, can you tell me about their character and if the things they told us make sense, or if they are making it sound better than it is? You know, reasonable questions.

But then, she starts telling me about her relationship. Twenty minutes in, I point out that in all this time, she's only talked about how her husband is clearly messed up, how he's got a personality disorder, and can't do this, and is bad at that, and needs to go here, and needs to do that, and is falling short in this way and doing it wrong in that, and how she has dragged in this person and that specialist and that medium and that worker that he's now working with and how they're going to fix him. The specialists, in this case, were all in the, let's call it very losely, "spiritual" corner. From what I understood, he was currently being treated by at least four different people, and had consulted dozens if not more over the past few years. One of his main problems, she said, that he was so open and full of entities, and there was something with voodoo, and Atlantis, and a long aggressive story about a pre-life contract and connection between their souls.

I've got some experience with these fields. I'm not one to say that there are no entities that affect people, or that voodoo can't be a problem, or that there's no Atlantis, or that connections between lives are crazy. They're not. There is a lot of stuff out there that's real and badly understood and that causes problems. But when you're dragging up half a dozen stories from two dozen sources and it all amounts to the insistance that he is a bad person who has to change to make your life easier because you know everything that's good for him and he's a stubborn asshole who just won't do what you've decided is good for him ... my eyebrows go way up. And my credulence that your unhappy relationship, or unhappy life, or malfunctioning business, is related to entities and voodoo, goes way down.

She rather resisted my suggestion that, regardless of anything she and he may or may not be doing about metaphysical problems that may or may not exist, and without any judgement on the validity of her conclusions, her attitude towards her husband was not condutive of a healthy relationship. That means, she did not like to hear it. She quoted many many sources that had told her she was right. I get that, I was getting a very lengthy call out of this first thing in the morning, best business I'm going to have all day. When you have a good thing going, roll with it, right? But no. I just ... nah. Call it professional integrity or gut level objection to bullshit, but I figured I'd introduce some unpopular ideas to her.

  • You cannot help people from a mindset that they are broken and need fixed. The energy you hold while you're trying to help someone matters. If that energy is "You horrible creature what is your problem", you're not helping, you're harming. They're better off without your "help" then.
  • You do not know who they are deep inside and what they are here for. Even if you think you do. Even if at times you may have some clue. It is not up to you to decide who someone else is supposed to be. It's their life. Their path. Their process.
  • You are not doing all these things to help him, you're doing it because he's bothering you. He's functioning badly and costing you money. He annoys you. He makes your life harder. Your efforts aren't about him, they're about you.
  • This thing you two have, it is not a relationship. Not a romantic one, nor a student-teacher one, nor a doctor-client one, nor are you friends.

She lists four things that matter (to her) about relationships. 1) You have to have respect for each other. 2) You have to choose the other on purpose. 3) You have to give each other freedom. 4. You have to be there for the other. It took another twenty minutes to get through to her the concept - though maybe not the realisation and definitely not the acceptance - that she in this "relationship" was not holding up any of the things she said a relationship had to have. None of em. She did not respect him for anything he was now, or had been. She chose a future version of him that she had decided he coud be, not the person she was actually with. She constantly tried to control and manipulate and push him, and brated his efforts to do things his own way. She wasn't there for him, she was there for her. From what she said - not that I take her word for it - he didn't hold up these four things either. It doesn't take a pro to see the problem here.

Somewhere in there, we got a little more of the underlying story out. They'd been together 30 or 40 years. She used to be very detached from the business and he kept her away from it, he had problems with addiction and possibly more messiness, she stepped in when the business was failing and grabbed the reigns ...

It was getting more and more obvious, that the two of them were stuck in a mutual power play. They wanted to control, and dominate, and take power from the other, and they'd happily lash out at each other - using whatever more or less subtle means - to do it. It was equally obvious that she wasn't intending to listen much, or change, or treat her husband or "relationship" differently. Perhaps we could at least go for some awareness, though. The next twenty minutes were spent ducking under and hopping over her endless stream of words to deliver a single point: "you both are involved in a powerplay." She vehemently denied it for ten minutes, then said "Well yes, HE is constantly looking for power. Over the business, and me, and things. He definitely does this, all the time!" Five minutes later: "HE is after power. I'm all about strength." By any other name ... And then she dropped this gem:

"I have my power plays completely under control!"

It doesn't matter what you call it. It doesn't matter how many experts in which field you call in to justify and fortify your position. Whether you take the legal route and have a judge proclaim that your partner is clearly in the wrong and should be punished, or you take the social route and trash-talk your partner to your friends to have them validate your need to control and abuse, or you go visit a hundred spiritual people until someone tells you that clearly your partner is possessed by entities and there is a magical beyond-this-world connection that gives you the right to control his life and tell him who he is supposed to be ... it's all the same thing.

A power play and a mutual struggle for control and power over the other, is not a healthy relationship. Relationships do not have to be equal. People have equal value, yes, but not equal levels of dominance and wanting to be in charge. And that's fine. It's ok for one partner to be more bossy than the other, or to enjoy being the submissive one. It's not ok to be cruel, and nasty, and tear each other up because you both think that you being in control of the other is going to fix your life and your sanity. If you're going to be together, in whatever relationship, do it because you make each other more. Don't make each other less. Don't make either of you less.

And the woman? She talked to me for an hour, then hung up, then called back and did another 40 minutes. Questions about the business. I left her with the consideration that this power play, once they sold the business to a new entrepeneur, was going to express into other areas of their lives. Was she ready for that?

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