Giving Your Power Away–And Getting It Back!

couples-counselingWe’ve all heard the idea of “giving your power away.” Most people assume that this also means that someone else has your power and using it against you. But that’s not quite right. Usually what happens is that people don’t speak up, don’t stand for what they need, or fall back in the face of someone else’s requests or actions

Relationship Counseling for Emotional Freedom

In my practice, I often do relationship counseling, both with individuals and couples counseling with two people together. Take, for example, Jordan, who feels he’s at the mercy of his girlfriend, Anne (names and biographical details have been changed to protect anonymity). Often, when on Monday he asks her out for the weekend, she tells him she doesn’t know what she’s doing over the weekend. When, midweek, he asks if she’s made up her mind, she gets angry at him and tells him he’s always hounding her. Then, 4:00pm Saturday she calls him up and says “come get me at 8:00—there’s a party at a friend’s house.” He’s angry because, after waiting for her to decide all week, he’s in the middle of catching up on work. With resentment in his voice he says, “All right” and heads off to her place. At the party, she barely spends any time with him and he wishes he had just stayed home. When he tries to tell her he’d like to leave now, she’s angry and yells that he’s no fun at all. This pattern of behavior shows how we can get stuck in relationship unhappiness and feel at the mercy of others when just a small but powerful change in behavior would create a sense of emotional freedom.

We Often “Teach” Others to be Inconsiderate

It would be easy to think Anne takes advantage of her boyfriend, and that she is selfish and inconsiderate. However, another way to look at it is that her Jordanhas “taught” her to be this way because he never requires anything of her overtly while inwardly resenting that she isn’t doing what he wanted to require. It looks like Anne has all the power and is using it against him. And this is true, to some extent. If she were a paragon of virtue, she would realize how considerate and generous and accommodating her boyfriend is and she would reciprocate.

In reality, hardly anybody does that; almost everyone takes what they get and, quite soon, becomes unaware that they’re even getting anything. It soon seems quite natural that this other person is giving and they just use what they are given.

What Can Jordan Do to Get His Power Back?

It’s like Jordanhas metaphorical feelers going outward, focusing on Anne. Imagine him pulling his feelers inward and noticing what he needs and wants and what he wants to offer and doesn’t want to offer, and acting from that. In other words, assertiveness. For instance, if he wants to go out with her on Saturday, he could ask her to do something specific with him. When she says that she doesn’t know yet, he could say, “OK. I’d love to go to the movies with you. If you can let me know by Wednesday afternoon, I’ll be available. After that, I’m going to make other plans.” And then, of course, he would need to stick by that and not give in to her at the last minute—or anytime after Wednesday.

Co-Dependence is Never Saying What You Want

The hard part about this is that, often, people are afraid that the other person will leave if they make a requirement. They become “co-dependent.”Jordanmay be afraid that he likes Anne more than she likes him and that if he doesn’t go along with whatever she does, she’ll go find another boyfriend. So he keeps on “giving his power away” and being miserable just to hold onto Anne.

Paradoxically, many people value people who make limits and stand by them more than people who don’t. In essence, people value those who value themselves more than those who don’t. It’s a risk, but it may be better than losing oneself and being unhappy.

For more on relationship counseling, see my Relationship Counseling page.

Wishing you a free and joyous life,

Zoe