How would you describe a "power struggle" to an
average 11-year-old? What do you feel is the
difference - if any - between a power struggle
and an argument? A debate? In the
context of relationships, how would you explain
Premise - for our purposes, let's say
that a "power struggle" occurs when two (or
more) people try to convince the other/s that
they each "know best," or "are right."
The person with the most power can
make the other/s agree and do what s/he wants
them to do.
The opposite of power struggling is win-win
This is a
process where each person (a) identifies what
they each need, and (b) brainstorms a way for
both sets of needs to be voluntarily met "well
enough." The combined "power' of both/all people
is directed towards filling their respective
In typical power struggles, one or both people
don't feel really heard
by the other. Person "A" states something, and
person "B" says "Yes but..." or
Instead of both focusing on their respective needs, they
focus on persuading the other to "give in" or
"see it my way."
Another payoff for some power-struggle fans is
simply the excitement of verbal combat. Have you
ever met someone who seemed to relish arguing
and debating about almost anything? "Winning"
may be less important to them than simply
hooking you into an entertaining high-energy
competition. In a sense they're trying to persuade
you to engage with them, whether you want to or
Two annoying aspects of typical power struggles
are (a) one or both people feeling disrespected, and (b) one partner not agreeing to stop the
struggle. ("Alex follows me around the house
yammering at me.") Has this happened to you?
Can you think of a recent power struggle with an
adult or child? Recall how you felt as it
progressed - Frustrated? Irritated?
Disrespected? Unheard? Combative? Weary?
Determined? Energized? Amused? Challenged? Did
you get your needs met? Did you feel like a
"winner"; or "loser"?
who needs to engage others in a power struggle
is probably ruled by a well-meaning
Where this is true, using logic to
respond to them is as pointless as arguing with
two (or more) people to maintain a power
struggle. If you won't participate, the struggle
stops. Implication - you can
decide at any time whether to struggle or not.
is awareness of
and your communication
What communication choices do you have
with someone who wants a power struggle?
skill to recognize that you're beginning a
power struggle. Remind yourself what that
until they become automatic.
you feel. Your emotions point
to what you need now.
what you need - specifically - with
this person. To vent? Learn? Persuade?
Disengage? Confront? Problem solve? Then
choose one or more responses like these.
are you willing to hear some personal
feedback?" If you get "No," you have
problem to respond to.
"(Name), I'm not interested in a power
struggle / debate / argument / fight now."
"You and I see
this (topic) differently. Let's agree to
"What do you
need from me right now?"
"Whose needs do you see as most
important now - yours or mine?" (The
best answer is "Both of ours.")
"So you think / feel / need
is a hearing check, not an agreement.")
"I would rather
this than debate it with you."
your definition of a 'power struggle'?"
opinion on how to best deal with a
"How would you
describe the process between us now?"
"(Name), I need
to change the subject."
"What does it
mean to you that I don't see this the way
"Sorry, I'm not
willing to (do what you want) now (and I'm
done talking about it)."
"I sense that a
false self is
you now (and I'd rather talk with your true
With responses like these,
other person to "resist" - i.e. to bluster,
deny, argue, accuse you, whine, manipulate,
complain, threaten, go quiet (shut down),
avoid eye contact, repeat themselves, play
"Yes. but...", deflect, change the focus,
etc. When they do, respond with respectful
and calmly restate your original
response. Repeat this sequence until you
fill your needs or your needs change.
Agree you have a power
struggle, without blame
Stand and face your
partner from about 12"
away. Each of you make
an "L" shape with your
right arm so your
forearms are vertical
Clasp your right hands
gently, and hold
comfortable eye contact.
One of you start by
saying with some
right." As you
do, rotate both your
arms leftward to
horizontal. Don't use
physical strength and
don't resist - this is
not a physical contest.
Do not smile.
With steady eye contact,
the second person says
rotates both your arms
rightward 180 degrees to
The first person says
more forcefully "NO!
rotates both arms back
180 degrees to
Repeat this sequence
four or more times,
escalating the tone and
power of your voice and
the speed of
arm-rotation each time.
Keep steady eye contact,
and don't joke or grin.
See what you feel and
think, and discuss
this together as
you'll both wind up
exercise vividly illustrates
(vs. explains) the
pointlessness of arguing -
i.e. trying to persuade each
other "You're wrong and I'm
right!" A variation is to
say "I (did 'x'" and rotate)
and the other person says
"No, you didn't," and
rotates back) Try that for
6-8 times, and see what you
feel... This exercise can be
specially helpful with
stubborn (insecure and/or
Think of someone who's tried to hook you into a
power struggle recently. Imagine getting steady
eye contact and using one or more of these
response options with the person. What do you
think s/he would do? How would you feel?
that if you initiate a power
struggle, you're probably controlled by a
Your best response then is to make
your true Self a high priority!
Responses to Avoid
Because power struggles are inherently
antagonistic and combative, they invite
high-energy subselves to
your Self. They are apt to make lose-lose
responses like these:
"You just don't get it, do you?"
listening to me. What I'm trying to get you
to see is ________."
"You're way off
base / nuts / crazy / prejudiced /
"No one in their
right mind would believe that!"
anything to have the last word, won't you?"
arguing / debating / playing 'yes, but...' /
"You can't stand
being wrong, can you?"
that point about ten times now."
These are disrespectful, provocative "You"
messages (put downs) guaranteed to stoke the