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The Myth About Sharing Power

It’s finally spring! The weather is warm. The flowers are blooming. I’m in a park watching children on the playgrounds. I don’t have to think about work and people who cause harm physically or by coercive control. However, as often happens, everything I see is “grist for the mill,” as an old professor once said.

The judges in our county will not mandate intervention services that exceed six months, which is why we offer a 26-week program. Usually, about 18 weeks into the program, men have begun to make changes in themselves, and those changes affect their relationships. Then someone comes in at week 20 and announces, “This crap doesn’t work. Now that I let her go out without the third degree, now that I don’t [do that thing I used to do], she’s started arguing or walking out when I’m talking to her or she’s refusing to do things.” To which one of the facilitators will say, “You’re welcome.”

It’s often difficult to be grateful for. It can be difficult to be grateful that a partner is acting out with some form of resistance, some form of power. Difficult to understand it at all, much less understand it as a good benchmark.

However, what his partner’s resistance or acting out means is that he may be doing something right. The likely explanation for her new behavior is that she is no longer afraid.

Back on the playground is an explanation. Looking at the seesaw…
The person with the most power sits comfortably on the ground while the person on the other end dangles up in the air. Sometimes protesting. Sometimes scared.

​If some weight is added onto the in-the-air side, if that power differential shifts, the person on the ground obviously shifts, perhaps to where his feet are no longer touching the ground.

However, rather than a sense of being equal, it feels

Here’s the unrecognized essence of power. Power can’t be given. Even with the best of intentions, you can’t grant power to someone else. If you have the ability and option to give power, you still have the option and power to take it back.

Power cannot be granted. It can be shared only when someone has taken it.

In a recent battering intervention group, we were discussing women in government. Someone referred to “when women were given the right to vote.”

“Given!?” I asked, probably too firmly. I heard someone say a soft, “Uh-oh.”

I went on, of course. Women weren’t “given” the right to vote. They fought for it. They strived and struggled and suffered in intellectual and physical battles to take the power to be able to vote.

Whoever has the dominant power in a relationship does not simply decide to share power. And it is also not enough that he simply reconciles being okay when power is taken from him. He must also value the increased richness of the new relationship when power is taken from him.

And, whether it’s in political/social relationships or in an intimate partner relationship the person from whom power is taken must figure out how to nourish, support it, and appreciate it.

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