It is of very little consequence how good you feel your relationship is, there is a dynamic that defines the interaction and what you do. It doesn’t matter if it is a friendship, work or a romantic relationship, we like to control things the best we can. This is what humans do. Codependency in relationships is about this, narcissism in relationships is about this, the employer-employee relationship is about this and individual-society relationship is all about this. We all like to hold the balance of power in any relationship we have and we fight to keep it, sometimes unconsciously and we are only willing to pass the balance to the other person if it is in our interest to do so.
The above description might give the idea that relationships are all about self-interest but I firmly believe that to be the case. We choose our relationships very carefully and only in very rare circumstances are we forced into a relationship we don’t want. Within these ‘chosen’ relationships, we like to have as much of the say as possible. Even codependency is a control measure used to gain the maximum from a partner.
Why we do this is clear. We are self-centered beings who want the best for ourselves and we only give some of this away to the people we choose to. We do this for our own security and to make the environment around us as secure and pleasing as possible for us as individuals. Much of the conflict that occurs in relationships is when the balance of power we hold is threatened and we fight to regain it.
Much of this balance is driven by return or ‘payoffs’. This means we are prepared to give up a little of our ‘power’ in return for something. It is the ultimate transaction much as we try to kid ourselves that we do it for love and affection. Love only thrives when we are happy with the ‘balance’ and how it is working, how comfortable we feel that we are getting the right return for our part of the transaction. When this is not forthcoming, we have no issue withholding our part of the bargain. The biggest killers of relationships, resentment and contempt are symptoms of a out-of-balance relationship.
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There are times, of course when we see it to our advantage to have the balance of power completely in the hands of another. We trust doctors and other professionals to have our best interest at heart and we are willing to sometimes place our lives in their hands. However, in a relationship between two people who have chosen to be together, there are events that can change the balance dramatically. Illness, physical or mental can change the dynamic quickly and in such circumstances, we would rightly hope our partner would do the right thing. Let’s take another scenario.
Infidelity is basically the worse possible scenario for a relationship. It breaks everything, trust, hope and the basic foundation of what we might see as secure. It can smash the delicate balance of ‘relationship payoff’ in a moment. People cheat for many reasons. Opportunity, attention-seeking, the need for sex and excitement, lack of control and the inability to manage impulses among others. However, it might also suggest that the cheater felt that they were not getting the ‘payoff’ they expected from their input.
Let me make it clear, there is no excuse for infidelity and it cannot be condoned under any circumstances. If you want something else, work on it with your partner or leave… simple.
However, sometimes there is a strange dynamic that occurs after infidelity if the partner who was cheated on stays in the relationship. We all know that most relationships where infidelity is an issue do not survive and the couple split up. Sometimes, they stay together and try hard to restore the balance by learning from the infidelity and trying to put the ‘payoff’ system on an equal footing again. It is the ultimate in forgiveness and putting the relationship above all else. Again, we will only do this if we feel it will promote our own interests and in this case, the cheater will have to accept that for a while, their input into the ’emotional bank account’ might be at higher interest.
There are, in contrast to this, relationships where the cheater hands the balance of power completely to their partner in return for staying with them and their partner is very willing to take it. In these types of relationship, the balance is usually to a large degree, with one person who might well use that to control. They will readily stay in the relationship but will not work on anything to move the situation forward. They are seen as people who are forgiving and empathetic and in some cases, they are but this situation is the ultimate in ‘transaction payoff’. What is being said is ‘I will stay but you are under my control, that is the only way I will feel secure’. Unfortunately, this will only hold for a while. Nobody likes to be under control for long if their only ‘payoff’ is to stay in a controlled situation and the likelihood of another ‘cheating’ event or eventual break-up is highly probable.
This article may look to bust wide open the notion that relationships are destiny or based purely on feelings. However, it would be hard to believe relationships are the only part of our lives that are regulated this way. As a species, we make definite choices (even doing nothing is a choice) about what we do and what we are not prepared to do and who we do that with. The way we see and interact in relationships is nothing more than that.
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Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counseling psychotherapist in online private practice working with individuals, couples and groups, dealing with codependency issues, severe depression, bipolar, personality disorders, anxiety, PTSD, eating disorders and other mental health issues. He has been practicing online for many years and recognized early that online therapy was a convenient method for people to meet their therapist. Working outside the box, he goes that extra mile to make sure clients have access to help between sessions, something that is greatly appreciated. He also gives part of his spare time up to mentor psychology students in a university setting.
For more information, please visit: www.drnjenner.com