Power Dynamics in Intimate and Sexual Relationships

Every intimate relationship involves power dynamics.

Individuals and couples run into trouble when they use power unconsciously, or use power to manipulate. We see too many relationships in which people use power defensively, creating distance, inducing guilt or confusion—while denying they’re doing so. Other people use power tactics (such as withdrawal and denial) to prevent disagreements of any kind, often believing they’re caretaking the relationship.

This seminar will examine the many ways adults use power—and how the therapist can help clients see and even change their dynamics. We’ll discuss how chronic conflict about particular topics, such as parenting, money, or sex, is often an unacknowledged struggle over power. Power struggles can also erupt when couples should really be talking about their contrasting value systems or relationship goals. We’ll look at several examples of how power struggles typically play out in relationships, including infidelity, pornography and household chores—and effective clinical responses.

We’ll talk about the role of agreements and integrity in supporting one’s self-esteem and in making relationships work. We’ll examine the common phenomena of chronic “forgetting,” of strategic incapacity, and of trivializing others’ upset over broken agreements—classic passive-aggressive behaviors. Conversely, we’ll also examine how narratives of non-entitlement and victimhood help keep people stuck.

Finally, we’ll examine how unacknowledged power dynamics (both in and out of bed) can interfere with sexual relationships, often leading to low desire and dysfunction.