Power Grab Speaks of Bigger Issues

Dear Neil: My wife has decided that she is going to get pregnant. She didn’t ask me how I felt about having a child, she told me that she has made a decision to get pregnant. What do you think about this?

Feeling Forced in San Antonio, Texas

Dear San Antonio: On first blush I think her stance is a prescription for her marriage to fail.

I don’t know what’s behind her stance, however. Have the two of you been in disagreement over this issue? Have you refused a conversation about this issue in the past? Has she expressed interest in getting pregnant before when you have adamantly refused? If that is the case, your wife has decided to force the issue with you (“I’m not on any birth control, and if I get pregnant, I’m keeping it.”)

If, however, the two of you have not been in disagreement over this issue in the past, then it sure sounds like your wife has decided to make a naked (pardon my pun) power grab, and if that is the case, it speaks of a more serious problem in your relationship.

Depending on the roles and responsibilities each of you play, either one of you has the power to withhold money, sex, affection, approval, love, support and friendliness from the other. Each of you could make unilateral decisions or choices that could dramatically impact the other person’s stability and sense of being in control over his/her own life. If you accepted a job in another state or country, without first getting her agreement and inviting her to come along, there would no doubt be fireworks. Ditto for either partner withholding sex, affection or financial support.

So although both of you hold power, heaven help you if you misuse your power—or use your power to force the other person to do things they don’t want to do—or to accept agreements they would otherwise find unacceptable. Because trust is at stake in every intimate relationship, important decisions are better left for discussion and negotiation instead of hard-edged bully tactics.

And that is what troubles me about your wife’s stand about getting pregnant. It appears that she’s forcing an issue rather than finessing, negotiating or requesting it. Either that, or she’s saying getting pregnant is more important to her than remaining with you.

Either way, I would recommend a very honest conversation between the two of you about what this means to your relationship, and how the two of you can avoid power grabs in the future.

Dear Neil: My boyfriend broke up with me because he was unsure of his feelings toward me. He gave me lots of attention most of the time—almost too much—and was distant other times. I found this up and down behavior confusing and hard to take, as it was unpredictable and it kept me on edge. I am struggling to deal with all of this and worried that I will end up choosing someone again who won’t commit to me. Any suggestions?

Rejected in London, England

Dear London: Your ex-boyfriend craved connection and closeness, and then ran away from it when it was offered. This speaks of him being ambivalent, either toward you or toward being in a close relationship.

If this ever happens to you again, openly address the issue with your significant other. You might say something like: “I’m confused. You clearly desire us being close with each other, but I feel you’re also pushing away from me. Could you help me understand exactly what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it?” Once the behavior is openly identified, it will allow you to periodically revisit the issue, so you can address it on an ongoing basis.

The best way to avoid being caught unaware is to be more consistently aware.

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