Imagine, if you will, a pair of perfectly balanced scales. On one side is the husband and on the other, the wife. The scales are evenly balanced because the power in the relationship is divided equally between them. This is the ideal scenario.
Sadly, such arrangements are not that common. Even if the scales balance at the start of a marriage there is no guarantee they will remain so over time. People change, as do circumstances, with the result that the scales tip one way or the other.
There are many reasons why a relationship, however perfect in the early days, becomes unbalanced. One party might fall ill, resulting in the other having to care for them and becoming the more potent partner. One spouse (usually the wife) might opt to give up their job to bring up the children, while the other pursues their career. In this situation, it is often the case that the person who stays at home misses the office and the mental challenge of paid work, while the person who is continuing with their career assumes a more powerful role – they have the ‘grown up’ job and they earn the money.
Once the power balance in the marriage starts to tip one way, the stronger party tends to become even more forceful. Consequently, the less powerful becomes even weaker.
If this pattern continues, then the scales lurch ever more dramatically and the emotional and psychological connection between a couple becomes in danger of snapping.
A shift in power – however accidental – is one of the most common triggers for divorce and it’s not hard to understand why this is. The high-octane party starts to get bored with or even despise their weaker partner, while the least powerful resents or is in unhealthy thrall to the stronger spouse.
My advice is that the moment you sense the power balance is changing between you and your partner, try to rectify the situation. If, for example, you are a stay-at-home mum and you begin to feel resentful that your husband’s city slicker lifestyle is eating away at your self-esteem, and you suspect he is starting to find your baby-talk boring, take up a challenging hobby or enrol on an Open University course. In other words, do something that will allow you to have conversations with your spouse that aren’t just about ‘what Johnny did today’.
If, on the other hand, you sense you are becoming the more powerful partner, take a step back and try to put yourself in your spouse’s shoes. Taking the above example, make sure you come home from the office at the earliest opportunity, at least in time for the bath-and-bed routine. That way, you and your partner will have common ground to discuss during the evening.
To my mind, what is crucial to ensuring a power balance – or rectifying an imbalance – is for each party to listen to the daily experiences of the other and try to empathise. The more a couple talk – by which I mean talk meaningfully rather than indulging in surface chat – the more likely they are to stay together.