Empowerment In Relationships
In my work with partners in marriage and couple's counseling I hear a lot of talk about people "playing games" or trying to "get the upper hand" in relationships. These sayings revolve around the idea of there being limited power in relationships, and partners fighting over that power. I would argue that not only are these games unnecessary in relationships, but the theory they are based on is flawed. There is not limited power in relationships unless we actively limit the strength/power/individuality of one partner or the other. This struggle over power only serves to limit both partners. Even the "winner" in these situations is limited in what they could truly accomplish if both were working with, rather than against, each other.
What is Empowerment
Empowerment is the idea that we don't work to limit others through control and manipulation, but instead we freely give of ourselves to lift the other up. Through the act of empowerment we actively work to strengthen, build up, and encourage our partner. This is the opposite of a power struggle, which only serves to hold down a partner through control, coercion, and force. Relationships in which both partners empower the other are always stronger and healthier than those who work to manipulate and control the other. This requires two committed partners who are confident in themselves, humble, and unselfish. The great thing about this is that you don't have to be perfect or strong all the time. In these relationships I find that when one partner is struggling, the other is there to catch and support them, and visa versa.
How to Empower Your Partner
There are many ways to empower your partner, from very simple gestures to large and lasting acts. A simple, everyday empowering moment is simply showing love and affection through hugs, kissing, holding hands, and genuinely telling each other you love them. This act alone leaves us with a feeling of connectedness and acceptance that we carry with us throughout the day. Calls, texts, or e-mails through the day of love and encouragement also serve to remain connected and remind the other of your love. This can be especially powerful if it comes during a difficult time in the day.
Another part of empowerment is to be a calming and supportive presence when a partner is struggling. Many times this involves simply listening attentively and empathizing with your partner. Empathy is not giving advice, criticizing, or judging your partner. It is trying to understand how they are experiencing the situation (not how you would experience it) and reflecting back an understanding of how they might feel. Even if you don't get it right, you partner will appreciate you trying to understand them, and they will clarify how they feel.
Lastly, empowerment is encouraging your partner to reach their full potential. This is the wonderful opportunity that committed relationships offer, that you are a better person together than you are apart. The first step to this is knowing what your partner wants in life and understanding their strengths. I sometimes see relationships where a partner sees a strength better than the person themselves, and in these cases the partner works to point out these strengths and encourage their partner to explore it more fully. From this point, it takes being a supportive force in their life, to encourage them when they feel down, to possibly cover tasks for them when they are pursuing this dream, and to praise them when they do well. Again, this should not be a one way street; the best results happen when both partners do this for the other. This might not be at the same exact time, but throughout your life you should see times and opportunities to guide each other along your shared and individual dreams.
James McMillian, LCPC
Resolve - Counseling & Wellness
Prairie Village, KS