Stepfamily Issues

Personal stories about stepfamilies, childhood and general family issues.

November 20, 2006

shifts of power in family relationships

Kari, 44 and divorced, accepts that people who have absolute power over us - our parents when we are dependent children, and our governments and employers when we are adults - must be obeyed; but she most certainly does not accept that adult children in supposedly equal relationships with us must be obeyed.

"The dynamics between my son and I developed a similar pattern to those between his father and myself after the divorce," explains Kari. "There was a gradual shift in power - no doubt because he was male and considered himself to be superior to me."

"When the actions or decisions of people with absolute power over us serve them, but hurt or inconvenience us, we just have to adapt, pick ourselves up and got on with it," says Kari. "What else can you do when you have no power in these relationships?"

"As adults, though, we are afforded equal power and equal responsibility in all of our relationships," says Kari. "When the actions or decisions of these people serve them, but hurt or inconvenience us, we have the right of choice. We can adapt to their decisions if we want to - and choose to relinquish our power to them - but we can also choose to leave the relationship on the basis that it no longer operates in a mutually enhancing manner."

"Abuse in marriage is most likely to occur when the woman becomes pregnant," says Kari. "There is a shift in power when she becomes vulnerable and responsible for another little life. In these situations, if abuse occurs and the woman has no other means of support then she must necessarily relinquish her power in order to protect herself and child. This, essentially, is what I had to do when I fell pregnant."

"Nobody marries and has kids expecting abuse and misery, but if the worst scenario happens then we must take our fair share of responsibility for it and take appropriate action when we can," says Kari. "Once an abusive relationship starts, it never stops. Nobody who wants absolute power gives it up willingly. When an abused woman attempts to regain her share of the power in the relationship, the abuse escalates."

"I believe that some people are just power-hungry, incapable of maintaining a relationship affording equal power and equal responsibility," sighs Kari. "They want a master-slave relationship. I'm sure it's a genetic trait."

"Separation or divorce is the time-honored ethical and legal remedy for any type of abusive relationship - not just marriage," says Kari, "and it's for the good of both parties and anyone else on the side-lines. An abuser who has usurped absolute power in a relationship, though, is incapable of accepting this outcome and often murders those he considers his property or continues to hassle his victim forever."

"You read about it in the papers every day. Whole families being murdered by a crazed man - an ex-husband, an adult son or grandson - who just can't let go, can't accept that other people have equal rights in a relationship."

"Family relationships are the scariest of all," sighs Kari. "Controlling, possessive parents make lousy parents, and mothers, particularly, need to be extremely patient and ego-free during their children's adolescent years. But controlling and possessive teenagers and adult children can be a big problem, too."

"A relationship between adults that is not based on equal power and equal responsibility is not a relationship worth having, no matter who it is," says Kari. "After the divorce, my young son attempted to gain absolute power over me, just like his father did, but at the time I was 'trapped' by societal expectations of motherhood - I had to grit my teeth and put up with it until he was legally an adult."

"By then, I had good reason to fear all men," says Kari, "and it would have been far too dangerous for me to keep an abusive adult son living with me."

"Since he left home, I've noticed a gradual shift of power in our relationship - this time towards equality," says Kari, "so all may not be lost after all. And it just goes to show that two people must be on equal footing - with no 'traps' or 'societal expectations' or 'vulnerabilities' making one person less equal than the other - in order to have a good relationship."

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