A Daily Dispatch from the Front Lines of Leadership.


The Tricky Truth About Power in Relationships

“You can’t own someone, but someone can own you,” Truman Capote wisely pointed out. The power dynamic in relationships is tricky. And often counter-intuitive.

How can it be that the person who cares least about a relationship is more influential in the relationship? Simple. When you care more than someone else, your caring makes you vulnerable. If it’s clear that you won’t walk away — from a friendship, an organization, a marriage, a negotiation — then the other party feels fully free to insist on having their way. In metaphorical terms, “They own you.” You give them this power. They can cross whatever lines they wish without a thought of ultimate consequence.

Striving for mutual influence in relationships is not only healthy, but necessary for long-term satisfaction. But sometimes we care too much, or at least much more than the other party. What’s in your heart can negatively impact your ability to negotiate a healthy relationship. The caring is out of balance.

Only you can allow someone else to “own” you. They can’t take this power without your implicit permission. Instead, be very clear about what is acceptable, and what you absolutely will not tolerate.

If you are unwilling to trigger a dissolution of the relationship regardless of the other person’s actions, then you are likely to be treated poorly in a multitude of ways. Not to mention — undervalued. There is no reason for that.

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