Your husband grips the remote with a mighty hand, surfing the channels relentlessly for something to pique his interest. You say “Oh, that looks interesting;” he says “Boring.” After half a dozen (failed) polite attempts you snap at him: “Well I’m getting dizzy from all the channel-surfing, could you just stick with something for a while?!” “Fine,” he grumps, settling on a science channel. You sigh. Oh great. Another night of watching animals tear each other apart. You huff your displeasure and retreat to the bedroom.

A little later you hear the refrigerator door close. It’s your chance! You race into the living room, locate the remote in record time, switch to a family-in-crisis movie. Ahhh… Your husband comes back in the room, protests: “Hey, I was watching that animal show!” “I know,” you say smugly, “but now I’m watching this.” Nah-nah-ni-nah-nah. And another night of feeling righteous is underway, another night of creating distance between you, another night of your love for each other dying just a little bit.

Power struggles do that. Power struggles tear a couple apart. You want the windows open at night, she wants them shut: the battle for power rages as you open them, she shuts them, you open them, she shuts them, all night long. If you can tolerate open confrontation, this battle is waged dramatically, accompanied by yelling and screaming. If you don’t tolerate confrontation, the struggle goes on passive-aggressively: you open the window on your way to the bathroom, she closes it as soon as she thinks you’re asleep, you open it when you wake up in the night, she senses your movement, waits again for signs of slumber, then shuts it once more. In either scenario, each of you clings tenaciously to “my way.” Getting your way becomes more important than preserving the love between you.

And that’s the key to resolving the power struggle. Recognizing that you are sacrificing your love to your “My way or the highway” mentality. Once you understand the terrible toll your and your mate’s righteousness is taking on your relationship, you can take steps to do things differently.

You can both be “right.” You can both have your individual ways. All it takes is a willingness to value both your mate’s preferences and your own. When you value your partner’s right to his or her desires, you don’t want to squash them either overtly or covertly. When you value your own rights, you’re equally unlikely to allow your partner to squash your desires. When you value both your and your partner’s desires, you can say “Your preferences are fine – so are mine! Let’s get creative, let’s have fun seeing how we can accommodate both of our desires.” You are now putting your love first, and working your individual preferences in the service of that love. There is no longer a power struggle; there is only a problem to be mutually resolved.

The remote fight, for example, can be settled by first acknowledging that each of you have different, equally valid preferences. You’ve just reinforced the love between you. With that emotional support, you can now get practical and figure out the specifics. You may find there are actually only a few shows each of you really care about, and that once the power struggle aspect is gone, figuring out a mutually compatible “TV schedule” is remarkably easy.

Priorities are extremely important in a relationship. When you put your love for each other as your first priority, the power tug-of-war loses all appeal.

Author's Bio: 

Noelle C. Nelson, Ph.D., known as "Dr. Noelle" to her clients, is a respected psychologist, consultant and author. Her most recent books is "The Power of Appreciation: The Key to a Vibrant Life" (with co-author, Jeannine LeMare Calaba, Psy.D.; Beyond Words, 2003). For more than a decade, she has helped people live happier, healthier lives with her "compassionate psychotherapy." Dr. Noelle welcomes your comments via email ( You can visit Dr. Noelle anytime at