These terms can be used interchangeably and yet mean very different things. But what if terms were simple? What if control was simply the ability to directly manipulate an object, through direct force or some other remote-control connection: electrical, pneumatic, hydraulic, etc. What if power was simply the ability to achieve a desired result? So the question becomes whether the difference in definition can make a difference in relationship. I believe the answer is "Yes."
When working with couples, I will discuss "the difference between a request and a demand" as the perceived ability or permission to say "no." This discussion is important because it can be difficult to tell the difference, at work or at home, based solely on tone or volume. For example, many demands to perform a task are made at home and at work in a "nice" way so as to sound like a request. But the true nature of the "demand" is uncovered when the other person declines and the requestor is unwilling to accept an answer of "no." The requestor may even continue to push for "yes" in a "nice" way. Other times, a person can make a request, but because of their forceful personality it may come across as a demand and only after several counseling sessions does the other spouse learn they could have been saying "no" the entire time.
So, I encourage couples not to use the tone of voice as an indicator, but instead watch to see what happens next when they say or hear "no." When a person hears the word "no" in response to their request, they maintain ownership of their own destiny by considering other options for getting their own needs met. When a I hear "no" to a request and get furious because "if I can't get my needs met from you, I will suffer," then it is that other person that owns my destiny. In essence, when I make a demand, I relinquish power of what I do next, to that other person.
Please do not read that demands are "bad" and requests are "good." Sometimes it is appropriate to relinquish power. Sometimes it is appropriate to relinquish power; especially if my actions have irreversible or life/death consequences for another person. It can be appropriate for me to offer them some influence over what I might do next. There may also be circumstances when a person does not own or influence the events in their immediate future: prison inmates, adolescents living at home, etc. Interestingly, even in some of these seemingly powerless situations, some individuals have found a way to remain powerful - think Nelson Mandela.
This issue becomes destructive in relationships when spouses live in a "prison" of their own making because they choose to follow the demands of their spouse without taking their own self-care into consideration. Husbands will relinquish their power just as often as wives. A statement often heard is "I have no power, it's their way or the highway;" not realizing that by making that statement they define their situation in a way that relinquishes the power that they did have, to the other person.
Power does not reside in the person of whom you make a request. Power resides in the person you expect will be the one to figure out how to meet your needs.
Who a person expects to meet their needs is especially evident when a person hears the word "no."
If the ultimate source for where my needs are met is my god, it can be frightening to consider who and what I am willing to make god over in my life. These god-options generally include: others (which includes one's spouse, the universe, environment, or government, etc.), myself, and God.
When I expect others to meet my needs and others say "no," I will get angry and rail at the injustice.
When I expect myself to meet my needs when others say "no," I look to my own resources: what or whom I have left.
When I expect God to meet my needs and others say "no," I look with anticipation for where God's provision will come next: like unknown others, unexpected resources, or unrealized skills/gifting.
If you are feeling powerless in the situations you find yourself in, and want to find a way to freedom and personal power in relationship, let us help!
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