• David Unger, PhD

Power, Control and Decision Making



I have a twenty something man I see in therapy who shared this dilemma recently. His girlfriend was in another country for an extended period of time. They talked daily and everything felt very solid about the relationship. Then along came an annual celebration that he looked forward to every year. Among other things it involved a lot of partying and loosening up of one’s inhibitions. He wanted to go, but his girlfriend did not want him to go. He was caught between wanting to respect her wishes and his own desire to do something he enjoyed. He assured her he would not hook up with any women. He just wanted to go, have a good time with his friends and get rowdy. She was uneasy with him going. He was uneasy with her uneasiness. He was not sure what to do. So what would you do? If you were him and if you were her? It happens in every relationship. At one time or another each of you is going to want to do something that the other doesn’t really want you to do. More often than not, it involves your going someplace that causes your partner to get insecure. In their mind the scene reeks of temptation and opportunity and/or possible harm. Of course, temptation is there every day in one way or the other. It’s just that some situations are more inflamed with it. Some say that a partner’s concern about fidelity has more to do with their own issues with temptation, self-esteem and infidelity. And sometimes that is true. Other times it might have more to do with the other’s track record. Or it could be something else entirely. Sometimes you just worry about the risks for harm of many different manners. So if you are him what do you do in this situation? • Do you go to the event and reassure your partner periodically throughout it that you are still connected to her? • Do you go and conduct yourself basically the same way you would if she were with you? Or do you hold the Vegas motto that what happens at the event stays at the event? • Do you not go and get resentful? • Do you not go and feel good about choosing to act to ensure your partner’s comfort. • Or what? Of course it all depends on a lot of variables. But there are some fundamental observations you can learn about who you are and how you conduct yourself in your intimate relationship. In most relationships the push/pull between partners is ongoing. Carl Roger, Ph.D., the pioneer of Humanistic Psychology believed relationships were all about power, control and decision making. I have a chapter about it in The Relationship Training Manual for Men (and women) but for now let’s just say all couples have to resolve these power dynamics. How do you influence one another? Who has the power? Who gets the remote? What decisions do you get to make and on which ones does your partner hold more of the decision making clout? How are compromises made and do you think you give in more often or less? Are agreements made that you are basically comfortable with or do you feel you have given too much or taken too much?

Lots of questions you can ask yourself and feel free to spend some time dwelling on them. There is no right way to resolve these issues. Each couple finds their own path and often it shifts as you continue together.


If you were the woman in this situation what would you do?

  • Do you hold your ground and honor your values suspecting he will not be pleased with you?

  • Do you give in to his wishes and feel resentful and worried?

  • Do you support his wishes and feel good about trusting him?

  • Do you try to find a middle ground?

  • Or what?

As a therapist I encourage people to share their feelings/thoughts about these issues. To have an ongoing dialogue about how the relationship is going? I like the question –“How are we doing?” And I like the answers to be given while you are sitting down together and talking in an easy going back and forth manner. The bottom line to the conversation is to share and feel a greater connection. Towards that end you can share: • This is what I think/feel about my own power, control and decision making in our relationship. • This is what I am enjoying and appreciating about being in our relationship. • This is how I am feeling/thinking about how I am conducting things on my end. • This is what I would like to be doing more of/less of. Notice how none of these concerns aim negative comments about the other person. The focus ought to be on you assessing you. Not them. While I do think there is a time and place for complaining and requesting things from your partner I usually don’t recommend couples do it until they invest considerable time focusing on what they individually value about the relationship, how they feel/think about how they are upholding their end of things and what they would like to be doing more or less of. First things first and first comes you talking about you and when you both have done that you can ask about opening the door to talking about them. But, realize often when you speak about what you want less of and more of you are really are connecting that to the other person, but if it is done with a focus on you and not them it usually is a lot easier to hear. Maybe not easy, but easier. Asking for what you want is a positive thing. Blaming the other for not delivering it is a negative thing. Investing ongoing time to take the temperature of your relationship and your participation in it is solid preventative medicine. Whether you go to the party or not, your connection to your partner will be such that the things you do that challenge, hurt or upset the other will be able to be discussed in an atmosphere of mutual commitment to the welfare of your love.


When people in relationship feel the commitment of the other to the relationship it is a lot easier to support their time away from the relationship. We all need time with those close to us time away from those close to us. While there is no perfect balance there hopefully is a shared desire to make the best of the time together and time apart. Since relationships are fluid, there will be times when you have plenty of time with those close and times when you don’t. Times you wish there were more and maybe times when you wish you could have some time away. Respectfully sharing the power, control and decision making around time together is just one way that we can attend to how we are showing up for our lives.

#power #control #decisionmaking #CarlRogers

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