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Professional Columns -
Relationships by Dr. Bill Austin


In some relationships, how the money is spent is often controlled by one partner. This is true for a couple we will call Harvey and Gertrude. In this relationship, every pay day, Harvey demands that Gertrude give him her paycheck. In turn, he gives her a small allowance while he pampers himself with such items as an expensive ring and a luxury automobile. If Gertrude needs more money, Harvey reluctantly gives it but it is always a hassle. Gertrude says she feels like a child asking for money and having to justify her need.

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In another relationship, a couple agreed to follow a budget. However, he violates their agreement. His hobby is restoring his car. Frequently, he would buy expensive items for his car without conferring with her. What was interesting is his explanation as to why he violated their agreement. He did not want to be controlled! To him buying what he wanted was a sign of independence. His strong need for independence came from growing up in a home where his parents were controlling. His lack of influence caused him to become hypersensitive about being controlled by others. He reacts to anything that feels like control. The problem is that he often confuses acts of caring as controlling. When he feels controlled, he exerts his independence. When independence is such a strong issue, there is often a power struggle over the most trivial of actions.

The above examples are illustrations of the issues of power and status. One partner is in control and makes most of the decisions, while the other partner doesn't feel he or she has any say or influence.

Power struggles are often found in the second stage of a relationship. It is during this stage that we struggle with trying to balance between what we want or need and what our partner wants or needs. Some couples are not good at handling this struggle so the relationship becomes gridlocked.

Dr. Gottman, a University of Washington professor who has studied marriages, discovered something very interesting among 130 newlyweds. In his long term study of newlywed couples, he found that even in the first few months of marriage, men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce than men who resist their wives' influence.  When a man is not willing to share power with his partner, there is an 81% chance that the marriage will self-destruct.

Gottman's research discovered that the most stable marriages/relationships are those where the husband treats his wife with respect and does not resist power-sharing and decision-making.  The study pointed out that when the couple disagree, these husbands actively search for common ground rather than insist on getting their way.

Next month we will continue with this issue and others that couples are called to handle.

Dr. Austin has decades of experience dealing with relationships. He charges clients on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay. His first book, Creating Our Safe Place: Articles on Healthy Relationships, was published in 2004. His second book, Keeping It Safe, was published in 2009 and can be purchased through,, and at the Parrish Book Store in Virginia Beach.  He is also a sought-after speaker at meetings and seminars.

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