Changing roles lead couple into bitter power struggle


"After six years of marriage, I've filed for divorce," announces 29-year-old Elaine, an executive with a national travel agency. "Alec and I haven't spoken for weeks, except for 'Please pass the butter.' Our sex life is zero. We're on different wave lengths." Elaine fell in love with Alec, a handsome, hard-to-get, older man, when they met at a party, and after six months they married. At first, life was blissful, she reports. "I looked up to Alec and depended on him for everything."

Initially, Elaine took her cues and her confidence from her husband, but now the roles have reversed. Alec, she claims, has turned into a wimp, going along with everything she says and does, and retreating from her in the bedroom. Elaine feels frustrated, bored and angry.

Alec, 42, is hurt and confused. "All Elaine does these days is

complain and issue orders," says Alec, a copywriter in an advertising agency. "If it weren't for me," he points out, "she never would have made it into the executive suite I wrote the resume that got her the job." Whenever she came home in tears, crying that she was in over her head, I boosted her up and told her she could handle anything."

At home, he tried to prove his confidence in her by transferring to her the responsibility for the family finances as well as other decisions he had always shouldered. But her whole personality has changed, Alec reports. Gone is the affectionate, supportive woman he married, and in her place is a hard-driving, anxiety-ridden, demanding person who treats him like a child.

Changing roles

"Elaine and Alec have fallen victim to the power struggles in a marriage that inevitably surface as changing roles clash with hidden expectations," notes Jane Greer, a New York psychotherapist.

In the beginning Alec took care of the little woman. But Elaine no longer wants that role. Experts agree that in a healthy marriage, each partner needs to have a sense of personal authority, power, significance and equality.

Elaine and Alec had drifted apart because they were engaging in a long-term power struggle. The following tactics helped them.

Become aware of the roles you've each assumed and how they might have changed. While you don't have to divide roles rigidly, if one of you is unhappy, it's time to talk.

It's not enough to say, "You're always calling the shots." Rather, spell out specifically what you need and how you'd like your partner to change. Don't expect your spouse to read your mind.

Stop concentrating on who is giving and who is getting. Instead, pay attention to your spouse's reaction when you express your needs and ask for his input. Power that's based on bullying breeds bitterness and resentment.

Once Elaine stopped pressuring Alec and began to ask for his input in a noncombative way, he felt appreciated and loved. As they both began to respect each other's strengths and weaknesses, they both felt close and intimate once again.

Pub Date: 3/17/96

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