Bridging the Communication Gap

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Breakdown of Your Relationship and Power (Published Nov 11th, '09)

We lied last time when we said we would give you more translations this semester. As a group, the tenants of 507 decided it would be more worthwhile to explore the various perspectives existing in relationships that create particular power dynamics between two people involved with each other.

A word of caution for you, dear reader! “Relationship” does not mean “boyfriend/girlfriend.” The consensual, continuous interactions between the two people constitute a relationship.

Exclusively hooking-up, unspoken exclusivity, non-sexual intimate hanging out, friendship, and/or traditional dating are all various forms of relationships. We mean the term in the way that there is a relationship between variables: not always causal, not quite correlative, but definitely something. Even within our apartment we couldn’t agree on how power and politics functioned in relationships, but we thought our insights might help you see that your relationship probably fits into one of these four.

Power Relation: The Giver and the Taker

The Giver: You are the one who is more invested in the friendship/relationship. You are willing to sacrifice more often than not. You place the other person’s feelings and thoughts above your own. You would do almost anything to see the other person happy. You are most certainly the giver and rarely ask for much in return. When you fall, you fall hard. Therefore, you are more likely to be hurt in the long run in an unequal relationship.

The Taker: You are the one who appears to be less invested in the relationship. You want to give the least amount of attention but receive the most benefits in return. You are perfectly content with doing just enough to appease the other person. You place your feelings, wants and desires first, and if you have time or room for the other person, you find a way to squeeze him/her in. You want the other person to be happy when you’re happy, and when you’re not happy, you want him/her to make you happy.

You are most certainly the taker and will rarely do anything without receiving something in return. It would take you a long time to fall, and if you did, you would become possessive with your jealous acts showing that you “care.”

Power Relation: The Mongoose vs. the Cobra

Another way to view relationship dynamics is through an interaction many of us were taught, and which happens to be a very unusual pairing: The Mongoose vs. The Cobra. This relationship is a perfect example of the power within a relationship being somewhat delusional or misinterpreted. The interaction between the mongoose and the cobra appears to be dominated by the cobra because of attributes such as size, strength and ability to strike a sense of fear into the opposition. Through the eyes of the world, the cobra appears to have a simple task ahead. But both the cobra and the mongoose know those assumptions are not entirely true.

The mongoose’s strengths lie in its ability to be quick, agile and alluring. The mongoose and cobra realize the cobra will be the one to attack first. But the mongoose plays on the inaccuracy of its opposition and only plans a counter. The mongoose’s objective is to appear defeated in order for the cobra to open itself up for a counterattack that will stun it. Similar to the mongoose and cobra, the power in your relationship may only be seen at the dominant person’s most vulnerable point in time.

Power Relation: The Hand

In 1992, the hit series Seinfeld aired episode 14, titled “The Pez Dispenser,” during its third season. Take notes on the dynamic between George and his pianist girlfriend. This episode is the only way to explain The Hand.

Power Relation: Dominant and Submissive

This is a contentious diagram to draw for most relationships because dominant and submissive are terms used in a particular sexual subculture that the majority of people don’t belong to (at least, not overtly). That connotation aside, these terms hold true to the “vanilla” relationships as well. The relationship is the end result of The Hunt and, as such, the parties involved are transformed from Predator and Prey to dominant and submissive.

The power relations of The Hunt are transformed at this point. The Predator is not always the dominant one in the relationship. The dominant partner is s/he who controls how the relationship functions. No matter who pays for the dinner, s/he decides where and when to go for dinner. The clearest sign of dominance in a relationship is the power of time allocation.

The submissive is not totally without power in this version of the power dynamic. The submissive willingly submits to the dominant. It is there and then that they are empowered in the relationship. Only with his/her permission (often unspoken) can the dominant have more decision-making power. The consensual nature of his or her submission makes the submissive the most powerful partner in the relationship.

These four categories lead us up to a concluding point … that will be in next week’s edition of The Collegian. Sociology professor David Piacenti would be proud because next week’s article will be about social change in the relationship.

These are not dogmatic categories. Your relationship might not fit rigidly into one of these four, and there is room for variation because the articulation of power relations is always more subtle than any article about them can be. Join us next week for advice about the revolution!

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