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Ate Anna    Using our power wisely

Dear Readers:

In the last column Ate Anna promised to continue discussing the important issue of power in relationships and how couples can work together to resolve conflicts.

Traditionally marriage has been based on two people fulfilling their roles as husband and wife. These roles are clearly defined and both people know what is expected of them. But as Ate Anna mentioned in the last column, the roles of husband and wife are changing in many cultures around the world. These changes sometimes cause conflict in a marriage – especially if one spouse welcomes the change and the other wants things to stay the same.

In some marriages conflict is resolved by one partner solving all the problems and expecting the other partner to accept the solutions. This way of resolving conflict is common in all cultures – including Canadian culture. But it is a way of solving conflict that gives one person power “over” the other. In some cases, the person who is in charge has to use anger (or even violence) to maintain their power or control in the relationship.

Ate Anna believes that we all have power in our relationships – even if we don’t recognize it. And we use this power in different ways. Some people try to control everything in their marriage, like the problem-solvers. Some people use their power to manipulate. For example, a wife can do this by pleasing her husband all the time – trying to get on his good side to get what she wants.

While these ways of using power to solve or avoid conflict work, they do not build closeness between husband and wife. Often, they result in resentment and feelings of loneliness, especially in the partner who feels that he or she is being controlled or manipulated. And when a society’s rules around marriage force couples to stay together, this resentment builds and turns into anger. This is why some people choose to leave their marriage after arriving in Canada. The more flexible divorce laws allow them to do what they were not permitted to do in their home country.

There are two things that will help Ricardo and other couples deal with conflict in their marriage as they adapt to life in Canada. One is to focus on the marriage relationship rather than which partner has more (or less) power. The other is to face the pain of change as a way of keeping that relationship strong and avoiding divorce. Ate Anna should remind readers that this is not easy – but it is worth it for the sake of the whole family.

When we focus on our relationships, we are interested in hearing what the other person is thinking and feeling. Our focus is not just on how our partner is supposed to behave as a husband or wife. The traditional beliefs about marriage, gender roles and power worked well for many of us when we were living in the Philippines. But here in Canada, we need to be willing to consider the benefits of doing things in a new way.

Sharing the power in a marriage can make it stronger. Rather than focusing on being a “winner,” the couple works to find a “win-win” solution. They discuss each other’s ideas and opinions and work to find a compromise. Sometimes each person gives up some of their power for the sake of the relationship. In reality, both spouses benefit from this because they are both part of the relationship. Sometimes they can agree that one partner’s solution is the better one. But it is still a joint decision. In both cases they are choosing to use their power wisely and respect their partner’s point of view.

As human beings, we find it difficult to let go of familiar patterns even when they cause difficulties. This is not unusual. We have to remember that, although it feels like we are giving something up, we are actually growing as human beings. Ate Anna believes that it is better to use our own personal power to learn a new language of connection rather than continuing with the language of blaming, manipulation or control. In the next column we will discuss this new language in more detail.

Take care,

Ate Anna

Ate Anna welcomes your questions and comments. Please write to: Ate Anna, 2nd floor, 555 Broadway, Winnipeg MB R3C 0W4 or e-mail:


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