May The Force Be With Your Relationship

star wars light saber

Force and Control

By: Dr. Tyler Fortman

You probably already know that Chicago’s has broken ground on the Lucas Museum, home of the history and culture of the Star Wars films.  It’s doubtful that the museum will explore the interpersonal dynamics of the films’ characters, but that that doesn’t mean that there aren’t lessons of interpersonal power to be gleaned from them.

After all, the most famous line from the films might be, “Luke, I am your father.”

Unfortunately, people asserting power and control in relationships isn’t just a cinematic technique.   Actions that seek power and control within relationships are fairly common and can range from an unintentional act to an intentional and abusive coercion.

Maybe you have joked about a partner’s weakness or a personality characteristic that complicates your relationship?  Upon reflection, you might recognize that your “joke” was intended to send a clear message and change the other person’s actions.

These kinds of behaviors can be malicious, but they can also be used with the intent to make positive change in the relationship.  Unfortunately, the outcome is often more profound and includes decreased levels of agency and self-esteem in the recipient.

To be clear – If you are on the receiving end of coercive actions or words, you shouldn’t be aiming to take control; instead, you might consider not participating in the perpetrator-victim cycle.

If your relationship were a pizza, the message you would hope to communicate would be, “I don’t want the whole pizza (including your half), I just want my half.  Let’s share the pizza.”  In fact, it’s often finding an effective balance of power that allows relationships to flourish.

It’s important to consider that there are two forms of control.  Control over others, which we call power.  And control over yourself, which we call autonomy.  To successfully take back control from another (or stop controlling others), you must aim for autonomy and self-determination and not power over them.

You’re probably thinking, “That Darth Vader mask is scary.”   You’re right; it is.  But, consider that people asserting control over you (and others) are not as scary as we first think.  They often seem confident, as though they have high self-esteem.

Often they have strong personality/dominant personalities that take over meetings, monopolize conversations, and make all the decisions.  When we identify the facts only, we realize that their actions are intimidating, but it’s their actions – not them – that is the true source of your intimidation.

Tips to Respond

After you’ve identified the facts of the situation (not the explanations and assumptions that you’ve attached to the facts), the key is to be assertive.  Your goal is to regain your autonomy by speaking up for yourself without attacking the other person.

  • Use “I” statements (i.e., “I find it dismissive when you say that.”)
  • Tell the person what you want from them (i.e., “Please talk more quietly.”)
  • Motivate them to change by telling the person how the change will benefit them (i.e., “We’ll be able to discuss this more effectively.”)

Whether you have a Darth Vader in your life or not (or you are Darth Vader), consider how power is influencing your relationships.  Identify the actions that are impacting you (making your feel powerless) and if the actions occur in a pattern.

If so, consider the steps above to script your response.

Makes some notes and even try role playing the situation with someone you trust.  Then, carefully choose the best time to enact your new assertiveness skills. If the balance of power still isn’t what you want it to be, consider engaging in counseling to make more profound changes.