balance

Power vs. Passion

“Ava, I’m screwed. I like this girl more than she likes me,” laments the adorable soft-butch lesbian on the phone.

“What gives you that impression?” I ask, never one to take such declarations at face value.

“I almost always contact her first, and do most of the talking. I compliment her all the time, and she rarely reciprocates. I got her more for Christmas than she got me. I’m always super affectionate with her, and she’s only sometimes that way with me. Usually just when we’re in bed together.”

“What do you think would happen if you pulled back a bit? Contacted less, said less, gave less, showed less affection?”

“Well, I tried that, actually.”

“And?”

“And it sucked. I mean, she did pretty much what she always does, and I was doing less, so I guess it was more… even. But it also meant there was just less emotion going around. And I just started to feel sort of… empty and sad.”

“Because being effusive and affectionate with someone feels good.”

“Exactly!”

  • She had hit upon a discovery it took me 30+ years to make: that when it comes to romance, there is an inverse relationship between passion and power, between emotional safety and emotional satisfaction.

You see, it is a fact of human nature that showing less interest, affection, commitment, etc.—in short, being less passionate and emotionally invested—gives you more power in a relationship. The less you care, the more you control. But there is another, equally important piece of this equation: you get what you give, emotionally speaking. So the more you care, the more satisfying the relationship will feel to you.

On the Passionate end of the spectrum, people are quick to emotionally invest. They fall hard and fast, are quick to trust, wear their heart on their sleeve, and shower their loved ones in affection. The major benefit of being Passionate is the giddy enjoyment of the highest highs that romance has to offer: the ecstasy of sensual and emotional abandon. The major drawback, of course, being the other side of that coin: the devastating lows of heartbreak, betrayal, and rejection.

On the Powerful end, people are more reserved with their affections. They are slow to trust, slow to show their feelings, and less likely to offer unsolicited validation. They are the first to run, the first to reject, and the last to say “I love you.” The major benefit of being Powerful–aside from power itself–is the avoidance of deep pain. The major drawback is the incidental avoidance of deep pleasure.

Furthermore, in most relationships one partner will gravitate toward Passionate and one will err on the side of Powerful. At times they will even trade roles. And there’s a good reason for that.

Passionate + Passionate = codependence. Both partners care SO MUCH that they are consumed by the relationship, prioritize it over everything, including their own sanity. A relationship entrenched on the Passionate end of the spectrum often exists, and ultimately ends, in a cloud of drama so thick that no one outside the dyad can penetrate it, and occasionally devolves into violence.

Powerful + Powerful = stalemate. Nobody makes any moves, nobody takes any risks, and eventually it just sort of disintegrates into a puff of mutual “meh.”

As I told my client (once we had established that the relationship was, in fact, well-balanced in other areas),

“You’re the Passionate partner this time around. Embrace that. Make peace with it. Enjoy the ride and let her enjoy the comfort and security of the Power position.”

There is no shame in taking either position. Both are needed in a balanced, functional relationship. But remember that you are not confined to one end of the spectrum, and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both positions. I believe everyone can benefit from giving the role they normally shun a go, if for no other reason than to appreciate more deeply the benefits they receive from their usual role.

Indeed, the closer you can both come to the center, the healthier the relationship will become, and the more deeply you will both understand what the other is risking/sacrificing in order to maintain that delicate balance.

 

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