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Does Your Partner Accept Your Influence? The Importance of Sharing Decision-Making in a Relationship

I recently figured out one of the striking blows that destroyed my marriage. During the last five years of our marriage, I did not feel like my words or actions were given any credence in conversations, problem-solving or decision-making. My husband did not accept my influence. I hope by casting light on this common issue, someone else’s marriage is saved.

I am not just throwing my ex-husband (and all men) under the bus. According to Dr. John Gottman’s study of 130 couples over nine years, the majority of women — even in unstable marriages — let their husbands influence their decision-making by taking their opinions and feelings into account. In conflict, only about 35% of men return the favor.

Statistically speaking, when a man is not willing to share power with his partner there is an 81% chance that his marriage will self-destruct.

— Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

I distinctly remember sitting at the kitchen table with my then husband at the head of the table. Every time he talked, we all listened and commented. Every time I talked, I barely received eye contact, let alone support for my contribution.

The saddest part of this setup, is that after my husband moved out of the house, my sons took over his position. Their conversation subjects dominated. My daughter and my comments were often dismissed.

This may sound like whining or pointing fingers, but I still feel the deep, raw sadness of those times, when I allow myself to think about them. The sense of not mattering remains.

What causes this need for dominance? 

In Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression — and the Unexpected Solutions, scientist Robert Sapolsky points out that an insecure status is more stressful than being the lowest person in a hierarchy.

Our society with its huge gap between the haves and have-nots, creates an atmosphere of constant status awareness. Even the middle class feels compelled to check their place on the totem pole regularly.

The real trouble in my marriage started after we moved to Minneapolis and my husband took a new job in a hedge fund. The new position paid five to fifteen times what his old job paid. I know he felt a lot of pressure to stay on top. Material wealth and status became a bigger part of our everyday lives.  successful business man

Our roles within the family became more defined. Our collaboration and teamwork declined. We grew more distant with each other.

All of this, made our relationship less secure, and hence more stressful. Stress breeds a need to win at something, control the situation or feel better about ourselves.

My contribution to the downfall

I cannot put all the blame on my ex-husband for the breakdown in our relationship. It was very difficult for me to show love and affection when I felt disrespected and discredited. No two-way influence, no love. I pulled away from him. I turned toward others who respected and honored my opinion. I spent more time away from home.

I even stopped letting my ex husband influence me. He had always been a sort of authoritative figure to me. I learned from and followed him. After years of having my influence minimized, I could not stand to take direction from him. I’m sure that made him feel alone.

A sign someone is not accepting influence

When in conflict, it is easy to express negativity. During a study done by marriage expert, Dr. Gottman, they found that 65% of men escalated the negativity in a disagreement and brought out one or more of what Dr. Gottman calls the four horsemen  — criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling.

If you raise an issue with your loved one and they respond with increased negativity, including criticism, defensiveness, contempt or stonewalling (ignoring, silence, leaving), and no attempt to repair, downgrade the problem or soothe you, then they are not willing to share power or acknowledge your point of view.

How to fix it?

… the happiest, most stable marriages in the long run were those in which the husband did not resist sharing power and decision-making with his wife. When the couple disagreed, these husbands actively searched for common ground rather than insisting on getting their way. — Dr. John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

One way to balance the influence in a relationship is to search for common ground, as mentioned above. Common ground takes the other person’s opinions and feelings into account. It shows you know their desired outcome and want to honor it, as well as your own.

Sharing influence is in many ways, like being a good conversationalist. In the NY Times article, “3 Tips to Have Better Conversations”, the author advocates being as interested as you are interesting. Everyone loves someone who listens with their eyes, comments and questions to show they are paying attention and does not try to turn the conversation over to themselves.

Another way to equalize influence is to seek out the other person’s view once you have made a declarative statement. For example, if you say, “We should save our money for retirement and not spend it on a winter vacation”, then you should follow it up with, “What do you think?”. This shows you value the other person’s opinion.


How open are you to your partner’s influence? If you are in a same-sex marriage, how does this show up in your relationship? Do you feel like your opinion matters? 

Photo by Ryan Holloway on Unsplash

Photo by Ali Morshedlou on Unsplash

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  1. Michael Buley November 2, 2018 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Brenda, thank you for sharing a very tender and raw part of your life, and who you are. That kind of rejection and pain doesn’t go away any time soon. It really does cut us. Over time, it heals. A scar forms over it, slowly. But the pain from it remains vivid, and I think with some things, it can remain quite vivid, when thought about, for all of our lives.

    It doesn’t need to control who we are today. It does need to be felt, acknowledged — and then, I think, ‘countered’ with the opposite self talk, the opposite emotion. We can, and need to, train our minds, control the thoughts we let in. It is the thoughts that create the emotions. The thoughts, the images, that we can learn to control, choose, truly manage … those create after themselves.

    I have some experiences from the past few years that can, very easily, cause a ‘catch’ in my chest, a tightening, very easily. It will be awhile before the source of those — certain thoughts, images, words, memories — go away, and I forget what that feeling in my chest feels like.

    to feel like we matter, that what we think and feel matters, trumps everything, really. When we don’t, all the rest doesn’t really fill that void. To feel heard, to feel that the one we love WANTS to know what we think and feel, and welcomes us when we share from within — all of it; fears, hopes, frustrations, joys — that is what we hope for above all. A safe place to be who we are — and we are a mix of confidence, tremendous insecurity, joy, doubt, desire, distance, fear.

    I’m sorry for the intense, heartbreaking pain you suffered through, Brenda. Thank you for taking that pain and your tears and and loss and loneliness, and touching my life and helping me in ways that I can never measure, and am always grateful to you for. You have changed my life for the better. You could’ve given up, quit, given in. You didn’t. Thank you so very much.

    • Brenda Knowles November 7, 2018 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      I never could give up. There were too many things pulling me out into life and its struggles and joys. My kids were a big driving force that would not let me give up. I had to love, learn from and teach them. Once I started writing, I had even more purpose to carry on. It is profoundly helpful to find you can help others. 🙂
      I think those experiences that create a catch in our chests, are the ones speaking most deeply to us. They are the ones telling us what matters. Sometimes those experiences and the ensuing emotions serve as compasses.
      I hope you have more laughter and joy than sad experiences Micheal, but the sad experiences make you, you. And I like you. Thank you for communicating so openly with me and the rest of the gang. I appreciate it.

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