Balance of Power: How Competitive Drives Strain Relationships

04/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Why does my husband know how to communicate at work, but not at home?" asked a bewildered young bride. "He's just not normal! He knows that being mean and moody at work can cost him his job. Yet at home he is impatient and thinks that being a man is to tell me what to do and how to do it."

Shares another wife in a 20-year marriage: "My husband seems more robot than human, and I feel more like an employee and mistress than wife. We have sex when he wants, the way he wants. My desires are just not important. Sometimes he is even very generous financially after sex."

An another: "My husband just lost his job. The way he treats me at home, you would think I am the one who fired him. His moodiness, rage, the way he always is ready to pick a fight is making me sick."

And here are the words of a mother and grandmother: "I am married to a really good guy. But he refuses to see the necessity for give and take, as well as compromise. I just long for a time when 'my way' does not feel to him as if I am cutting off his balls!"

What is going on here? Although societies do change as time marches on, and culture does play a large role in marital expectations, expressions and experiences, there will always be an inner biological tension in male-female relationships. This tension can be fun, wonderful, sensual and sexy, if we understand why it is there, what it is all about and how to make it work for the marriage and family, rather than against it.

Here is an explanation in a few nutshells: Men are primarily motivated by the need for power, and they always will be. Not only do they have the driving force to care for their families, but also, they need to feel that they can hold their own and win. Now here is the dangerous part of this drive: If they are not raised with some semblance of love, kindness and security, and with a moral base, they will very often not care about what they do to others, whom they betray or stab, in their successes as well as their failures. Further, they will view their masculinity as totally dependent on economic success, when in truth it is totally dependent on their abilities to care about others and take the time to know and hear them.

This is a horrid problem in these precarious, unpredictable times of massive layoffs and limited work. For, to ruthless warriors, others do not count. This is especially true at home. In such people, the need to succeed, as they narrowly define it, will lead to domination in a home, and the inability to take the time to understand a partner or to hear their children. Further, professional losses and disappointments, coupled with insecurities they do not understand, will make them clueless about the necessity of pulling together as a family.

Women want power also. But usually, those who see power as the the be-all and end-all grew up feeling that to compete and win was necessary to feel safe and loved. Women with this motivation, living in a man's world, often learn to compete as men do. Those who feel they cannot compete will drop out of the race for power as a goal unto itself.

Primarily women are motivated by the need to give and receive love and to find dynamic, creative expression. The happiest, most fulfilled women are those who find partners that value and support this motivation, and its many opportunities for expression, inside and outside of the home. These women know that, through thick and thin, through better and worse, the power of love, inside and outside of the bedroom, is the driving and stabilizing force in their homes. Women who find themselves unable to find this quality of expression and mutual respect often leave a relationship, if they have this option.

For both sexes, healthy competition means working very, very hard; accepting that there will be good times and bad -- that life just is not and will never be fair; and that, despite this, it is possible to handle the tough times with strength and concern for others. It also means in the ruthless, competitive world doing all in your power to hold on to your ethical base, despite what goes on around you.

Those who achieve this have the most rewarding and fulfilling lives. And their children have the finest base on which to model their lives.