Understanding privilege is essential to fostering equality. And this got me thinking. What about privilege in our relationships? Are there things you're doing that are totally selfish, even smacking of privilege, that you should stop doing ASAP? Even in relationships where all partners try their hardest to be fair and equal, stronger personalities emerge. Some of us are more naturally outspoken, confident, prone to leadership, or sure of what we want. And those are great qualities, so long as we're not rolling over out partners without realizing it.
It doesn't matter if you're in a traditionally heterosexual relationship, or a joyful polyamorous love nest of many genders. We all have to make sure we're doing the work of being open and responsive to the needs of our partners and the ways power is or isn't shared.
Power imbalances in relationships are just not good. At the very least, they lead to resentments and anger. But when the power balances are extreme, they can lead to control, abuse, and violence, as I witnessed daily during my time as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator. The following examples are just tiny ways to see if maybe you have a larger power imbalance going on. Or if you're just selfish and totally didn't realize it.
1. Controlling The Money
All parties in a relationship should have equal access to finances and information about the family's money. Even in situations where partner is a compulsive shopper or gambler, and control of the money needs to be tighter for a time, it's still important to give all parties a little bit of a sense of control, even if it's just through knowledge of how the money gets spent. Abusers use control of finances to keep their partners trapped, and to make them feel powerless. If your partner just doesn't want to deal with the finances, so you do it, it's time for both of you to step up and make those decisions together.
2. Needing To Be Taken Care Of
There's a difference between needing to be taken care of and wanting to be taken care of. Let me elaborate. Say a difficult situation arises in your relationship. Do you bury your head in the sand and make your partner take care of things, or do you try your best to be a supportive, equal partner? I get it, I have major anxiety, so sometimes even small things, like calling in to make the electric payment, are out of my range of possibilities. But when I am able to handle my scandal, I handle it. If you make your partner deal with all the problems that arise, even if your partner wants to "take care of you" in that way, you're being selfish. Gotta put on your adult panties sometimes and do uncomfortable things. We all do.
3. You Default To What You Want
When you buy cookies, do you always buy your favorite kind? When you make pasta, do you always buy spaghetti noodles and never consider your partner prefers the more bite-sized penne? This is part bad on your partner for never speaking up (if they're able) and part selfish on you because you just assumed that the things you wanted were the things your partner wanted. Today it's just pasta and cookies, but what about when it's buying a car, starting a family, and so on? If you just operate on your preferences as the default, it's time to stop and ask your partner how they feel about some of your decisions. They may seem trivial now, but a lifetime of trivial selfishness can build up to a massive pie of resentment and anger.
4. You Dominate Your Shared Spaces
When you come home, do you put the TV on what you want to watch, even if your partner was watching something else? Do you spread out so there's not much room for your partner? Do you keep the living spaces messy to the point that your partner can't relax in them? Maybe you don't even realize it, but now that you think about it, maybe your arts and crafts explosion is kind of taking over shared spaces. Ownership of space is indicative of power. I mean, if you just live in a small place and your partner doesn't care, that's one thing. But if you didn't ever consider how your partner might feel, that's where the selfishness comes in.
5. Fostering A Sense Of Entitlement
Do you feel like you get more of a say because you make more money, or because the apartment you both live in was yours first? Or, gasp, do you think you you should have final say over major decisions because you're a/the man? If so, welcome to 2016. My name is Teresa and I'm here to lead you out of the patriarchy and into the light of equality. Partnerships are about equality now.
6. Making Rules
Do you make rules for your partner that ensure your own happiness at the expense of theirs? For example, are your partner's friends not allowed in your house? Are you not allowed to talk to your exes, no matter the situation? Does all activity have to cease when it's time for you to go to bed? Equality means that sometimes you don't get to selfishly control how things go down in your home. Sometimes you have to be a little bit unhappy and suck it up because your partner's happiness matters, too.
7. Putting Yourself In Danger
Your life is your own, but it's also intimately tied to the life of another person. Your ties could be purely emotional, or they could involve finances, children, businesses, homes, pets, and more. If you refuse to take good care of yourself, you may think you're just putting your own health in jeopardy, but you're actually putting the well-being of your entire family at risk. Not only is your family tasked with caring for you, but they're tasked with finding a way to go on should you die. Not taking care of yourself or putting yourself in harms way consistently is a selfish act that impacts many more people than you realize. If you love someone, you owe it to them to be your best self, and to do what you can to prevent their pain should you become sick or die.
If you were oblivious to the fact that your partner might have different feelings and opinions about the choices you make in your relationship, knowing better is the first step to doing better.
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