The Power and the PassionIt’s Oscar season: that special time of year when the world is reminded of how lucky it is to have its Hollywood A-listers – the red carpet, the paparazzi, the glitz, the glamour, the gushing speeches and, of course, our little gold hero himself, Oscar. An Oscar is considered the holy grail of Hollywood, the pinnacle that film types aspire to reach, a club that guarantees fame, fortune and happiness.
What’s not so well known is that the little gold man may also come with what’s known as the ‘Oscar love curse’, where upon winning the award you also stand to lose the love of your life. A loose correlation, perhaps, but the research is in and the numbers do stack up. According to German psychologist Diana Boettcher, the bigger the success the bigger the risk of separation. She goes further, suggesting that not only does a successful career often stand in the way of having a successful relationship but over time when success brings more success the erosion process is harder to stop, leaving little time for what’s needed for a healthy relationship.
The Oscar love curse stands as a reflection for anyone in any long-term relationship, whether it be marriage, de facto, LGBTQ or otherwise. However, there’s something deeper at play here: power. The balance of power in any relationship is generally defined by decision-making, i.e. the person making the decisions is seen to hold the most power. To take it one step further, it’s the ability to affect (consciously or unconsciously) the emotions, attitudes, thought processes or behaviour of someone else. When one partner is desiring certain changes in the other, the process involved is considered to be one of power. It can be as simple as who cooks dinner, deciding where to go for a holiday or what kind of car to buy, or something more life changing like deciding where to live, what career to choose or when to have children; the one who has orchestrated the desired outcome is generally seen to have the authority and be exerting more control, and in turn hold the power.
There are different types of relationships, all reflecting different levels of power and status. In a ‘complementary’ relationship, one person tends to dominate and make all the decisions. Usually these types of relationships experience little or no conflict as one partner readily defers to the other. This is most often seen with parents and young children. In a ‘symmetrical’ relationship, both parties behave toward power in the same way, either both wanting it or both avoiding it. A ‘dependent’ relationship sees a power imbalance between couples, where the person who depends on someone else to meet their needs has less power. In such dependent relationships the person with less emotional involvement often holds the power – more often the male in heterosexual cases. In such dependent relationships it comes as no surprise that the more we depend on someone else the more power they hold over us.
The most damaging style of relationship is the ‘competitive symmetrical’ relationship. Here both parties vie for power and control in the decision-making process, and often conflict arises and stubbornness sets in. In such cases a failure to agree on roles leads to instability. Our mate Oscar, who has by now been placed on the mantelpiece, sees more of this type of relationship than anything else, which begs the question: Do high status careers and the glory they appear to bring affect marital stability? Maybe ask Brad and Angelina.
It’s worth pointing out that there is nothing wrong with aspiring to achieve and do well. Indeed, it should be encouraged. But it’s important that both parties are on the same page when choices need to be made. Power and conflict go hand in hand and it can be a rocky road if both partners don’t share the decision-making. That said, as individuals we all interpret and respond to power differently, so keep an open mind. Even the most harmonious of marriages take effort, and the more mutual the decision process the better.