Every human relationship – platonic, romantic, and familial – encompasses two competing desires: for an equal partnership but also for power and control. This conflicting dynamic is unavoidable, as they are each reflective of a wider human tendency.
As social creatures, we innately want – and need – to work with one another amiably in order to be healthy, stay alive, and continue the species. Both our neurological and hormonal systems attest to this, as they facilitate and encourage intimacy, cooperation, and empathy.
At the same time, however, we have something other organisms don’t: an ego. Our higher cognitive ability grants us a sense of identity, purpose, and individuality that, while wonderful, can conflict with our collective and cooperative inclinations.
Thus every interaction we have with one another, particularly the most intimate, necessarily entails a struggle between these driving forces. We want to be in control of our relationships (and everything else for that matter), but we also desire the sort of equality and fairness that makes such partnerships thrive. And since the same goes for everyone else we deal with, we’re faced with a very complicated layer of internal and external clashes.
Again, we see this on both the macro and micro level: not just between individuals, but between societies, cultures, and the species as a whole. Human nature is variable and difficult to pin down, but it’s clear that we’ve always had a contradictory tendency to work wonderfully together (hence all the progress we’ve made in so many different human endeavors) but to also be utterly incapable of harmony and tolerance (hence why we still struggle with inequality, war, and other social ills).
Many other factors account for these failures of course, but the point is that we seem destined to fight with ourselves in trying to find a delicate balance between these two potent drivers. However, we have come a long way in this regard though: relationships, especially among younger generations, increasingly emphasize egalitarian values. War and civil strife are historically low, despite their continued horror. On the whole, we’ve gone father than ever in keeping our desire for power in check, significant lapses notwithstanding (remember, progress is never linear or absolute).
I think being cognizant of this dynamic is an obvious first step to promoting a cooperative and equal relationship with our fellow humans. But it will never be enough; it’ll take constant practice and a lot of trial and error to keep the equilibrium.
Besides, every relationship needs an element of both: we need those individual egos as much as we need parity. Compromise is the foundation of every relationship: when you love someone, you submit yourself to their needs, promising to do whatever you can to help them. But at the same time, no healthy relationship should consist of one-sided compliance. As much as we want to be there with one another, we also want someone with a mind of their own, and having entails dealing with differences in personality, desires, and the like.
This isn’t the case for everyone of course – a lot of people want full control, while a lot of others don’t seem to mind being obedient to their partners. But I think the trend is increasingly in favor of partnerships that offer the best of both worlds. Being able to live in harmony with one another without giving up your personal aspirations makes for a thriving relationship. There will always be a give and take to some degree, but that’s a necessary part of any close social interaction.
What are your thoughts?