That’s Men

Marital conflict a power-struggle


They were outside a pricey clothes shop in Grafton Street (is there any other kind?). They were in their late 50s I would say, and married I would also say. She beckoned him in a peremptory way as she headed into the shop.

“I know you are entirely useless on an expedition like this but if I leave you out here on your own you will wander off to try to enjoy yourself and then you will get lost and I will have to spend precious time finding you,” is what I assume she meant, based on the look on her face.

He followed her with that air of resignation men bring to accompanying wives into clothes shops – an appalling waste of time but it has to be done.

I had been thinking about power in relationships at the time and it struck me that in the clothes shop she had the power. She knew what things were and what sizes were and what colours work and don’t work and would have no difficulty examining and rejecting every single item on the premises.

He, on the other hand, would be stood in a baffling sea of colour, of women’s dresses and jackets and skirts and trousers and blouses and all the baffling rest of it. If his opinion was asked – an unlikely occurrence – he would know better than to imagine his views would make any difference whatsoever.

Source of conflict

For all I knew, this guy in his day job might run an international oil company yet here he is, “quite unmanned”, to use Lady Macbeth’s words, by being dragged into a clothes shop.

No doubt he has his ways of getting some power for himself too. He looked like a passive-aggressive sort of chap. Obstinacy, forgetfulness, selective deafness, not paying bills on time and many, many other ploys are available to the passive-aggressive person, male or female.

I did not follow them into the shop and left them to play out their marital drama.

I had been thinking about power after reading about a study on conflict in marriage, conducted by researchers at Baylor University in the US and published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology.

The study suggests that a great deal of the conflict in marriage is about power and that what each person most wants in these situations is for the other person to give up some power. This isn’t necessarily a matter of surrendering. Compromising, treating the other person with respect and admitting that you’re wrong if you’re wrong all qualify.

This is all easier said than done in the heat of battle, of course, but battles die down and that may be the time for each side to cede a little power.


Another big source of conflict is the perception that the partner is inattentive, disloyal or not committed enough to the relationship. Buying gifts, being helpful, cooperating on tasks and listening – really listening – to the partner are all good ways to show that commitment.

So if our man on Grafton Street even pretended to be glad to be there while his wife was going through her unspeakably boring clothes-shopping ritual, harmony might reign.

Go to for more on this study.


Gender non-conforming boys have a strong orientation towards femininity. Some like to dress up in girls’ clothes and wear make-up. An annual family camp in the US “offers a temporary safe haven where gender-variant boys can freely express their interpretations of femininity alongside their parents and siblings”, writes Lindsay Morris whose fascinating photo essay on the camp is at

“These images represent the spirit of the children as they shine in an atmosphere of support,” Morris adds.

Padraig O’Moráin ( is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book Light Mind -Mindfulness for Daily Living is published by Veritas. His mindfulness newsletter is free by email.

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