Partnership Trumps Power

These days, it isn't unusual for a high-achieving woman to understand that a Beta male may be the best catch for her. This general "type" of guy is relationship-and-family oriented and respectful of a woman's ambitions and goals. He can, will, and wants to be supportive and equal with his life partner.

The old hierarchy of Alpha and Beta, in which Alpha males run the show and get their pick of the women, has lost its relevance. There are plenty of Alpha males out there, as you know, and they may be OK for having a good time, but when it comes to marriage, they usually put themselves first, both personally and professionally. For women ready for a serious relationship, setting their sights on the Beta male, who thinks more cooperatively, makes sense.

In my therapy practice I see a lot of competent, successful men for whom work is important but who don't feel they have to be a wolf on Wall Street. No, many of the men who consult with me seek equal, balanced relationships -- and they aren't threatened by strong, successful women.

While some men may be ambivalent about their wives' success -- and you hear a lot of speculation about that in the media -- it really is mostly hype and speculation. Most solid Beta men married to high-powered Alpha women are comfortable in their arrangement. They may actually feel some relief not to be under pressure to be the big earner. Does the Beta male feel emasculated by living with a female breadwinner? The Alpha guy of the past -- the Don Drapers of yore -- certainly would have, but no, the guy I'm describing does not.

Now, I have a few tips for Alpha women -- a type of woman whom I have been getting to know and appreciate in my practice more and more over the last few years. This is what I've learned about these ballsy Alpha clients: accustomed to leadership and decision-making, they sometimes don't know how to create a good balance of power at home. They may forget to include their partner, which leads to a power imbalance. Remember: In any healthy relationship, power must be fairly allotted. Both partners must get equal time to talk and to listen. Partnership always trumps power!

Being skilled at leading and managing is a great attribute to have at the office, and it can work perfectly well at home too. It takes some thought and self-reflection. In relationships, the Alpha woman needs to recognize that she can be overpowering. I see Alphas who dig in their heels until their partner is worn out. They may belittle or mock their partner's arguments. They want to "win." I've seen all of these patterns of behavior in my office, and trust me, they will seriously interfere with your ability to resolve your differences.

Therapists talk about a dynamic called negative complementarity, in which each person becomes an extreme, calcified version of him or herself. Instead of helping each other improve, they covertly or openly blame the other for his/her perceived shortcomings. The negative side of the Alpha personality comes out, and this partner will become domineering and controlling (as opposed to leading); the Beta becomes sulky and passive-aggressive (instead of collaborative).

In positive complementarity, partners learn to "borrow "some of each other's positive qualities. An Alpha woman can balance out her edginess and tendency to dominate by borrowing some of her Beta guy's ability to compromise. Meanwhile, he can borrow from her a more direct approach to problem-solving. Both partners can provide the space for their own negative qualities to be softened or areas of weakness strengthened.

Power sharing involves mutual honesty, respect, and clarity. An Alpha typically loves to compete and win -- but when it comes to relationship building, she needs to modify her instinctive bossiness. At the same time, the Beta guy needs to be proactive and meet her halfway in tackling the issues head on. So, before you sit down with your partner to discuss a problem or misunderstanding, or make any important decision, you both need to agree to these guidelines:

1. Create a caring atmosphere where it is "safe" to raise concerns.
2. Be receptive to what the other has to say. Practice listening skills.
3. Be committed to seeing your partner's point of view.
4. Monitor your tone and content to maximize trust and good will.
5. Avoid sarcasm and snide remarks. Don't talk over the other person.
6. Avoid lecturing.
7. Put past resentments aside and work from a positive point of view.
8. Recognize that compromise is the best solution to problems.
9. Allow yourself to feel vulnerable when you talk about your feelings.
10. Commit to finding acceptable solutions and understand that "winning" is "losing."

Sonya Rhodes, PhD., is coauthor with Susan Schneider of The Alpha Woman Meets Her Match: How Strong Women Can Find Love and Happiness Without Settling, coming in April 2014.