When your partner complains about his or her day, do you have to gulp your Tempranillo to resist the temptation to advise?
I’ve identified 12 Elements of Power—six yin/yang pairs that describe how human power works, diagnose where it goes funky, and guide us to gentle self-correcting mechanisms to get our power flowing smoothly and sustainably again. You can find the introduction to my blog series on the Elements here, or browse each of the posts in the series here.
In this post, I’ll introduce Nurturing and Providing, the Elements of Power that relate to how we relate to ourselves and others.
How We Relate to Ourselves and Others: The Power of Nurturing and the Power of Providing
When someone has a need, there are two basic categories of response we can give them: we can nurture or we can provide. These broad-stroke ways of relating to a person apply intrapersonally, with ourselves, as much as they apply interpersonally, with our partners or children or anyone else.
In our pragmatic, quick-moving, cerebral society, most of us tend to jump first to providing.
Riddle me this: when your partner comes home and has a headache-filled story about something frustrating that happened at work that day, where do you go first?
Even the most self-aware and communication-trained among us are often tempted to start with “Could you try…” if not “Do you want me to break his kneecaps?” Either of these is a providing response: it offers a “solution” to the supposed problem.
We’d like to listen first, create space, say “that sounds hard” and trust our partner will find their own right solution—and that simply talking about the situation has been helpful. But nurturing before we provide requires us to drop into real presence in the moment.
Our most vibrant relationships include both Elements. We can nurture ourselves and our partners when space for the experience is needed, and provide when solutions or resources or action are most useful. To best express both of these Elements of Power in our relationships, let’s look more at how Nurturing and Providing show up in their clean forms and how each one gets distorted.
The Power of Nurturing
Nurturing prioritizes making space for the person’s experience. It means tending to, caring for, healing, relating and being able to empathise. In our relationship with ourselves, when we’re struggling, nurturing might look like pausing, taking a breath and extending compassion for the challenge we’re facing.
Before we for what we could do better (and certainly before jumping to questions like “what’s wrong with me?” or even “what do I need to learn here?”) nurturing invites us to simply be with the experience. Nurturing knows that containing is in itself powerful.
The Power of Providing
Providing prioritizes giving. When we provide, we protect, rescue, fix, pay for or take action on behalf of the person in need. We look for a solution. Rather than waiting for the situation to improve when it may not, we blaze a direct path to relief or the meeting of the desire.
Each of these Elements of Power is helpful–especially when they’re active and integrated with one another. When we’re both nurturing and providing and flow back and forth between these two relating skills, we’re able to feel and benefit from both these truths:
1. Listening to, tending to and beholding one another brings out our own inner resourcefulness. It makes room for our experiences to crest and fall away.
2. Fixing, paying for, providing solutions for and protecting are powerful ways of caring that remove obstacles and open doors.
The fantastic things in life can all be traced back to the exercise of one or more of the 12 Elements of Power. And the messed up things we do to ourselves and each other can be viewed as distortions of one or more of the Elements, as well.
We’re in distorted Nurturing when we’re emotionally “sitting in the lap of” the other person—feeling everything they’re feeling, merging with their emotions. Or when we’re more emotionally invested in their situation getting better than they are, we’re also over-Nurturing.
When we jump to solve problems for people to the point that we infantalize or enable them, we’re in distorted Providing. Likewise, when we compulsively provide solutions, cash, or other forms of assistance when someone doesn’t really need and/or want it, we’re over-Providing.
The good news is that power is self-correcting: All we have to do when something goes wonky is activate the complement of the Element of Power we’ve been overusing.
- Your relationship would benefit from your activating more of the Power of Nurturing when:
Your partner just wants you to be heard when sharing a feeling, situation or idea
You feel powerless to “solve” something you or your partner are facing
Your partner tells you he or she doesn’t feel like you respect him or her
Within yourself, you feel beat-up, like you’ve been being hard on yourself and jumping to fix yourself
You’ve been thinking your partner “really should” take a particular course of action, but your repeated suggestions haven’t been well received
Your partner says you are (or you feel) cold or unfeeling
You feel that you do a lot for your partner, but he or she isn’t feeling very loved by you
Your relationship would benefit from your activating more of the Power of Providing when:
Your partner complains that you’re not “pulling your weight” with household chores, financially or in shared responsibilities (for instance, parenting)
With yourself, you realize there’s action you could take on your own behalf to improve your life, whether it’s physical self-care, financial prudence, wrapping up unfinished business, healing old emotional wounds or addressing medical issues
You haven’t done what you know to do to protect yourself, your partner or your family from foreseeable negative circumstances (think insurance, safety equipment, emergency preparedness, wills, advance medical directives, home and auto maintenance. Sexy, I know.)
Controversy alert: I consider myself a feminist and am a woman who pulls her own weight financially and otherwise in the world. That said, I believe that culturally and physiologically, I and many other women in our culture have a desire—perhaps even a need to feel taken care of, contained and held. This need is met by our partner (male or female) activating the power of Providing.
All the other examples in this article are directed at men and women equally. This one may pertain more to men: Your partner desires to feel more taken care of, contained, held, handled or provided for. It might be as simple as holding a door or as long-term as creating a retirement plan.
How else do you see the Power of Nurturing and the Power of Providing showing up in your relationship–in either clean or distorted ways?
May you love with all your power,