Committing to nonviolent relationships- a new paradigm.

We live in a world where violent relationships are the norm rather than the exception. Very few days go by where we don’t hear about some extreme manifestation of a violent relationship somewhere in the world – an act of terrorism, our treatment of those displaced by the violence of others, a woman killed or seriously injured by her current or ex partner, children who have been physically or sexually abused by those who were entrusted with their care and protection. We also hear about the impact of the violence we inflict on animals and nature – depriving both sentient and non-sentient beings of the conditions they need in order to not just thrive, but to even survive at all.

We are in a relationship crisis, and urgently need to change our relationship paradigm. The paradigm we currently adhere to follows principles that we have believed for thousands of years were necessary to ensure our survival and stability as a society. These could be summed up as a ‘power over’ model of relationship– that is, where one (or more) person is more powerful, and one or more people (or animals, or non-sentient beings) are in a relatively weak position. This dynamic relies on the good will of the more powerful to ensure that the interests of those in a weaker position are taken care of, with or without consultation with them. History does not reflect that this is what actually happens. Usually (with a few notable exceptions) those in a less powerful position have access to less resources, are less likely to be heard or believed when they try to draw this to the attention of others, and are blamed for their own misfortune if they express distress about the impact this dynamic has on them.

We are in urgent need of a new paradigm, and many brilliant researchers, teachers, therapists, ecologists and others across a hugely diverse range of professions have conceptualised for us what this may look like. It may be summed up as a ‘power with’ model of relationships – in the couple relationship (John and Julie Gottman and Susan Johnston have made notable contributions here), in parent-child relationships (John Gottman, also the work of many notable family therapists such as Virginia Satir, more recently Gary and Guy Diamond), and in human-nonhuman relationships (the wonderful work done by both animal and ecological rights activists that has driven change in policy and law in many countries).

What does a ‘power with’ relationship look like? While the ways of describing this may be many and varied, there are some core principles that appear in what seem to be unrelated areas of inquiry (though common to some overarching processes such as qualitative research methods, especially action/cooperative enquiry research). These include:-

  • A commitment to seeking out and hearing different perspectives.
  • Using 'emotional intelligence' skills such as empathy, and/or a range of spiritual practices that encourage and develop the capacity to creatively imagine the experiences of those who do not communicate with language.
  • Privileging the perspectives of those in a less powerful position as the most accurate representation of a situation, recognising that those in power may not be aware of, and/or may have a vested interest in not recognising the impact of their actions and behaviour.

What can we do? As an individual, I can become informed about and commit myself to ‘power with’ practices – in my intimate relationship, as a parent, as a worker (especially if I am a manager or senior executive), as a lover of animals and of nature. I can do this by attending seminars or other events that teach how to be in respectful relationship (e.g. Relationships Australia courses for couples, Behaviour Change groups for men and women who wish to commit to non-violence in their relationships, Tuning in to Kids/Teens for parents – to name just a few). Collectively, we can join with others to advocate, write, lobby, march, educate and perhaps most importantly support each other to develop new habits and practices for living as a community that embed non-violence into the fabric of the society we want to create together.



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