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Equal and Unequal Relationships

Do you believe that the relationship between you and your partner is equal? Or, do you think there might be a power imbalance with the two of you? Dr. Joseph A. Annibali, MD. writes in his blog for Amen Clinics about the Horizontal/Vertical Relationship Model and how it can apply to your relationship.

What is this model? Dr. Annibali describes it as a “barbell.” One end represents you while the other represents your partner. The bar in between is meant to represent the relationship.  

So imagine this. If the barbell is horizontal then your relationship can be imagined as being equal. You and your partner work with each other cooperatively. Neither side tries to one-up the other.

Now look at the barbell vertically. With one end above the other, it shows that the relationship is not equal. As a result, one partner is above the other. There is a power dynamic between the two. This is what Annibali refers to as the “adversarial vertical model.”

He also notes that in a vertical relationship both sides of the barbell act like, “spies.”  Each one plays games, manipulates, one-ups, and otherwise tries to game the situation in order to win. Dr. Annibali says that this is a zero-sum situation, with neither side winning or losing.

This is not a sustainable relationship, and it is doomed to fail. Instead of being authentic, both sides of the relationship play differing roles in an effort to try to exploit the other person and gain the advantage. It’s also hard in this scenario to feel safe and connected to your partner.

Dr. Annibali writes in his blog that the human brain, when in this situation, goes backward towards relying on the limbic system. This system emphasizes more primitive thinking such as lying and aggression. Furthermore, it does not see the nuance of situations, only the black and white.

Want to learn more about horizontal and vertical relationships and how they can affect our thinking? You can read Dr. Joseph A. Annibali’s full post here:  Relationships:  Spotting the Unhealthy Roles We Play.