My wife, Kristen, is a competitive powerlifter. On her dead lifts she is very close to being in the 300 club. Yes. 300lbs. I regularly get jokes about how she is stronger than I am. I want you to know though that I can lift a car. I’m not exaggerating. I am capable of lifting a car without a jack or a mechanical lift. All I need is a little bit of leverage. I could lift a vehicle of up to 5,000 lbs. with just a fulcrum (think the middle part of a seesaw) and a lever about 12 yards long. The Ancient Greek Archimedes famously said “give me a place to stand and I shall move the earth.”
Leverage plays a role in most relationships whether at home or at work. Leverage is not inherently bad or good. In a relationship context it simply refers to any process that allows one party to exponentially multiply their degree of influence on another party. Intimate partnerships such as a marriage inherently create an enormous amount of leverage between the two people. This leverage can either be used coercively or cooperatively.
In a domestic violence relationship, the batterer uses a variety of coercive tactics to increase their leverage. When people ask why a victim doesn’t leave, what they are really missing is an awareness of just how much leverage the abuser has. Leverage can turn a small amount of force into an incredible amount of stopping energy.
Sometimes a person with a family member or friend in an abusive relationship will tell me “we’ve told her she could come stay with us but she just won’t leave him!” They are often in disbelief that a victim would stay because in their minds the only barrier is having a place to stay. But there are always a large number of visible and invisible ways that the abuse has leverage. The victim may believe that the abuser would hurt another member of the family (in fact, one study found that in 20% of intimate partner homicides the homicide victims were not the domestic violence victims themselves, but family members, friends, neighbors, persons who intervened, law enforcement responders, or bystanders). The victim may believe that the abuser will win custody of the children. The victim may believe that divorce is a sin. These are all forms of leverage that the abuser may be using coercively. And these only scratch the surface.
Domestic violence prevention and intervention centers or shelters are fundamentally in the leverage mitigation business. They provide ways for victims to take leverage away from their abusers. Shelters provide so much more than just a roof. They provide professional counseling to help reduce psychological leverage, life coaching and support groups to help reduce emotional leverage, educational and job resources and transitional housing to help reduce economic leverage, attorneys to reduce legal leverage or leverage related to custody issues, and much more.
Even in intimate partnerships where there is no abuse, many struggles occur because of coercive uses of leverage.
In the corporate world things can be just as bad. Sexual harassment, discrimination, and toxic work environments, often have coercive leverage holding them together.
In many marriages and corporate settings, things are not that severe. No one party is trying to dominate or control the other parties. However, that doesn’t mean that coercive leverage is not being used at all. Before I go any further it’s important to note that I believe that marriage is a true partnership where at any given time or in any given setting either party might be providing leadership while in a corporate setting there is usually a defined hierarchy. Regardless, in both settings one or more parties are prone to manipulate others and may at times use coercive leverage to do so. In fact, those who see themselves as positional authorities (managers, bosses, and-in many cultural and faith traditions-husbands) have often been taught a style of leadership based on coercion that they use even when they have good intentions.
Leverage is not always unhealthy however. Most of us use leverage in some way or the other every day. Leverage is an important tool for progress. So how do we know when leverage is unhealthy? Here are a couple of giveaways that you may be experiencing or practicing unhealthy leverage: