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UF relationship expert offers superhuman advice for power couples for Valentine’s Day

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – In the world of comic books, Storm has got it going on. She’s led the X-Men, controls the weather at will, and is considered one of the most powerful mutants in the Marvel Universe.

Despite her accomplishments, Storm experienced a failed marriage. In a 2006 story, she wed the Black Panther, king of the technologically advanced African nation Wakanda and a formidable super hero in his own right. In 2012, the relationship ended abruptly when the two spouses found themselves on opposite sides of an all-out war between the X-Men and the Avengers.

In the real world, couples can experience similar conflicts when both partners are strong, dynamic individuals, says a relationship expert with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

“Whether they be fictional super heroes or CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, power couples often face the same problems,” says Victor Harris, an associate professor with the UF/IFAS department of family, youth and community sciences. “Control and power are highly associated with the topics couples argue about. Indeed, control and power issues are the foundation of most conflicts.

“Typically, one person (or each person) is bent on having his or her own way. The saying ‘my way or the highway’ is a common phrase used by someone with an inflexible perspective.”

For couples where each person is accustomed to being in charge, issues can become amplified, Harris says. “If we see an issue one way and expect everyone else to see it the same way we do, then we are more likely to try to exert power and control over others and sway them to our perspective,” he explains. “Attempting to exert control and power over our partner typically results in win/lose or lose/lose outcomes for our marital friendships.”

It didn’t help the marriage of six years when an X-Men associate began kidnapping members of the Avengers to prevent a future tragedy, touching off a lengthy conflict between the two super hero teams. Storm had been a member of the X-Men since 1975, the Black Panther’s connection to the Avengers reached back to 1968. So, when an X-Man attacks Wakanda with a tidal wave, well, Black Panther and Storm can’t seem to work around it.

“Here’s where communication might have saved this marriage,” Harris says. Talking things out is vital for formidable partners, he says.

Harris offers the following tips:

  • Calm down. If your heart is beating more than 90 beats-per-minute, it becomes more difficult to access the “logical” part of your brain. Disengage from an interaction before something hurtful is said, and stay disengaged for at least 25 minutes to really calm down. Otherwise, it is easy to slip back into an emotionally charged conversation and say things that are damaging to the marital friendship.
  • Complain. Being passive and sweeping relationship issues under the rug will only serve to trip us up later. Bringing up a complaint about a specific issue or behavior is actually one of the healthiest activities a couple can engage in.
  • Speak Non-defensively. This kind of language is an art form that usually includes speaking with a soft voice, using complaint statements that start with “I feel…” rather than “You…” statements, and garnering the listener’s trust in our ability to communicate effectively without eliciting defensiveness. “We” statements can also be helpful.
  • Validate. To validate another person we must:
    • Listen with our eyes, ears, mind and heart.
    • Listen to the needs and emotions being expressed.
    • Use bridge phrases and words such as, “And then what happened?;” “How did that make you feel?;” “Really? You’re kidding?;” “What are you going to do now?;” “How can I help?”

It’s important to overlearn communications skills, Harris says. “Practice, practice and then practice some more,” he says. “Don’t criticize, don’t become defensive, don’t use contempt and don’t stonewall. All of these skills will help a power couple, or any couple, maintain a good relationship.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.