An Examination of Domination vs. Partnership
Through A Visionary’s Eyes
By Kathy DeSantis



Dr. Riane Eisler is an internationally known scholar, futurist and activist. She is the author of many articles and books including “The Chalice and the Blade,” “Tomorrow’s Children” and “Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth and the Politics of the Body.” She is president of the Center for Partnership Studies in Tucson, Arizona. Dr. Eisler was recently honored as the only woman among twenty great thinkers including Vico, Hegel. Spengler, Adam Smith. Marx, and Toynbee featured in Macrohistory and Macrohistorians. She has taught at the University of California, Immaculate Heart College, World Academy of Art and Science and the World Business Academy, and has worked as a cultural historian and evolutionary theorist over the last twenty years.

Dr. Eisler has done pioneering work in human rights, expanding the vision of international organizations to include the rights of women and children. She also serves on many boards, commissions and advisory councils.  She lives in Northern California with her husband, David Loye.

In this issue of Awareness Magazine we focus on relationships, knowing that relationships are the most important thing in the world. Everything in our lives is a matter of relationships whether it’s within ourselves, our families, our community or with nature.

Dr. Eisler, takes self-help to a new level of meaning and effectiveness in her new book, “The Power of Partnership.”  Eisler is a rare combination of visionary scholar and practical activist. Her book shows us the difference between the partnership and dominator ways of behavior. Which would you rather have?

No one would choose the system of domination if they knew they had an alternative, but most of us haven’t been given the lens to see the world that way yet, so we don’t have the tools to break free of the dominator model and move into partnership in all areas of our lives. We can’t help ourselves in any realistic and lasting way without becoming fully aware of and responsive to the down-to-earth practicalities of the seven key relationships in our lives.

These seven relationships start with our relationship with ourselves, our intimate relations with loved ones, and our work and community relations. Then come our relations with our national community. After that come our relations with the international community, with nature and finally, with an emphasis on ‘putting love into action’, our spiritual relations.

Starting with a turning point in her own life and weaving in her personal experiences throughout the book, Eisler writes with passion grounded in three decades of research.

Kathy: Why are relationships so important and why was “The Power of Partnership” written?

Riane: All of us are always in relationship — and not just with the people in our immediate inner circle, in our families and at work. We are affected by a much wider web of relationships swirling around us and impacting every aspect of our lives. If we don’t pay attention to these less immediate relationships, just trying to fix ourselves alone is like trying to go up on a down elevator. No matter what we do we’re trapped and headed in the wrong direction. Many people are beginning to realize this, as they go from self-help book to self-help book and workshop to workshop.

Certainly working on ourselves is essential, but not enough. “The Power of  Partnership” offers a new approach to transformative change. It deals with personal change and the larger changes needed if we and our children are to have the good life we all want. It shows the connections between our personal problems and the global problems piling up around us, and how a happier self and a better world are interconnected.

Kathy: The subtitle of “The Power of Partnership” is Seven Relationships That Will Change Your Life. What are these seven relationships?

Riane: First our relationship with ourselves. Second, our intimate relationships. Third, our workplace and community relations. Fourth, our relationship with our national community. Fifth, international and multi-cultural relationships. Sixth, our relationship with nature and the living environment. And seventh, our spiritual relations. In my book you will see that there are two fundamentally different models for all these relationships:  the partnership model and the domination model. You will see how these two underlying models mold all our relationships — from relationships between parents and children and between women and men, to the relations between governments and citizens and between us and nature. As you learn to recognize these two models you will see how both individually and collectively we can influence what happens to us and around us. As you learn to move relationships toward the partnership model, you will begin to make positive changes in your day-to-day life and our world.

In the domination model, somebody has to be on top and somebody has to be on the bottom. Those on top control those below them. People learn, starting in childhood, to obey orders without question. In contrast, the partnership model supports mutually respectful and caring relations. Because there is no need to maintain rigid rankings of control, there is also no built-in need for abuse or violence. Partnership relations free our innate capacity to feel joy and to play. They enable us to grow.

Kathy:  How can we incorporate the partnership model into the workplace?

Riane:  It is significant that the mission statements of companies often use the term partnership. They speak of accountability, not only to shareholders and customers, but also of a widening responsibility to employees, communities, and the planet. They talk about caring for the needs of their employees rather than treating them as if they had no life outside of work. All these signal changes in consciousness.

Profit sharing, corporate boards that include union representatives, and employee stock ownership are even more concrete partnership trends. When people get a share of the benefits from their labor, they work better and harder. This also benefits employers and the economy.

The same is true when workers have a greater voice in the decisions made in their companies. They work harder, are more creative and deliver better results. But teamwork and greater worker participation in decision making are not only good for business, they are also good for the nation’s health.

A study of civil servants working in rigid dominator hierarchies found that those lower in the hierarchy, with little control over their work, have a higher risk of death from coronary heart disease, strokes, cancer and gastrointestinal diseases, accidents and suicides. The risk of dying of a heart attack for workers in the bottom tier was more than 2.5 times greater than for those in the top tier.

Kathy: You talk about intimate relationships and you say it’s not just lovers and spouses but our families and close friends. How can we have better intimate relations if we use the power of partnership, and how did you incorporate this into your own life?

Riane: Dysfunctional old ideas about women and men are a major obstacle to change. I can speak to this from personal experience. I spent many unhappy years totally unaware of the impact on my life of stereotyped gender roles and relations. I thought marital problems were unique to me and my former husband. When I woke up to the connection between the culturally prescribed life scripts hammering at me and my personal problems, my consciousness and my life were transformed.

More than anything else, we humans want meaningful connections. We want love and we want pleasure. When we don’t have these, we become distressed, out of touch with ourselves and others and all too often distorted — mean and mean spirited, insensitive and cruel, angry and violent. This then spills over from intimate relations to other relations.

Dominator intimate relations are at the base of the entire dominator pyramid. To build a better world, shifting intimate relations away from the pain, fear and rage inherent in the domination model is foundational. Relations of domination and submission are not conducive to either real love or real pleasure. They even get in the way of the pleasure that comes through our unique human sexuality.

Kathy: How can we put partnership into work with regard to spirituality? What behaviors do we need to model so children learn to be ethical and responsible?

Riane: All we need is spiritual courage. Because ultimately, spirituality is not just talking about love, it is putting love into action. There are four components of partnership spiritual education.

We need to develop the capacity to listen to our inner wisdom. Meditation and prayer combine intense concentration and “letting go”. They can take us past the noise of the old dominator tapes to connect with what is most evolved in us — our capacity for love.

Becoming fully conscious of others and what’s happening around us. Being sensitive to  others enables us to live our spirituality. Without this mindfulness, spirituality becomes little more than self-indulgence.

 Learn partnership moral standards of empathy, caring and responsibility.

Put partnership moral standards into practice. Partnership spiritual education helps young people learn skills and habits for relations based on empathy and respect rather than control and submission. Teaching boys and girls empathetic, responsible parenting will break cycles of violence that escalate from homes to intertribal and international violence. International violence won’t stop until we stop intimate violence.

Much of the current school curriculum conflicts directly with teachings about nonviolence, empathy and caring. Look at all the emphasis on wars and conquests. In a curriculum informed by the partnership model, young people still learn about this part of history but it isn’t idealized. They learn about evolution from a larger perspective that includes the evolution of love and spirituality. This gives them a more complete, accurate and hopeful view of what being human means.

Kathy: If we are to re-educate ourselves, can you give our readers examples of how the language of a partnership model is different than the language of a dominator model?

Riane: Below is a table of the vocabulary of domination and partnership.


Family Values
Educational accountability
Capitalistic economics
Free market
Compassionate conservative
Traditional values
Traditional morality
Women’s work
Politically correct



Valuing Families
Educational responsibility
Economics of caring
Fair market
Politics of caring
Humane traditions
Global responsibility
Moral sensitivity
Caring work
Personally caring

Kathy: On behalf of Awareness Magazine, I thank you for yet another wonderful book and your work for the cause of social evolution. What are your hopes for the future?

Riane: The dominator habits we have inherited linger. They threaten us, our loved ones, our world. But the movement toward partnership offers grounded hope for the better world we all want. Every one of us, no matter who we are or where we are, can become part of the partnership movement. It is my prayer for my children and grandchildren that each succeeding generation inherits fewer habits based on unhealthy beliefs and structures. I pray that this comes true for every child. May our children and grandchildren rewrite this book with the insights they have gained from a world that has found the partnership way.

“The Power of Partnership” is published by New World Library, and available at local bookstores. For other resources see The Center for Partnership Studies’ website at .  

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