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His & Her Success: When The Balance Of Power Shifts Inside A Power Couple

France’s First Lady Valérie Trierweiler’s troublesome tweet this week has been a public soap opera and the first real blow in the new presidency of her companion, François Hollande. But how much should a successful woman care about her man's prof

Samantha Cameron and Michele Obama have put their careers on hold (Pete Souza)
Samantha Cameron and Michele Obama have put their careers on hold (Pete Souza)
Michèle Binswanger

François Hollande was supposed to come with a clean slate, the "normal" President – ready to devote all of his attention to the citizens and country of France, not to himself.

And now his partner Valérie Trierweiler has put a spoke in the wheels – or, put more aptly, left a nasty little stain on his jacket. But this all came from a modern woman who could care less about looking after her partner's wardrobe.

The stain came in the form of a tweet in which Trierweiler expressed support for the political opponent of Ségolène Royal, Hollande's ex-partner. Since it's known that Trierweiler and Royal are enmeshed in an on-going private cat fight, this news already had the makings of a scandal – and was firmly cemented as one in light of the fact that Hollande himself supports Royal's candidacy for this weekend's parliamentary runoff.

Trierweiler, a journalist, has from Day One shown little interest in filling the role of France's First Lady, and would rather be judged by her own career accomplishments. And yet getting publicly mixed up in politics in quite this way, taking a swipe at Royal, has turned the French off. It would be an uncomfortable enough situation for a man in a far less important position. For Hollande, just elected to France's highest office, it must be a nightmare.

The French media have leapt on the story, dubbing it "Dallas in the Elysée Palace." It highlights a conflict that neither the powerful men nor the emancipated women of this world seem to have devoted much thought to: in power couples, how do the partners deal with each other's power? And more specifically: how strong can a woman be if she is at the side of a powerful man?

The former head of the Swiss National Bank, Philipp Hildebrand, was recently enmeshed in a scandal of his own involving some financial transactions allegedly made by his wife without his prior knowledge. "My wife," said Hildebrand, "has a strong personality."

This could be another way of saying: Look, I decided to marry a woman who thinks and acts independently. The Swiss media let it be: after all, in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, nobody can come out and say that a man should have his wife under control. In the Hildebrand case, it was about a joint bank account which is why he could also be held responsible for transactions made from the account. Indeed, the case eventually brought about his resignation.

Independence v. power

The Hollande/Trierweiler case is altogether different. Out of jealousy, she did something that damages his reputation. Does the French President have to answer for his partner's idiocy?

Winston Churchill wrote that, where power is concerned, women often have trouble keeping politics and feelings separate. Trierweiler's tweet is an example of that. However it should also be said that women who have their own power usually know what they're doing, and the consequences of their actions. But how about a strong woman faced with the fact that her partner is suddenly stronger? Should she insist on her autonomy? Or does she go all house-wifey, and look after his wardrobe, and make sure there are no stains?

Or put another way: how powerful can the companion of a powerful person like Hollande be allowed to be? If the issue can't be reconciled, is he better off separating from the woman – or the office?

Power couples are often considered role models for modern partnerships between equals. Ironically, the problems they run into are perfect examples of the anachronisms often overlooked in our understanding of love and partnership.

A marriage or partnership is never only just about love; it also – always – has an economic and strategic component to it. With regard to her role as First Lady, Trierweiler told the French magazine Paris Match where she has long worked as a journalist that she wanted to be independent of her partner Hollande. But maybe women in recent years have been thinking too much about their independence, and not enough about power.

Power is a system of dependencies, which also happens to apply to the partnership of a power couple. Like it or not, at the end of the day they're both in it together.

Read the original article in German

Photo - White House/Pete Souza

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A wine cellar at the Twins Garden restaurant in Moscow

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