Power Dynamics In Relationships: The Meaningful Conversation Most Couples Are Avoiding


Couples Are Avoiding

Just because we don’t talk about something, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my work as a couples therapist, and as a professor who trains people to do couple therapy, I have found a relationship dynamic that often gets overlooked. We do not talk nearly enough about the impact of power on our romantic relationships.

It is understandable to feel uneasy talking about power dynamics these days, as our news cycle is filled with story after story about (mostly) men carrying out gross abuses of power against (mostly) women and girls. If you were to ask a couple, “Who has the power in your relationship?” they would most likely respond, “We both do!” Most of us pride ourselves on creating egalitarian romantic relationships, and, especially when it comes to gender, we are mostly walking the talk.

Historically, traditional divisions of labor created power imbalances along gender lines by reifying a marital model of a male breadwinner and a female homemaker. The person with the paycheck had the power! Because of meaningful social change (some by choice, some by necessity), heterosexual relationships are far more egalitarian today than they were a generation or two ago.

Related: Why Vulnerability Is So Important For Healthy Relationships: 3 Reasons

In fact, a full 40% of households are run by a female breadwinner! And same-sex couples are even more egalitarian than heterosexual couples when it comes to power.

Power dynamics are about more than just a paycheck. And power dynamics can feel tricky to talk about. ..

…but you really should!

The definition of power is simple. Power is the ability or capacity to do something. Power is agency. Power is about your ability to have an effect on the world around you, including your partner.

Micro-Exchanges Of Power

Over the course of a day, there are numerous micro-exchanges of power between you and your partner. Your partner asks, “Where do you want to eat?” You reply, “Let’s go get sushi.”

  • If your partner agrees to sushi, your partner has just given you the power to decide where the two of you will have dinner.
  • If your partner responds, “Nah, I feel like pizza,” you and your partner are now in a power struggle, one in which you will each attempt to influence each other.

When you think about these micro-exchanges of power, you may be able to identify one of you who tends to lead and one of you who tends to follow. Maybe it’s based on personality—one partner is strong-willed and one partner easy-going.

Maybe it’s based on birth order—one partner was an only child who was used to getting their way and one partner was the youngest of four who was used to accommodating their older siblings.

talking about power dynamics

Keep in Mind:

These micro-exchanges of power may be just the background noise of your relationship, but to prevent painful struggles around power, proceed with awareness. If one of you tends to lead and one tends to follow, notice that and be mindful.

If the leading partner feels weary of decision-making, ask the following partner to make the next plan. If the following partner feels edged out, ask the leading partner to step back to make space for shared decisions.

Related: 12 Common Habits In Healthy Relationships Every Couple Swears By

Proceed With Awareness

Power dynamics are present in our romantic relationships in part because life is a series of shared decisions, great and small. But there’s something else. Power dynamics are present in our intimate relationships because we bring all the parts of who we are into the relationship, including our cultural identities:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Religion
  • Age
  • Socioeconomic status (SES)
  • Skin color
  • Education
  • Ability

In all likelihood, your relationship is cross-cultural along with one or more of these domains. It’s so important that you and your partner understand how cultural differences affect your relationship because these differences matter.

As a culture, we have yet to figure out how to treat difference as difference. Instead, we load cultural differences with privilege. So for every cultural identity variable listed above, there is a culturally prescribed higher value/privilege/status and a culturally prescribed lower value/privilege/status. With greater privilege and status comes greater power.

Here’s an example. Albert, an African-American man from a wealthy family, is married to Rose, a white woman from a working-class family. Albert and Rose pride themselves on sharing power in their relationship in ways that are equitable, yet they are aware that their cultural identities shape their experiences of power in the world and by extension in their home.

Albert experiences the enhancement of power that comes with being male and being from a wealthy family, and he must deal with the diminishment of power that comes with being African-American. Rose experiences the enhancement of power that comes with being white, and she must deal with the diminishment of power that comes with being a woman and being from a working-class family.

Keep in Mind:

Like Albert and Rose, you and your partner probably bring cultural differences into your romantic relationship. Even with the power dynamics they bring, cultural differences are avenues for increased empathy and compassion when approached with awareness.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about the cultural differences between the two of you.
  • Commit to exploring the difference without judging the difference.
  • Stay curious about how cultural differences (and the inherent power differences that accompany the difference) shape your perspective on a decision, a conflict, or an experience.
  • Avoid assumptions by asking questions.

Related: The 7 Fundamental Elements Needed In A Healthy Relationship

Where To Begin: The Four Questions

Power dynamics are inevitable in a romantic relationship, but problems arise when:

  • Power dynamics feel too dangerous to talk about.
  • Power dynamics are too rigid to meet the shifting and changing needs of the relationship.
  • Power dynamics are insisted upon by one partner to exert control over the other partner.

If you are curious about unpacking the power dynamics that are at work in your relationship, start by talking with your partner about these four questions, which are based on the work of Dr. Carmen Knudson-Martin and Dr. Anne Rankin Mahoney (2009):

  • Who defines what is important?
  • To what extent does each partner notice and attend to the other’s needs and emotions?
  • Is one partner more likely to organize his or her daily activities around the other?
  • Does one person’s sense of competence, optimism, or well-being seem to come at the expense of the other’s emotional or physical health?

It’s time to talk about how power dynamics shape the space between you and your partner. Be curious enough and flexible enough to figure out what works for both of you!

Learn to create the healthy, thriving intimate you’ve always dreamed of with Alexandra’s Intimate Relationships 101 E-course.

Written By Alexandra Solomon
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
Couples Are Avoiding Pin

— Share —

— About the Author —

Leave a Reply

Up Next

Want To Try Speed Dating? 6 Mindful Tips To Make A Real Connection

What Is Speed Dating: Interesting Tips To Real Connections

Is speed dating the most effective way to find your soul mate through a series of mini dates? Do you feel like giving this exciting trend a try? Let’s see how it works.

This is an event format that allows people to go on many dates within a short time to talk with several people.

Let’s discuss what speed dating is like, how it operates, and some suggestions on optimizing your love life!

What Is Speed Dating?

Up Next

Is He Drifting Away? 8 Signs He Is Losing Interest And How To Turn Things Around

Signs He Is Losing Interest: Is He Drifting Away?

It’s one of the worst feelings in this world when the person you love, starts to lose interest in you. You thought that everything was going great and you are the happiest you have ever been, and then suddenly, you realize that he is acting very distant and emotionally detached. Today we are going to talk about the major signs he is losing interest.

Once you know these signs you will be able to better understand what’s actually going on in your relationship, instead of staying in a bubble, not knowing the truth. Also, why do guys act so interested then pull away? So annoying!

And we won’t just talk about the signs he is losing interest, but we will also provide some effective and useful tips regarding what to do when he lost interest.

Whether you are in a new relationship or have been together for years

Up Next

How Healthy Relationships Can Improve Your Physical Health

How Healthy Relationships Can Improve Your Physical Health

Healthy relationships are crucial for feeling happy, positive, and also physically healthy. The physical benefits of healthy relationships are a lot, and this article is going to talk about that in detail. Let’s find out the importance of having strong and healthy relationships.

Humans need humans to survive.

It’s no secret that a healthy relationship can bring joy and happiness to your life, but did you know that it can also have a positive impact on your physical health?

From reducing stress levels to boosting your immune system, there are many surprising health benefits to being in a happy partnership. Read on to learn more.

We are social creatures who thrive on strong, healthy relationships with friends, colleagues and family me

Up Next

When You Refuse To Let Go Of Someone You Love, Even When They Don’t Love You Anymore

Why You Should Let Go Of Someone You Love

I get it. You don’t want to let go of someone you love. Even when it’s clear that it’s over. Even when it’s clear that it is time and things will only get worse from here. Yet, you want to hold on just a little longer. But if you truly love someone let them go.

“No! No! It’s fine. It’s absolutely fine. It’s working. Listen to me, I know it’s working. This is normal. Show me a relationship that doesn’t have problems. I will make it work. I know I can. Just give me a little time. Just a little more time. Please, just bear with me for a second here. Please. Don’t take it away from me yet. Please. It’s not time. It can’t be. Will you just listen to me once for god’s sake?”

But deep down you know it in your heart. You just know it. It is screaming at you. And even though you may pretend you

Up Next

7 Warning Signs Of Losing Yourself In A Relationship And How to Rediscover Your Sense of Self

Signs Of Losing Yourself In A Relationship

Are you starting to feel like you have lost yourself in a relationship? Do you have this persistent feeling that you don’t know who you are anymore? You know, that feeling when you are so caught up in someone else’s world, that you forget who you are? Well, these are just some signs of losing yourself in a relationship.

Believe it or not, this is actually quite a common feeling, and lots of people experience this. If you have ever felt like you have lost yourself in a relationship, then this article can be a godsend for you.

Let’s delve into the all those signs of losing yourself in a relationship, so that you can stop yourself from doing so (at least to some extent!). And not just this, we will also talk about what to do when you lose yourself in a relationship. So, are you ready to explore this? Let’s go then!

Up Next

How To Let Go Of Someone You Are Desperately Trying To Hold On To

How To Let Go Of Someone You Are Trying To Hold On To

Do you know what happens when you desperately hold on to someone you really need to let go of? When you hold on to the idea of “us” and refuse to see the reality for what it is? You force the person you love the most in the world to hate you. You compel them to resent you. And in this process, you hurt yourself more than the other person did. This is why it’s crucial that we talk about how to let go of someone you don’t want to lose.

No one wants to let go of love

Especially when it’s the real deal. Especially when you’ve been told you are not worthy of love all your life. And this one person comes into your life and completely changes

Up Next

15+ Quotes From “Bridgerton” That Depict Obsessive Yearning

Best Bridgerton Quotes About Love And Romance

If you like romances and things from the Regency era, these Bridgerton quotes show how obsession can be a form of longing. This Netflix series features several love stories in which the characters experience intense desire and emotions.

Through eloquent dialogues and passionate interactions, “Bridgerton” powerfully reveals the aspirations that motivate its characters.

The series effectively frames the relationship between Daphne and Simon as an embodiment of smouldering attraction while at the same time conveying other major figures’ secretly yearning for each other.

Here are some Bridgerton quotes about love that perfectly sum up obsessive yearning.<