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

Couples Are Avoiding

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
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Power Dynamics In Relationships: The Meaningful Conversation Most Couples Are Avoiding
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Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD

Alexandra H. Solomon, PhD, is a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Northwestern University, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, a regular contributor at Psychology Today, a popular resource on Instagram. the creator and leader of the Intimate Relationships 101 E-course, the host of the Reimagining Love podcast, and the author of Taking Sexy Back: How to Own Your Sexuality and Create the Relationships You Want (February 2, 2020; New Harbinger) and Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want (2017; New Harbinger), which was featured on the TODAY show. She is an international speaker and teacher whose work has been featured on six continents. You can visit her online at dralexandrasolomon.com.View Author posts