12 Ways To Resolve Unhealthy Power Dynamics in Relationships (2021)

8 min read

Balanced power dynamics in relationships are key to remaining happy with your partner. 

As an experienced life coach, I am regularly advising men and women on how to keep an equal balance of power in their intimate relationships.  

In this guide, I will explain the importance of maintaining healthy power dynamics in relationships – and how you can do it with your partner. 

So, let’s get started. 

Power Dynamics in Relationships
Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

1. Define Power Dynamics. What Does It Actually Mean? 

Power dynamics is the balance of power within a relationship. Who makes the majority of the decisions? Who is able to get their way more often?

Power dynamics occur in any form of personal relationship. However, in this guide, we will focus exclusively on romantic relationships.  

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2. What Does It Mean To Have Power In A Relationship?

When one person has power in their relationship, the majority of decisions are made according to what’s best for them.

This is because the partner with less power allows it to happen. 

However, for a relationship to remain healthy for a long time, an equal power balance is needed. 

If there is a significant and lengthy power imbalance, the partner with less influence will begin to feel frustrated and perhaps unloved. Conflict will arise more often, leaving both partners unhappy in the relationship.

Ultimately, this will result in the relationship breaking down.   

What Types Of Power Can You Have? 

Here are the types of power that you may see within a relationship. 

The two most common forms of power found in romantic couples are: 

  • Coercive power. The ability to punish someone to deter certain actions. 
  • Reward power. The ability to reward someone to encourage certain actions. 

For example, one partner may choose to withhold sex or any form of affection if they are unhappy with their partner’s behaviour. Alternatively, they may use sex as a way of rewarding good behaviour.  

There are other forms of power, which could apply in romantic relationships, but are more likely to occur in professional relationships or friendships. 

These include: 

  • Titular power. The power that arises from having an official position. This could translate to a relationship if you’re dating your boss, or anyone who has the power to fire you from your job. 
  • Referent power. The power that comes from being popular with others. Those with referent power could easily manipulate other people’s opinions about you in a positive or negative light. 
  • Expert power. The power that comes from being the best at a certain skill. If you feel like your partner is the best you could ever get, that may be an example of ’expert power’ in a romantic relationship.  

3. How To Measure Power Dynamics In Relationships?

Here are some quick tests to help you measure power dynamics in romantic relationships. 

  • Are the responsibilities and sacrifices of a relationship being divided equally?  
  • Do both partners show respect and consideration for each other’s opinions?
  • Are both partners given the freedom to be themselves?
  • Are both partners willing to admit their faults or weaknesses to the other?
  • Do both partners feel able to discuss their grievances when things aren’t going well?

If the answer to any of these questions isn’t ‘Yes’, that’s a clear sign of an imbalance of power within a relationship. 

Here are some more questions: 

  • Whose emotional needs are being met most often?
  • Which partner has the most ability to influence the other’s behaviour?
  • Who makes the most decisions on behalf of the couple?

If the answer to all of these questions is either ‘you’ or ‘them’ – and by some distance – that’s another clear sign of an unhealthy power imbalance. 

4. Power and Control In Relationships. How Important Is It? 

When a man or a woman has more power than their partner, the other person will eventually become incredibly unhappy and reluctant to stick around. 

Those who do stick around are likely to be suffering from poor self-esteem or some other form of mental health issues. In most cases, these individuals want to leave but don’t have the courage to do so. 

No-one wants to be on the wrong end of a power imbalance.

As such, a balanced power dynamic is crucial to making things work in a long-term relationship. 

5. How Does Power Affect People’s Interactions And Relationships?

Power in relationships mostly affects decision making. 

What are the rules and boundaries of the relationship? What will you spend your time together doing? How are joint possessions and finances split? 

If one person has more relationship power, they may be able to enforce stricter rules that benefit them more. 

Power Dynamics
Photo by Henri Pham on Unsplash

6. How Do You Keep The Power In A Relationship?

Let me make this clear: one person shouldn’t want more power than their partner in a romantic relationship.

Happy relationships aren’t about bossing each other around and getting your own way. They’re about love, respect, shared happiness and helping each other grow.

If one partner wants more power than the other, they should be encouraged to ask themselves why.  

Are they trying to compensate for an unhealthy power dynamic elsewhere in their lives? Were they bullied by their parents, their ex or their boss? Do they not feel powerful as an individual?  

Do they understand that being controlling makes them an undesirable partner – and are they willing to change? 

With that said, I still think it’s important to share the #1 way to gain and keep the power in a romantic relationship: Be the most willing to walk away. 

That’s actually true of any personal transaction or relationship. The most willing to walk away has the most power. 

If you have poor self-esteem and need to be in a relationship to feel good about yourself, it will be easy for your partner to take all the power. 

7. Power Dynamics In Healthy Romantic Relationships: How Does This Look? 

Couples in a healthy relationship are aware of what they both bring to the table. 

They love and care for each other. Perhaps they are both trying to give more than they take. 

Each partner is able to listen to each other and make changes based on each other’s feelings. They’re able to communicate and make decisions in a respectful manner, even when conflict arises. 

Both partners understand that compromise benefits the relationship as a whole. They know it takes two happy people for true love to blossom.

It’s important to mention that power comes and goes in a relationship. They may be temporary situations when one allows the other to be selfish. Perhaps the man is having a particularly stressful time at work. Maybe the woman is struggling with the demands of pregnancy! However, mutual respect always remains. 

Also, healthy partnerships may have a permanent imbalance of power in certain areas. Take a look at how ‘traditional relationships’ operated just a few decades ago. Back then, men would make decisions about finances, while women would often be the ones organising social arrangements for the family. 

This type of arrangement can work without issues, as long as both partners feel respected and loved.  

8. What Does A Relationship With Unbalanced Power Dynamics Look Like? 

Here are some warning signs that suggest one person has an unhealthy strangehold of power within the relationship. 

  • One person is making most of the decisions without considering the feelings of their partner. What they say goes. 
  • Whenever there’s a disgareement about issues in the relationship, the same partner always has the last word. They refuse to concede in any argument.  
  • One partner tends to feel uncomfortable sharing their opinion, fearing it will create conflict. 
  • One partner is consistently disrespectful to the other. For example, they interrupt, act rudely or refuse to listen to what their partner says.
  • When different rules are set for each partner. For example, if the wife isn’t allowed to spend time with male friends, but the husband can see as many women as he wants.
  • When one partner is doing more than the other to help make the relationship work. 

9. How To Resolve Unbalanced Power Dynamics In Relationships 

The first step is to recognise that the power dynamic is not even. Hopefully, this article will help you see whether this is the case.

If you think your needs are not being met in a relationship, you need to communicate this to your partner. Do so in a calm manner. Focus on how you feel and what you need, rather than what they are not doing. 

10. How And When To Escape An Unhealthy Relationship

If you’ve made your needs clear and your partner refuses to change – or if they say they’ll change but fail to do so – there is only one decision left to make. You need to get out.

Your partner has heard how you feel; you’ve made your needs clear, and they don’t care. It’s now obvious they don’t want an even and balanced relationship. I promise: you deserve better. 

Sadly, a lot of people stay in unhappy relationships, because they feel too scared to leave. They have little to no self-esteem, and feel worthless without a partner. Either that or their partner has way too much influence over their decision making. If you are one of these people, I recommend you seek help from a relationship counsellor or a therapist. 

11. How Can Counsellors And Therapists Help To Create Healthy Power Dynamics In Relationships? 

Relationship counsellors act as a mediator that allow both partners to have their say about their relationship issues to a neutral party in a judgement-free zone.

Although they will not tell couples what decision to make, they’ll be able to steer the conversation so both halves of the couple can explain what type of relationship they desire.

The counsellor will also lead the couple to figuring out if there’s a way to both get what they need from the relationship. 

For relationship counselling to succeed, it needs two people wanting to reach a compromise. 

If one half of the couple needs complete control of the relationship, the counselling is likely to produce a negative outcome. 

Relationships
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash

12. What Are The 4 Types Of Relationships – And How Do Power Dynamics Affect Them?

Entrepreneur.com says there are four types of relationships that must be healthy in order for you to be happy and succeed in life.

These are: 

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  • Romantic relationships.
  • Friendships.
  • Business partnerships.
  • Fans, followers and clients. 

I’d argue that the relationship with immediate family members doesn’t quite fit into these categories, but is also an incredibly important dynamic. 

I’d also say that not everyone has an important relationship with fans, followers and clients – even in this modern era where almost everyone has a social media account 😉  

Still, I’d agree that if any of these relationships are negative, it will always have an adverse effect on your overall happiness and therefore your success. 

Power plays a role in all of these relationships. After all, there will always be boundaries that define whether that relationship should continue. If one person wants the relationship to continue more, the other can take control when it comes to setting these boundaries.   

Whatever type of relationship you’re dealing with, my advice remains the same. Don’t be afraid to walk away if your needs aren’t being met.  

It may feel like a certain relationship is crucial to your happiness, but that is rarely the case. If someone is always taking advantage of a power imbalance, that relationship isn’t good for you. Go find someone who wants you to be happy, not just them. 

Do You Have Any More Questions About Resolving Unhealthy Power Dynamics In Relationships? 

I hope you enjoyed this article about relationship power. Hopefully you now know more about this topic and are able to make better decisions within your own relationships. 

If you would like to know more about power in relationships, you can ask a question in the comments.

It would be great to know what you think about this topic.

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