JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Power plays in the relationship game

Date

Three decades ago someone came up with a theory on intimate relationships called "the investment model".

This model suggests you only feel happy in your relationship if:

  • You're significantly "invested" in it
  • The only alternatives available to you are "poor quality”
  • You perceive more rewards than costs within the bounds of the love affair

Interestingly, "quality alternatives" doesn't necessarily mean “hotter, younger model”. The theory allows for alternatives to range from a different dating partner, to spending time with friends and family, or spending time alone (sound familiar? We touched on this in the last cheating blog...).

But a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests all this ignores one important factor vital to relationship success: power.

Defined variously as the dominance or control over others, influence over others, or a means to meet survival needs, power might also be seen simply as the opposite of dependence (ie: doormats are walked on for a reason).

Now, is it possible to distribute power equally in a relationship? Or must someone always be more powerful, ultimately?

This is important because our American and Swiss researchers hypothesised that - in view of investment theory - the person with the most power is more likely to be unsatisfied with the relationship.

Sure, a couple might say they power-share. Certainly liberated, egalitarian, latte-sipping types like I might believe they can love on equal footing.

But when you consider the pervasive influence of broader *cough* gendered *cough* social norms, even I am forced to admit imbalance is a probable, though undesirable, reality. I’m certainly not saying this is right. I’m just saying this is the way it is-ish (it’s changing, right?).

At least that’s what our American and Swiss researchers found. From probes into a pool of 120 college couples, it was concluded males reported significantly higher levels of power than females overall.

This finding appeared to support the authors’ hypothesis: more power equals more satisfaction.

However, females reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction and commitment than males.

And, contrary to the hypothesis, possessing a higher level of power was also associated with a lower level of satisfaction.

This was thought to be because the power imbalance deviates from the egalitarian ideal held by many in intimate relationships. It also fits with investment theory; unequal power is perceived as a cost to the relationship, rather than as a benefit to the individual (so there’s hope for us yet...).

But where does that leave us? Is power-balance possible, and is it good for long-lasting love? Do most people desire all things to be equal, or are we happier to walk uneven ground than we think?

You tell me – how do you like power to play out in your love life, and in the bedroom...?

 

twitter  @katherinefeeney

tumblr  Tumblr

facebook  Facebook

 

** Thank you to the dear reader who pointed out the hypothesis inadvertence. I stand corrected... KF

142 comments

  • i believe in true equality, discussion and agreement, simple.
    power playing takes many formats and i've been the receiver of an unusual type but it was my fault to allow it to happen.

    Commenter
    Victorious Painter
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 6:57AM
    • @ VP

      What you believe, and how you act can often be quite different.

      - - -

      Kate...

      Might I suggest that a 'definition' of power is important. Are you talking about 'influential' power, 'controlling' power, 'manipulative' power, 'motivational' power, 'referent' power, 'legitimate' power, 'reward' power, 'coercive' power, ad infinitum.

      Then, there is the situation of power down / up that further complicates the discourse (here).

      Nietzsche, for example, noted the Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomy in 'power' - meaning that it the exercise of power is never uniform, and (in part) stems from innate desires on the one hand to be reasoned and industrious [to advance one's interests further - Apollonian] and on the other to enjoy life and pursue worldly pleasures [Dionysian]. This dichotomy is oft considered the basis for personal tragedy.

      Lukes, and later Clegg, noted power as dimensional (behaviorial, preferential, and critical) and inherently episodic, dispositional, and facilitative.

      In the end, power is always relative - both subjectively and objectively. It is how WE view the situation, and how WE act/react.

      Cheers

      Commenter
      Dalliance
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 9:53AM
    • Would it not that there is no true overall one equality. That balances average out to an equality. As we each have strengths, and weaker, and it will be so in a relationship. That when a situation requires the strength of one, they will exercise it. In another situation the other may excel and they exercise it. As oft bought up. In a disagreement. One may handle disagreements better. They may or not be right, but they can orchestrate the discussion better. Conclude a better, happier outcome.
      A better balance of strengths rather than an absolute perhaps? No absolute power to either.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 10:28AM
    • @Dave

      Yes, I’d definitely agree with that. I hold the power in certain aspects of my marriage, my husband holds the power in others. Doesn't stop us fighting about it though!

      Commenter
      AT
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 12:21PM
    • @Dave, absolutely agree with you, but the word you used was strengths, totally different to power.
      i find some people to be totally egocentric and unwilling to even contemplate another s opinion, they'll do so actively or passively, these people are useless to be in a relationship with as they'll do if/what/when they want irrespective of the repercussions to the other person, basically they never grew up from the eccentric teenage years.

      Commenter
      Victorious Painter
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 1:28PM
    • Dalliance, I also entered shudder zone with the choice of “power”. While correct, many would take it as controlling, inequality, etc.. As in CK’s
      ‘Defined variously as the dominance or control over others, influence over others, or a means to meet survival needs, power might also be seen simply as the opposite of dependence (ie: doormats are walked on for a reason).’
      ‘Now, is it possible to distribute power equally in a relationship? Or must someone always be more powerful, ultimately?’

      But if we read it in simpler term. .Power – The ability to do (something), to act.
      To control, may be a use of power, but need not be. Personality comes in here. If we read it as the “ability to do” it becomes more relevant to a relationship. The ability to do, or not, could make or break a relationship. Even a controlling person may have no power. The controlled have the power.
      Power in a relationship could, perhaps even should, be equal.
      (How often we hear, he/she never does anything. It’s always left to me. . Quite a bad thing.

      Commenter
      Dave
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 2:02PM
  • Life changes, a good relationship happily rolls on oblivious to power dynamics. If one quantifies power in a relationship, may be should look elsewhere for satifaction. Life can have a focus that does not involve a partner, but many follow societal norms without proper thought.

    Commenter
    mr pod
    Location
    brisbane
    Date and time
    February 01, 2013, 7:43AM
    • I think the concept of more power = less satisfaction has an element of truth.

      I've seen some pu$$y whipped males in relationships whereby no matter what is going on, the wife always seems to be dissatisfied.
      I've advised some of these flaccid males to challenge her authority, but they don't have the balls.
      Many years back I was with a woman who told me after a bit of 'getting to know you' time, said she found me attractive because I would stand my ground. go figure??

      Back on topic. If one partner is constantly submissive, it gets boring for the other, hence, dissatisfaction.
      Challenge each other.!
      It's healthy.....

      Commenter
      I am the Walrus
      Location
      coocoo coojoo
      Date and time
      February 01, 2013, 8:12AM
      • I get what you're saying, but I have to highlight that "challenging authority" isn't necessarily the answer, because saying a guy is whipped doesn't always mean he needs to stand up to his partner - and most often it actually means he needs to take more personal responsibility. If a guy can't make decisions for himself, that's bad whether he has a partner that makes them for him or not (and equally so for a woman). If a guy knows when to consider his partner's input on a matter before making decisions, that is actually a reasonable and considerate thing to do even if his mates call him whipped for it.

        I think that a tendency to leave decisions up to the other party leads to a power imbalance where one person holds all the power, but by extension all the responsibility. It's not unequal power that leads to dissatisfaction, it's unequal responsibility. You start to get grouchy because the other person acts like you've got the sweet end of the deal getting what you want, but ultimately you're left considering their needs for them - unless you truly don't care about them, in which case why are you even with them.

        If being whipped is about not asserting dominance over your girlfriend/wife or not resisting her assertions of dominance over you, then it's a symptom, not a cause.

        Commenter
        Lucid Fugue
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        February 01, 2013, 12:13PM
      • Lucid Fugue

        Very valid points you raise.
        All I know is that if these guys grew some balls, I reckon they wouldn't be in the miserable relationships they're in if they did.

        Commenter
        I am the Walrus
        Location
        coocoo coojoo
        Date and time
        February 01, 2013, 2:18PM

    More comments

    Comments are now closed
    Featured advertisers

    Horoscopes

    Capricorn horoscope

    Trust others to think for themselves. Don't be snobbish about what seems obvious. Everyone learns at their own pace, including you.

    ...find out more here