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Finding a balance in your relationship

In every relationship, there’s a balance of power – how you manage this will affect how you feel as a couple. The more equal and balanced your relationship is, the happier you are both likely to be.

What are relationship power dynamics?

‘Power dynamics’ refers to the way decisions are made and who makes them. In a balanced relationship, both partners have an equal say in things.

Finding a balance may take some work. After the initial romance of a new relationship, it’s natural for both partners to start trying to regain a sense of independence. This is a common step in most committed relationships. However, when one partner starts trying to get an unbalanced share of power, the relationship can become manipulative [1] and, in extreme cases, this can turn to aggression [2].

Equality is good for both of you

Equality is one of the most important characteristics of a good relationship. Regardless of gender, most people say their relationships are happier and more open when both partners have an equal balance of power [2] [3]. In an unbalanced relationship, the partner who feels disempowered may have other negative psychological outcomes including anger, frustration, and even depression [4] [5].

If you notice an ongoing unbalance in the power dynamic of your own relationship, try to be aware of any signs of aggression creeping in [6] and make sure you stay safe. You do not have to stay in a relationship where someone is trying to control you.

The basis of power

Historically, power in relationships was based around money, which usually favoured men. These days, most young couples have a more balanced financial setup, and this is linked to having more equality overall in the relationship [7]. Seeking a balance in your own relationship is a good sign that you’re stepping out of the shadows of history.

Money isn’t the only factor in how people exert power in relationships. Power is also built around emotional resources like communication skills and the ability to meet each other’s needs. Someone who is stronger emotionally may be better equipped to love, support, and commit to a romantic partner. Think of a person who is very insecure and afraid that their partner will leave them. In this situation, the other person would hold more emotional power.

If you feel like your partner is emotionally stronger than you, think about what you can do to re-balance things. Ask yourself why you feel insecure in your relationship – are you afraid that your partner will leave you? Is your fear based on previous experiences, or is your partner’s current behaviour affecting your trust?

Consider sharing your concerns with your partner, so that they know how you feel. Particularly if you’ve had negative experiences in the past, your partner may be able to reassure you that you are just as important to them as they are to you.

If your partner seems reluctant to reassure you, you might want to have a think about how long you’re willing to stay in a relationship where you struggle to feel secure.

An age thing?

One thing worth being aware of is that, among some friendship groups, things like looks or popularity might be important ‘relationship resources’, meaning some people will accept a less equal role in a relationship because it gives them access to a peer group they admire and otherwise wouldn’t be able to spend time with.

If your partner holds the balance of power because they give you access to a certain lifestyle, think about what you get from that lifestyle. What do you gain, and could you get it some other way? Consider taking up a new hobby or activity that gives you access to a lifestyle you enjoy. You may even meet some new friends – if you can make your partner’s peer group less essential to your happiness, you may find that you reclaim some power.

Generally, teenagers and young people are more likely to be in equal relationships than older couples [7]. Younger people are less likely to have to rely on each other financially, but there’s also been a general shift in attitudes towards equality, compared to previous generations [2]. Younger couples tend to be more emotionally aware and mutually committed to their relationships.

Whatever your age, most people say that commitment, attention and good company are among the most important things in their relationships [8].


[1] Balswick, J. O., & Balswick, J. K. (1995). Gender relations and marital power. Families in multicultural perspective, 297-313.

[2] Bentley, C. G., Galliher, R. V., & Ferguson, T. J. (2007). Associations among aspects of interpersonal power and relationship functioning in adolescent romantic couples. Sex Roles57(7-8), 483-495.

[3] Aida, Y., & Falbo, T. (1991). Relationships between marital satisfaction, resources, and power strategies. Sex Roles24(1-2), 43-56.

[4] Beach, S. R., & Tesser, A. (1993). Decision making power and marital satisfaction: A self-evaluation maintenance perspective. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology12(4), 471.

[5] Whisman, M. A., & Jacobson, N. S. (1990). Power, marital satisfaction, and response to marital therapy. Journal of Family Psychology4(2), 202.

[6] Mahlstedt, D. L., & Welsh, L. A. (2005). Perceived causes of physical assault in heterosexual dating relationships. Violence Against Women11(4), 447-472.

[7] Galliher, R. V., Rostosky, S. S., Welsh, D. P., & Kawaguchi, M. C. (1999). Power and psychological well-being in late adolescent romantic relationships. Sex Roles40(9-10), 689-710.

[8] Van Yperen, N. W., & Buunk, B. P. (1990). A longitudinal study of equity and satisfaction in intimate relationships. European Journal of Social Psychology20(4), 287-309.

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