Every intimate relationship has a power balance, and that power balance is different for every couple.
The balance of power may change over time and the type of situation with which a couple is dealing, but the balance is always there.
If a particular power balance works depends on two factors
What matters most are two things:
(a) The power balance is perceived as satisfactory and enjoyable by both partners. This is important because people vary greatly in the power-sharing arrangements with which they are comfortable.
(b) The balance allows each individual to be themselves and does not squelch who they are as a person. This is important because there may be power balances that are satisfactory to both individuals but that nevertheless suppress the individuality of one or the other partner.
This squelching of a person's individuality can happen when one partner is brought up in an environment in which they believe that they should be either all-powerful or powerless, or when one partner essentially brainwashes the other into believing they are in a healthy relationship when, in fact, they are not.
Couples can have an intimate relationship that is satisfactory and enjoyable in many respects, but that falters and, sometimes, fails because the two partners are not both happy with the balance of power.
If, for example, one partner feels a pressing need to control the relationship—perhaps even is a “control freak”—and the other does not want to be controlled, then the relationship may fail, no matter how many other aspects of it work successfully.
What's the power balance in your relationship? If you're not sure but are curious, below you can download a quiz you can use to measure the balance of power in your relationship.
Signs of a power imbalance in a relationship
There are a number of telltale signs that there is an unhealthy power imbalance in a relationship. Here are some of them:
Any kind of abuse is a misuse of power in a relationship. Abuse can take many forms -- threats, rejection, insults, criticism, physical abuse, or even just indifference toward the partner.
Speaking up for yourself
If you're afraid to speak up for yourself and your interests (or those of your loved ones), then your partner has too much control over you.
If your partner makes decisions without taking your interests and feelings into account, or if you do not consult with your partner on important decisions, that's a sign of power imbalance.
If one partner manipulates the other into doing things (or consenting to things) that the partner does not really want to do, you have a power imbalance in your relationship. Manipulation can take many different forms, from pressuring a partner to change their opinion on important issues to pushing a partner to keep a distance from their family and friends or to being very critical of the partner.
How to restore a healthy power balance
Power balances often get entrenched in relationships over a long time, so they can be difficult to change. But there are some things you can do:
This is not an easy option, but it can be very effective. Voice your concerns to your partner and tell them how you feel.
It is helpful if you avoid making accusations and speak about your own feelings and point of view.
Share with your partner not only what you don't like, but more importantly, how you would like things to be. Are there certain decisions where you'd like to give more input or that you'd like for the two of you to make together? Would you like for your partner to check in with you more frequently about how you feel? Would you like to be relieved of some decision-making duties?
Let's face it, you're an adult and it's not OK for your partner to do to you whatever they feel like doing.
Think about what you want and what you really don't like. Then start setting limits on which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
It is also important for any partner in a relationship to keep a certain autonomy. Sure, you're growing more dependent on each other as time goes by, and your lives get increasingly intertwined.
But don't make your self-esteem dependent on your partner and try to assure that, if worst comes to worst, you can survive without your partner.
If you are more independent, you are less likely to fall prey to controlling partners.
If you feel like you're getting nowhere and would like to get outside help, consider couples' therapy or counseling.
Power imbalances are not rare, and experienced therapists can help you negotiate and solve your problems.
Many couples turn to counseling only after many years of unhappiness and bitterness. If you think you might need help, try to seek it sooner rather than later.