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Power Imbalances between You and Your Partner? Here Are 4 Ways to Make Your Relationship Work Anyway

Mindy and Danny have been dating for four months.  When they met, they both felt that they had found true love, the kind of love each had been seeking for their whole life.

The relationship deepened quickly and both were overjoyed with how things were going.  Soon, other people seemed all to be peripheral to the center of their life, which was their relationship.

But then, reality intervened. 

At a certain point, Danny noticed that he was continuing to get more involved but Mindy did not seem to be following along the same path. 

It was as though they had a “travel story,” where they both were traveling along a wonderful path toward love, personal fulfillment, and eternal happiness, and then one of them—Danny—started walking faster, much faster, than Mindy. 

In the beginning, Danny always felt that Mindy was at his side. But as time moved on, he looked beside him and saw—nobody!  Then he looked back and saw Mindy. 

And it was not that she was struggling to keep up—she just was walking at a pace that was comfortable for her.  She couldn’t keep up with Danny nor could she try and still be herself.

Eventually, they started having conversations about what was going on.  Mindy did not seem troubled.  She actually was fine with Danny being ahead of her, at the same time that she recognized that the distance was growing. 

Danny was ok with it, too, at least at first. He did not see any need for them to be in the same place. 

But as time went on, the difference kept growing and any hope of their eventually being in the same place seemed to Danny to be vanishing.  Danny was starting to feel humiliated.  He was not even sure anymore that they were going toward the same ultimate destination.  He was afraid he might be on a lone trip rather than taking the trip as part of a twosome. 

Mindy did her best to reassure Danny but she realized that she just could not be quite who Danny wanted her to be. She was doing her absolute best for the relationship, but it didn’t seem to be quite good enough for him. 

He was frustrated; she was frustrated.  Was there any hope?

Asymmetrical relationships aren't that rare

Mindy and Danny started off traveling together and then found themselves confronting a serious but perhaps surprisingly common obstacle—asymmetry in the relationship.

There are two different kinds of asymmetry in relationships:

In this article we'll talk about differences in love stories.

Some love stories are symmetrical but others aren’t.  For example, a travel story usually is symmetrical—of two lovers traveling through love and life together, companions on an adventure, sometimes exciting and other times less-so, but always challenging and worthwhile.

When a travel story becomes asymmetrical, couples may have trouble adjusting because, after a while, they may seem like they are on different trips through love and life.

Another symmetrical story may be a business story, in which lovers are also partners in the business or life; or the fairy-tale story, in which a prince and princess love each other and seek to live together happily ever after.

Not all symmetrical stories are pleasant:

In a war story, couples are continually fighting with each other, each seeking to attain advantage.

In contrast, the art story—in which one partner admires and even may be consumed by the sheer beauty or attraction of the other—is an asymmetrical story.  One partner is an admirer, the other, the recipient of the admiration.

The autocratic government story also is asymmetrical, with one partner basically calling the shots and the other complying.

Most stories have at least a potential for success

I have emphasized in my work that, although some stories just plain seem not to work very well (such as the police story, in which one partner is continuously doing surveillance on the other), most stories can work if the partners are accepting of each other and their stories.

Will a story that is asymmetrical work for you?

It depends on whether you can accept and even possibly come to value the asymmetry.  In the art story, for example, one partner may wish to be admired, the other, to admire; that is what they want.

In a teacher-student story, as another example, one partner may be viewed as more of a teacher for the other, and if both partners are happy with that asymmetry, the relationship can be very successful.

Are you comfortable with asymmetry?

In general, then, the problem is usually not asymmetry, per se, but whether the two partners are comfortable with the asymmetry, and whether they can maintain comfort with that asymmetry.

For example, two partners may be comfortable with an asymmetry in levels of involvement, but if the asymmetry becomes too great, one or both may begin to feel uncomfortable.

The more involved partner may come to feel humiliated that their love is unrequited; the less involved partner may come to feel frustrated that they are being pushed beyond the limits of what they can offer, no matter how much they try.

5 ways to make your asymmetrical relationship work

If you are in a symmetrical relationship, for whatever problems you have, at least one is not asymmetry!  If you in an asymmetrical relationship, don’t despair, at least, not yet!  Here are some things you can do:

1. Accept asymmetry.

Asymmetrical relationships can work.  But they can work only if both partners accept the asymmetry.

2. Make a serious effort to become more symmetrical.

This could mean either of two things.

  • It may mean that one partner decides that the other partner is important enough to them that they are willing to go more deeply into the relationship. The less involved partner makes a serious effort to become more involved because they care enough about their partner for it at least to be worth the effort.
  • Or it may mean that the other partner does their best to pull back—if they can. The more involved partner realizes they have left their partner behind. Can they slow down? Can they walk back a few step?  This is hard to do, but if they care enough about the partner, they can give it a serious try.
  • Or try to meet in the middle. The less involved partner tries to become somewhat more involved, and the more involved partner tries to become somewhat less involved.  This may all be temporary .  Perhaps meeting in the middle will allow you to find a new and different place in which you are both happy.

3. Refocus the relationship.

Can you see the relationship in a new way?  For example, instead of increasingly focusing on the asymmetry, can you see different things in the relationship that make you really happy?  Can you put aside the differences and focus on the similarities that made you so happy in the first place and that perhaps could make you just as happy, or even more happy, in the future?

4. Count your blessings.

Do you know how many people are really unhappy?  How many are in truly mediocre relationships or even disastrous ones?  Think of all that is positive with your life and our relationship.  Even if you can’t accept things as they are, what relationship, really, is perfect?  Be happy for what you have.

5. Leave.

If you can’t make any of Numbers 1-4 work, maybe it’s time for you to move on.  Maybe the next relationship will provide you all that you want, or at least some of what you want, that you can’t find in your current relationship.


Well, you have five options now!  Can you make any of 1-4 work for you?  If you can, go for it.  And if you can’t, there is always the last option—to leave.  But give it a shot at working first. You’ll be glad you at least tried!



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