Lessons About Power in Relationships

power in relationships

Power In Relationships

Relationships are supposed to be all about love and trust and respect. Yet, sometimes relationships turn into power struggles in which you only care about who’s right and who’s wrong. Sometimes, winning a single argument can make you lose the entire relationship.

Nobody wants a power struggle. So, how do they evolve? How does a beautiful relationship or marriage turn into a day to day battle for dominance? To gain some clarity on this issue, we asked Dr. Caroline Madden about power struggles. She’s an expert on marriage and the author of “Blindsided by His Betrayal”.

Although it can be a complicated issue, Dr. Madden offers such a simple and eloquent explanation. “There are two seats of power in every relationship: Money and Sex. Men have traditionally ruled money and women sex.”

“When one person has both seats of power it unravels the relationship. The one that wants the least has the most power.” That might be an over-simplification, or it could possibly be a little stroke of genius.

Money and Sex Give Relationships Power

Let’s break that down for a minute. Money and sex give people power in relationships, especially long-term, traditional, seriously committed relationships. This is the formula, right? Men go to work to earn all the money while women stay at home and tend to the family.

He controls the flow of money into the relationship and she controls the flow of sex. But what if your wife or girlfriend is the top earner? What if she makes the money AND controls the sex?

This is a rising trend in relationships. According to research from Refinery29, women are the primary breadwinners in 40% of American homes. The power dynamic has shifted and people who cling to traditionalist values of power will feel rather unsteady about their role.

Related: Men Stress When Not The Breadwinner

Dr. Erika Martinez of Envision Wellness joined the discussion and here’s what she had to say about men earning less than their partners. “For me, there are two entwined factors here: gender norms and the psychological power differential created by a difference in earnings.”

“Men are socialized to be ‘more' than women (i.e. stronger, faster, wealthier, etc.) which leaves little room for them to be anything less. So, when they care ‘less' (i.e. earning less), they feel vulnerable and weak, two emotional states that they haven't been prepared to experience and are constantly being told (overtly and subliminally) they shouldn't be.”

“Thus, it makes sense that men would begin to feel sad, worthless, hopeless, etc. Then combine that with their perceived loss of rank/standing in the relationship by earning less. This creates a psychological power differential which is disempowering for the person on the lower rung and further contributes to their feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, sadness, and dissatisfaction. ”

More Than Money, More Than Sex

Studies show that money is the main reason why relationships fail, but there’s more to it than that. Love is a tricky game and it doesn’t always work out. All relationship problems can’t be condensed to money and sex.

There are issues of compatibility that also lead to power struggles. There are also problems that arise due to poor communication and character flaws. Some people have the type of personality that never wants to give an inch or lose at anything. Some people give too much of themselves while others fail to communicate their true needs and desires.

Related: 5 Simple Things You Should Do For Your Partner Each Day

How to Recognize Power Struggles

There are few sure-fire indicators that your relationship has turned into a power struggle. These are ways of determining whether you’re having a harmless lover’s quarrel or a dual to the death of your marriage.


Avoiding issues is a type of power flex. The person is using their power of deflection and avoidance to prevent problems from reaching a natural resolution. Some fights need to happen or else they bubble up and explode.

Rushing to Fix

When a person is quick to put a band-aide on the problem, they are exerting their power over the relationship. Not every issue is a quick fix and sometimes you need to give it time to heal. So, when a person is always oversimplifying your concerns or slapping on easy answers, they are abusing their power.


Some people refuse to budge an inch in an argument. This is the most common type of power struggle and the most difficult to endure. When a person refuses to compromise or listen, they are exerting obstinance. They don’t want to lose face or have their ego bruised by yielding.

Verbal Attacks

Some people stop arguing because their partner always sinks to the level of harmful verbal attacks. This person is so fragile that they use personal disrespect and abuse as a defense mechanism. Rather than face uncomfortable issues, they will insult you into submission.

A Few Tips to Resolve Power Struggles

Some people suffer for years as some sort of stoic badge of honor that they were able to endure such emotional abuse. Others walk away, right away. But you don’t have to throw in the towel when you recognize that your relationship has become a power struggle. You can seek professional help, or you can try a few of these helpful tips.

1. Avoid keeping score. Try not to bring up all the old baggage every time you have a conflict in your relationship. It’s not a competition. It doesn’t always matter who wins or loses. So, don’t pack your arsenal every time there’s a fight.

2. Look Inside Yourself. Before you point the finger at your partner, try to find your own contribution to the problem. Maybe it’s easier to fix what you did or said then it is to fix how your partner reacted.

3. Take a Step Back. Every problem doesn’t need to be fixed or litigated right away. Now, that doesn’t mean sweeping problems under the rug. It means that you take a step back to allow the hot emotions to cool down before you debate them in a more logical manner.

The Takeaway

The most important lesson that we can learn about power struggles in relationships is that they prey on our natural urges to compete. We want to win. We don’t want to lose. Sometimes, that primal urge ruins the beauty of our relationships.

Our egos are like a third party to our relationships. We love our partners, but we also have this aspect of our personalities that revolves around self-preservation. When you live and love with somebody, you’re opening yourself up to a bruised ego.

It doesn’t matter who earns more money or who controls the sex. What matters is how you maintain the balance of power. What matters is how you grow and learn to overcome your own personality flaws.

Winning in a relationship might take the form of losing an argument. Winning in a relationship might mean knowing when it’s the right time to walk away. Yet, winning will never be about abusing your power and lording over someone else’s heart.

What do you think about power struggles in relationships? Does it all boil down to money and sex? We’d love to hear your opinion. Be sure to drop us a line in the comments and share this post with your friends.

About Freddy Blackmon 224 Articles
Freddy Blackmon is a freelance writer and journalist who has a passion for cars, technology, and fitness. Look for articles on these topics and more. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram.