Relationships revolve around power.
Power determines who holds the most control, who makes most of the decisions, and ultimately, whether or not the relationship will progress successfully, or end in a train wreck.
Understanding not only what power dynamics are, but how to recognize potentially damaging dynamics, discuss them, and move forward in a healthy way, is the key to unlocking a promising future with your girlfriend or wife.
Without an understanding of the power dynamics that run at the core of any relationship, romantic relationships tend to slip downhill fast.
Petty disputes turn into full-blown arguments, bitterness begins to erode away any connection you once shared, and the relationship explodes into a thousand pieces before your mind can even comprehend what’s happening.
So, yeah, an understanding of power dynamics is crucial to a successful relationship.
Today, we’re going to discuss what exactly power dynamics are, the three most common types of negative power dynamics, and how to address them and hopefully find some healthy balance of power in your relationship.
What are Relationship Power Dynamics?
Power dynamics in a relationship is best described as the way in which the power in a relationship is shared.
Power, in romantic relationships, is the influence or control that one person is able to exert over another person’s actions, beliefs, and eventually, life.
This does not necessarily mean physical power, but rather, how much influence one party has on the other.
Who’s steering the ship? Or are you sharing the wheel? Are you sharing it evenly, or does one of you have it in hand 80% of the time?
Is it bad if one of you has more influence in the relationship?
We’ll answer all of these questions below.
Are all Power Dynamics in Relationships Bad?
To assign the word “bad” or “good” to every power dynamic would be impossible and unnecessary.
Rather, two partners in a healthy relationship should seek to find some form of balance of power. People in healthy relationships usually find a way to turn a power struggle into a healthy power balance.
However, it’s extremely important to understand that no matter how hard you try, there will always be a power imbalance in any relationship.
One partner may take more of a practical leadership role and the other may provide more of the emotional foundation of a relationship.
One partner may be more socially adept and the other more shy, resulting in an imbalance in social environments.
One partner may simply make more money and thus hold more power when it comes to financial decision-making.
Every aspect of a relationship influences the balance of power.
Your job is to recognize the various power dynamics in your own relationship and find how to best reach a balance point that’s as close to perfect as it can be.
Unhealthy, toxic relationships come about when one person holds too much power. As the relationship progresses, it becomes clear that the emotional needs of both parties are not being met and the relationship dynamic is unhealthy.
Healthy romantic relationships are the result of the understanding and addressing of power imbalances. Negative power dynamics turn into positive power struggles and a couple is able to share power and create an effective partnership.
Three Negative Power Dynamics
Rather than looking at power dynamics as entirely good or bad, it’s better to look at the net result of the relationship.
Ask yourself, does this dynamic have more of a positive or negative impact on our relationship? Is it more healthy, or unhealthy?
The following three are the most common negative power dynamics. While I have chosen to categorize them for ease of understanding, more often than not, any negative power dynamic is a blend of all three.
The Demand-Withdrawal Dynamic
The demand-withdrawal dynamic is perhaps the most common type of power imbalance in a relationship. It has been shown to be one of the most reliable indicators of spousal depression and eventual divorce, so identifying it early on in your relationship can save a great deal of heartache.
In this dynamic, one partner in the relationship (the demander) is constantly looking to address issues and improve connection, while the other (the withdrawer) is content to avoid problems.
The demander is discontent with any relational divides and is always looking to sort out any problems for the sake of a deeper connection.
The withdrawer, on the other hand, sees most (or any) disputes as harmful to the relationship and prefers to walk around the fire rather than stepping through it.
In the majority of relationships, the woman is the demander and the man is the withdrawer.
The Distancer-Pursuer Dynamic
The distancer-pursuer dynamic is more about different ideas of connection rather than power.
In this power dynamic, the pursuer seeks to reach their desired level of intimacy with their partner, but the distancer views this level of intimacy as smothering.
The pursuer will usually push and push until the distancer is fed up, resulting in a greater divide as the distancer withdraws into their shell even more.
The Fear-Shame Dynamic
The fear-shame dynamic is the most difficult to wrap your head around because it is often unconscious.
The worst thing about it is that if undetected, it will fester like a sore and spread all throughout your relationship, leading to confusing breakups.
This dynamic happens when one partner is afraid and the other feels as if this fear is an attack on own character or abilities.
Most often, the woman is the one in fear and the man is the one ashamed. If the woman feels physically afraid or intimidated by something, the man feels as if her fear is a direct attack on his ability to defend. As a result, he feels ashamed.
One comparison frequently used by psychologists is a dynamic we commonly see in a car. The passenger gets scared and grabs the dashboard and the driver gets upset because they see this as an insult to their driving.
The driver then begins to drive a little more recklessly or make antagonistic comments and the passenger becomes even more afraid. Each views the other as either incompetent, over-reactionary, or immature in some way.
The scary part about this action-reaction dynamic is that it is rarely something that either party is aware of. Usually, they are just reacting to what they see from the other.
How to Spot Unhealthy Power Dynamics
Spotting unhealthy power dynamics or power imbalances before they have time to properly evolve can save your relationship.
But with so much being subconscious and reactionary, how do you even do this?
There’s not one single answer, and the truth is, this will always be a struggle. Even the most intimate relationships will have harmful power imbalances.
However, even recognizing and acknowledging the existence of these dynamics in a relationship is a step in the right direction.
Here are three ways to do this:
1. Discuss Power Early-on
I like to think of relationships like children: the early stages of development set the foundation for the rest of the relationship’s life.
Oftentimes, new couples will be so content in their “honeymoon phase” that they’ll neglect important topics and conversations during the initial stages of their relationship.
Be intentional about discussing power in your relationship before you have a chance to see how the dynamics unfold.
Once unhealthy power dynamics are established, it’s much more difficult to address their harmful components.
2. Maintain Open Communication
This should be a given. At the core of any successful relationship is communication.
A good relationship requires open communication between the two parties involved.
While being open and vulnerable with a person can be extremely difficult, it is the only way to be fully connected.
To spot potentially harmful power dynamics, you have to talk.
Here are some examples of the types of questions that should frequent your conversations.
- How do you feel when I do this?
- Do you feel as close as you want to be?
- Do you ever feel controlled by me?
- Do have as much of a say in our relationship as you would like to?
This may sound stupidly simple, but you would be surprised how many people fail to recognize potentially harmful patterns in their relationship simply because they never take time to think.
Relationships always bring new challenges, but if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to assess these difficulties, what hope have you of addressing them?
Self-reflection, and reflection in general, is a key tool in recognizing imbalanced power dynamics.
Positive Power Dynamics: Do they exist and what are they?
A positive power dynamic is essentially any power dynamic that has been properly analyzed by you and your partner and is seen as necessary, or even helpful to your relationship.
For example, say your wife earns more money than you. As long as you have openly acknowledged that your wife holds more power in this area of life, you can easily move forward.
Maybe because she makes more money, you spend more time at home and have more power in that domain.
A positive power dynamic exists when you both acknowledge a difference in power and determine that it is helpful in your relationship.
Shared Power in Relationships
A healthy balance of power in relationships is also known as shared power.
Both sides understand their own strengths and weaknesses and seek to navigate relational struggles together.
They recognize the other’s value and keep open communication. Decision-making is a joint effort rather than a one-sided affair.
To successfully “share power”, you must understand that you will never actually succeed at sharing power.
A perfectly balanced power dynamic will never be reached. Rather, it is a utopia that we all must strive for. In the striving, success is found.
4 Best Ways to Restore Balance in Your Relationship
To reach this utopia (or get as close as you can), I recommend you emphasize these four things in your relationship.
With these four strategies, you can equip yourself with the tools necessary to find balance–never perfect balance, but balance nonetheless.
1. Open Communication
I mentioned it earlier and I mention it now intentionally. If it wasn’t clear to you how important communication is before, hopefully, it is now. Communication is key in recognizing potentially harmful power dynamics as well as seeking balance.
To find the balance in power dynamics, you must communicate well.
What are you thinking? How are you feeling?
There’s no way you can move forward in your relationship if you aren’t aware of each other’s needs.
Maintaining open communication all the way through your relationship is the key to a promising relationship.
One of the most common reasons for a power imbalance in a relationship is low self-esteem or self-confidence in one of the parties involved.
If you don’t see yourself as valuable in a relationship, you automatically surrender the majority of the power to your partner.
What’s the point of getting in a relationship if you don’t even consider yourself worthy of another’s love.
Once you’ve built up your own self-confidence, it will be much easier to be a loving partner in a relationship.
3. Develop Mutual Respect
If you don’t respect each other, you cannot be together.
To find a good power dynamic in your relationship, you must have understanding.
What many people don’t understand early in relationships is that understanding and disagreement are not the same things and they can coexist.
Once you trust and respect someone completely, you’ll be able to love them fully while not necessarily agreeing with all their views.
Developing this mutual respect, and finding a healthy balance of power will come easy.
4. Admit Fault
Part of openness in a relationship is humility.
Admitting to your partner and yourself when there is a power imbalance (even if it is tipping in your favor) allows you guys to assess the issue together.
Ignoring unhealthy power dynamics in a relationship can send you down a dangerous road of ignorance and eventual disintegration of your relationship.
Humility is as simple as recognizing when you may have a problem and being open to a solution that involves you changing.
Navigating power dynamics in relationships is an important part of building a healthy long-term partnership.
A relationship is never easy, but having an understanding of how complex this concept of power can prove to be can make it a heck of a lot easier.
As a relationship coach, I’ve seen so many relationships dissolve because neither person was willing to take a step outside of their relational heaven and acknowledge that there was an issue.
I’ve also seen failing relationships mend and flourish when a couple decided to take the intentional step of discussing power dynamics.
At Knowledge for Men, we’ve recognized that power dynamics run relationships. Our men’s coaches are the most experienced on the market when it comes to helping you fix your broken relationship and reawaken the passion that you and your partner shared in the beginning.
We’ve created a personalized course that will transform the way you see relationships and masculinity.