Power play in relationships

Last updated 13:29 01/02/2013
STRONG NOT SATISFIED: According to new research, the person with the most power in a relationship is more likely to be unsatisfied with it.

Relevant offers

Love & Sex

'It's a match!' Now when do we have the STD talk? My infatuation with a married man has me acting like a teenager Why an affair can be good for your career Men want beauty, women want financial security from relationships Swipe up: Tinder launches new 'Super Like' function for the super-keen Survey reveals how your home is helping or harming your love life Billboards link dating apps Tinder, Grindr with sexually transmitted diseases The cardinal sins of bad online dating profiles The love story that captured the world's heart Woman proposes to boyfriend via Stuff app

Three decades ago someone came up with a theory on intimate relationships called "the investment model".

This model suggests you only feel happy in your relationship if:

  • You're significantly "invested" in it.
  • The only alternatives available to you are "poor quality"
  • You perceive more rewards than costs within the bounds of the love affair

Interestingly, "quality alternatives" doesn't necessarily mean "hotter, younger model". The theory allows for alternatives to range from a different dating partner, to spending time with friends and family, or spending time alone.

But a recent study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests all this ignores one important factor vital to relationship success: power.

Defined variously as the dominance or control over others, influence over others, or a means to meet survival needs, power might also be seen simply as the opposite of dependence (ie: doormats are walked on for a reason).

Now, is it possible to distribute power equally in a relationship? Or must someone always be more powerful, ultimately?

This is important because our American and Swiss researchers hypothesised that - in view of investment theory - the person with the most power is more likely to be unsatisfied with the relationship.

Sure, a couple might say they power-share. Certainly liberated, egalitarian, latte-sipping types like I might believe they can love on equal footing.

But when you consider the pervasive influence of broader *cough* gendered *cough* social norms, even I am forced to admit imbalance is a probable, though undesirable, reality. I'm certainly not saying this is right. I'm just saying this is the way it is-ish (it's changing, right?).

At least that's what our American and Swiss researchers found. From probes into a pool of 120 college couples, it was concluded males reported significantly higher levels of power than females overall.

This finding appeared to support the authors' hypothesis: more power equals less satisfaction.

However, females reported significantly higher levels of satisfaction and commitment than males.

And, contrary to the hypothesis, possessing a higher level of power was also associated with a lower level of satisfaction.

Ad Feedback

This was thought to be because the power imbalance deviates from the egalitarian ideal held by many in intimate relationships. It also fits with investment theory; unequal power is perceived as a cost to the relationship, rather than as a benefit to the individual (so there's hope for us yet...).

But where does that leave us? Is power-balance possible, and is it good for long-lasting love? Do most people desire all things to be equal, or are we happier to walk uneven ground than we think?

You tell me - how do you like power to play out in your love life?

- Daily Life


Special offers
Opinion poll

Do long-distance relationships work?

Yes, if you work at them.

No, they're a waste of time and money.

Vote Result

Related story: (See story)

Featured Promotions

Sponsored Content