Larry James' BLOG

Friday, September 28, 2018

Who Has the Power in Your Relationship?

Filed under: Guest Authors,Relationships — Larry James @ 10:30 am

Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, Guest Author

When it comes to dealing with conflict, it’s vital to understand how power affects your partnership dynamics. Dealing with differences should be a negotiation not a power play. Want to know who’s got the power in your relationship?

When I grew up it was clear that my dad had the power in my parents’ relationship. Dad was “in charge” – dad had the important career; dad provided the sole financial support; dad made the big decisions. There was no conflict because whatever dad wanted, he got. Part of that was generational, but the other part was the dynamic created between my parents.

The balance of power in your parents’ relationship might not be something you think about every day. Yet it very much influences how you go through the world, at work, in your family, and in your marriage or relationship.

Before the ’60s, it was the norm that men in relationships had the power; women were supposed to “surrender” their power to their husbands, if they were to be good wives. So glad that’s not how it is today.

The women’s movement changed all that. In the 1970s, as women demanded social, political and occupational rights, the power in marriages began to shift. More women went to work, invested in their careers, and postponed having children. It became acceptable for men to stay home with kids and for women be the primary breadwinner. Women stopped marrying because they “needed” to get married; instead, they married if they “wanted” to.

Today, cultural norms have changed and become much broader. These days the balance of power is variable among couples, based more on their personalities and what they learned in their families of origin. Along with this, power in relationships has shifted.

What exactly is power in relationships?

The elements of control, authority and influence are key. There can be a predominance of pervasive power throughout the entire relationship, or there can be varying power dynamics based on different issues.

High conflict couples may jockey for power. Healthy couples create more of a balance of power. They discuss issues together, work as a team instead of individually, and make decisions using a collaborative approach. They understand whatever they do affects their partner, so decisions are filtered through the marriage.

Assess power in relationships

To asses who has the power in your relationship, print this page, then ask yourself and write down your answers to the following questions.

If your partner is willing to do this too, it would make for an interesting discussion to see where your answers match and where they differ. It’s all about perception.


•  Who makes the big financial decisions?
•  Who makes day-to-day money decisions?
•  Do you make decisions individually or as a team?
•  Do you have joint or separate bank accounts?
•  Who pays the bills and is responsible for the flow of income and expenses?
•  Who decides how and where to invest money?


•  Who works?
•  Whose career is more important?
•  Who earns more money?
•  If income is uneven or one person stays home with children, who does the money belong to? Does this influence how financial decisions are made?
•  Who leaves work if the children are sick?


•  Who initiates sex more?
•  Whose desire for sex is greater?
•  Who turns down sex more often?
•  Whose pleasure is more important in the bedroom, or is there a healthy balance?
•  Who is responsible for and uses birth control?


•  Who decided when and how many children to have?
•  Who does more of the discipline?
•  Who makes decisions about the children’s school, activities, sports?
•  Who creates household rules? – bedtime, allowance, etc.
•  Who makes decisions about meals?
•  Who does homework?
•  Who talks to the children’s teachers and goes to school conferences?


•  Who initiates conversation more?
•  Who brings up difficult issues that need to be discussed?
•  Who speaks first?
•  Who listens to the other?
•  Who starts conflict?
•  Who ends conflict?
•  Is the result of conflict win-lose or win-win?


•  Who decides on décor?
•  Who cleans?
•  Is there a balanced division of labor?
•  Who decides whether to pay for household cleaning or do it yourself?
•  Who decides on the type of house you live in?

Social life

•  Who makes plans with friends and extended family?
•  Who finds the babysitter?
•  Who decides which friends you will go out with?

These questions should get you started thinking about who has the power in your relationship. After you have answered these, ask yourself:

  • What did I learn about the balance of power in my relationship from my responses?
  • Is there a predominance of power in our relationship?
  • Do we divide up power based on issues?

Now for the biggest question:

Am I satisfied with the way the balance of power is in our relationship?

There is no right or wrong about power in relationships (except for abuse). If you are satisfied, that’s great! If not, have a dialogue with your partner to open up the conversation. Be assertive about the changes you would like to see. It’s not easy to make these changes, but it is possible with practice and perseverance.

header_block_resized.png © Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland. You can visit Relationships Work online at: Follow them on Facebook.


CLoveLOGOLarry James is a professional speaker, author, relationship coach and an award winning nondenominational Wedding Officiant. He performs the most “Romantic” wedding ceremony you will find anywhere.

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