Want to have a happy relationship? Make sure both partners feel they can decide on issues that are important to them.
Objective power measured by income, for example, doesn’t seem to play a big role, according to a new study – “Power in romantic relationships: How positional and experienced power are associated with relationship quality” by Robert Körner and Astrid Schütz. – that appeared in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Instead, how lovers perceive power dynamics in their relationship is most important for relationship satisfaction.
Power is about being able to influence people and successfully resist the attempts of others to influence you. Earlier studies show that there was rarely a balance of power within couples. Most of the time, men had more influence on decisions than women. However, traditional gender roles have changed, and romantic relationships have become more equal.
Körner and Schütz interviewed 181 heterosexual couples who had been living together for at least one month. The respondents were between 18 and 71 years old and had been in a relationship for an average of eight years. The team investigated how actual and perceived power influence different aspects of a relationship – such as satisfaction and commitment – and how they affect the quality of that relationship. The survey included questions about the admiration for one’s partner, trust, sexual satisfaction, feelings of oppression and constraint, as well as a commitment and willingness to invest in the relationship.
The results of the study show that men still had more positional power – based on higher income and higher education. The need to make decisions in general was also stronger among the men on average.
Interestingly, however, the two factors did not appear to influence the quality of the relationship that the couple experienced. The same applies to the balance of power: Even if men and women within the same couple were very similar with regard to the measured traits, no connection to relationship quality could be found. As such, there is a direct link between the balance of power and relationship-based outcomes.
The happiest couples were those in which both partners reported a high sense of personal power. “It appears that the subjective feeling of power and the feeling of being able to act freely significantly impact the quality of the relationship,” Körner says.
In most of these couples, both sexes stated that they were able to assert their preferences when making decisions that are important to them. According to psychologist Schütz, this is not necessarily a contradiction, since “maybe this feeling extends to different aspects of the relationship. Whereas the woman might want to decide on where to go on vacation, the husband chooses where to go for dinner. One thing to keep in mind is that our sample included rather happy couples, which favors effective negotiation. In other partnerships, there is definitely potential for conflict in this respect.” However, it appears that both parties need to be able to make decisions about aspects that are important to them in order to be satisfied with the relationship.