New research indicates that the perceived level of personal power is more important for relationship satisfaction than the actual balance of power between a couple. The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, examined how various aspects of power were related to relationship quality.
“Power dynamics affect every relationship. As gender roles have been changing in Western societies, we were wondering on the link between power and relationship quality in couples,” said study author Astrid Schütz, a professor of psychology at the University of Bamberg.
“It sounds like a dog-eat-dog world or the world of business. But power also plays a role in romantic relationships. The feeling of being able to make decisions in a marriage, for example, has a big influence on the quality of the relationship,” added Robert Körner, a doctoral student at the University of Halle.
The researchers surveyed 181 heterosexual couples who had been living together for at least one month. The couples had been in a relationship for an average of eight years. Most of the couples were not married, but 41 were married and 7 were engaged.
The researchers examined how actual and perceived power affected the quality of the couples’ relationships. 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.
Unsurprisingly, men and women who had a greater sense of power in their relationship tended to report more satisfaction with their level of power. Having a greater sense of power was also associated with an overall positive evaluation of the romantic relationship.
In other words, participants who disagreed with statements such as “My wishes do not carry much weight” and “My ideas and opinions are often ignored” tended to report greater admiration for and attraction to their partner, commitment, willingness to invest, sexual fulfillment, and trust.
“It is important to be able to influence matters that are personally relevant in a romantic relationship. If both partners can have a say on the aspects that are important to them it is likely that they will have a happier relationship,” Schütz told PsyPost.
But the researchers did not find a link between the balance of power and relationship-based outcomes. This suggests that “the feeling that one can act freely may be more important than the relative feeling of having a say,” Schütz and Körner wrote in their study.
Men tended to have a higher income and higher education than women, indicating they held more positional power. Men also reported a higher power motive, meaning they were more likely to agree with statements such as “I like to have the final say.”
Women tended to reporter greater relationship quality when their partner had a higher sense of power. Women’s sense of power was also unrelated to feeling constrained. “Apparently, many women were more satisfied with the relationship when the partner felt that he is in charge, which is in line with traditional gender roles,” the researchers remarked.
Men, on the other hand, reported greater sexual fulfillment when their partner reported a stronger power motive.
However, “our sample was consisted of volunteers who were not characterized by major relationship problems,” Schütz noted. “Studying power characteristics, power balance, and relationship quality in dysfunctional couples would be another important avenue.”
“We only assessed overall experienced power,” she added. “Assessing power in different domains, such as vacations, parenting, finances, dining, or how to spend time together, is an important question to be addressed in further research.”
The study, “Power in romantic relationships: How positional and experienced power are associated with relationship quality“, was published May 17, 2021.