Sources of Power in Relationships

There are many sources of power in relationships, but a few stand out:

1. Higher education, income, and occupational status, especially in marriage relationships when men make more money. Both partners tend to feel that a man should have more say since he contributes greater resources to the family.

When wives are economically dependent and fear they can’t support themselves, husbands can become especially powerful. Some abusive men purposely get their wives pregnant (by destroying their birth control) to increase their wives’ dependency – and their control over their partners.

Women are less likely to become more powerful when they make more money because they generally don’t want to diminish their partners.

2. Relationship options. Perhaps a woman is economically dependent, but she is beautiful and she knows it. She also knows that if she leaves the relationship, she can quickly find someone else. This gives her a lot of clout.

3. Traditional gender roles. People who hold traditional notions about gender are more likely to accept male authority. While our society has achieved greater equality, men still typically have a bit more power in relationships.

Interestingly, young men today more often say they prefer equal partnerships.

4. Strong personalities. Even among the traditional-minded, some women just have stronger personalities. The couple will often deem the man, “head of home” when really, the woman is in charge.

5. Whoever cares least about the relationship has more power because the partner who cares more is more likely to cave in.

There are two ways of looking at this. On the one hand it may simply be a sad, but true, fact of life.

Yet there may be some poetic justice. If one person is poorly treated, he or she will be more likely to leave. And this can create an incentive to change. If the relationship moves back into a better balance of happiness, equality can be regained.

This was origninally posted Sept. 22, 2010

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 21, 2011, in feminism, gender, men, psychology, relationships, reproductive rights, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Lawrence Brown III

    This blog is informational and exact to a certain degree. I feel that for certain men to get a woman pregnant in order to keep her is foul, insensitive and cowardly and it gives men a bad name. Those are the ones who have low self-esteem and are afraid to lose a woman that they can control. Another point I would like to mention is that in today’s society, Both partners of the relationship have equal tasks and usually runs the family equally. Also, some men tend to let the woman control the relationship because of personal or financial inadequacies while at the same time they control the household. Something like Mr. Mom..

  2. The article stated how relationships power is determined by money, power, and status. How in the past men held the power in relationships because they held a job and made money. According to the article some women still feel the need to have the male make more money, but I also see that some women are not afraid to show that they have the potential to make more money than men.

    During this present time men stated that they prefer “equal” partnerships. In my opinion they say that but they do not mean it. On e way or another men are the “head of the house,” even though sometimes it really is the women who is , but to not seem out of place then man will just bear that title for now they just appear to have the power. My honest opinion is that women are the mother to teach their children at birth. Women are supporting their family in the shadows; women are the rulers in the shadow.

    • 1) Not all men want equality. But most young men seem to.

      2) Evidence that they really do comes from studies that show early in marriage there does tend to be equality among egalitarian couples. Switches toward greater patriarchy tend to come after a child’s born if women and men don’t equally share parenting, household duties, money-making at that point. It is possible to be a homemaker and have equal marriage, though. Both need to evaluate that role as being as important as “breadwinning.”

  3. I feel that although money can dictate which partner has control in the household, cultural conditioning plays an even greater role in prescribing whether the man or woman will be in charge. All the cultures I know of (except for perhaps the Native American which you told us about Dr. Platts), are patriarchal.

    In my culture, like most cultures, it is understood that the man heads the household. Pakistani culture generally disregards income too, because for example, my uncle is a stay-at-home dad and his wife is a teacher. Although she is the sole money-earner in the house, my uncle is still the one in control of affairs and he is the one who is asked whether or not money can be spent on certain things i.e. to go to a theme park, buy an airfare ticket etc.. I think that’s kind of weird, but again, it’s culture which has conditioned the husband/wife to hold those roles.

    I think it’s interesting that whoever cares least about the relationship has more power. This is somewhat true in that if you want to avoid conflict and want your relationship to work, you may just be more submissive. But that’s silly. If one is a feminist, he/ she will want both people to have equal power, and that’s the way it should be. If you’re getting power in your relationship by caring less about it, that’s not a healthy relationship.

  4. Alshemah Mohamed

    This is a very interesting and debatable topic. Women have the same opportunities and rights as men do. Growing up I used to think culture wise that men should be the one who works and provide for his family while women should stay home and maintain the relationship. I thought wrong. It takes two to make a relationship work and to raise their family together. I do not think that a woman who works and makes more than her partner would make her powerful. It should be about supporting and understanding each other. It should not be about who makes more and who does not this would cause jealousy and drifting apart. Both men and woman can maintain a relationship with both working.

  5. Mackenzie Leis

    This is a very strong topic and I think it is one of those discussions that can be easily argued either way. I think the source of options and whoever cares the least has more power go hand in hand, men or women who try to gain power by doing such are relationship manipulators. I believe being in a relationship is about balancing each other out and completing one another. I do not believe that relationships work when one partner tries to out do or control the other. A prime example is a household where the man works and the woman is a homemaker. The man is the bread winner so it is believed to be that he is in charge and the women has to succumb to him, on the contrary I don’t think men in those situations and of those mind sets understand what it takes to be a stay at home mother. It may not take a degree to be a mother but it is a 24/7 job, the man gets a break from work when he gets home at night and on weekends but a mother does not get a break…ever. In situations as such, I think there needs to be a great understanding between the man and woman of how much each of them does on a day to day basis.

  6. Regarding the third point in this article, I couldn’t agree more on traditional gender roles. It is more apparent in Asian cultures. Being a Vietnamese American myself, I can see how many of my family members still hold the view that the man is the more domineering individual in a relationship. It is also seen by the belief that in a traditional Vietnamese marriage, it is the husband’s duty alone to make the important decisions in the relationship. The small decisions are up to the wife. Being raised away from the Vietnamese tradition, I think that younger generation Vietnamese Americans born in the United States would feel differently about this point of view.
    On the other hand, I couldn’t agree more about the fifth point of this article. Whoever cares less in a relationship is the one who has more power. I consider this as “whoever wears the pants”. For a relationship to be healthy and last, I think that feelings should be mutual and that there should be equal effort in a relationship. Otherwise, in the long run, I doubt that a relationship would be able to work out.

  7. Women traditionally do tend to let the man cease all control in a realationship. However times are becoming where women are making decisons for themselve and and live, breed and succeed by themselves. Man tend to be in intimidated by a women success, money and courage to be an independent women and never be dependent of a man. So they dont attract those types cause there is no chance in controlling her.

  8. There are many valid points in this article. I especially agree with the scenario of a women generating more income than her spouse, yet not feeling a power trip because of resources as a man would. I believe women are more sensitive and nurturing, therefore not wanting to be conflictive. This may not be the case for every situation yet I do agree it connects to the majority of marriages. Lastly, the clause about the person who cares least about the relationship carries more power because the person who cares most is more willing to submit to keep the relationship going.

    This is a very interesting article. Well written and deeply informative.

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