Overcoming the Tug of War
Everyone would agree that the general clamour for equality has magnificently grown over the last decade. However, it still remains almost impossible to attain true equality, when it comes to power. We hate to admit it, but there are certain factors that place some people above others; the factors that make people recognized and regarded as powerful. The most obvious and undeniable ones may be money and fame, however, factors like intellect, social network, and in many circumstances, physical strength, can also make some people feel inferior to others.
In general society, this isn’t much of a problem. Everyone has found a way to accept their place while they strive to become more. However, in romantic relationships, it becomes a bit of a reoccurring problem when one partner is constantly reminded — mostly indirectly — of the place they occupy on the power scale in the relationship.
Power Inequality in Relationships
Power inequality in relationships is quite tricky in the ways in which the rules are very different from normal society. First, a person does not necessarily have to be more powerful than their partner before there is power inequality. What usually matters is that the partner feels that there is a power imbalance. Secondly, because of the sensitive nature of a relationship, many elements that would be overlooked in general society are considered power inequalities between partners. For example, partners can sometimes feel out of place in their relationship due to the type of job their partner has when compared to their own or by the slightest difference in how much money they both make from their jobs.
For most people, the power inequality in their relationship may seem impossible to handle. A person cannot reduce their level of fame or money in order to protect their partner’s feelings, which is a particularly ironic situation, especially since protecting your partner’s feelings should be one of your top priorities.
Clearly, when a person feels a level of inequality in a relationship, it needs to be addressed by both partners before things become worse. The question faced by most partners however is: “How do we fix the power inequality problem while maintaining our relationship?”
Four Ways to Start
While there are a number of techniques and mythologies on this subject, there are four action steps that seem to be universal among relationship experts. Let’s take a look:
1) Understanding and Acceptance
This may sound cliché, but the power inequality in a relationship will only get worse if both you fail to understand the dynamics between you and your partner. Understand that before being partners in a relationship, you were and continue to be both individuals on different journeys. After understanding your individual positions in life, you can then accept that it is perfectly normal for you to occupy different positions of power in general society. As couples however, you must maintain the mutual respect that your relationship demands. Once there is true respect, it becomes easier for everything else to fall in place.
Understanding and acceptance, however, won’t change the reality; it only makes it easier to accept. Therefore, when the feeling of being inferior within your relationship creeps into your mind, be open about it with your partner and communicate.
We must acknowledge the fact that communication can solve almost every problem couples face in relationships. In fact, if done properly, communication may be the only solution you need to avoid feeling somewhat inferior in your relationship. This particularly works better if you have a partner who listens and is always willing to improve as a couple (to be honest, if you don’t, then power inequality is not really the problem). In every relationship, we all want to be seen by our partners as equals without having to ask for it. This is why it is important to communicate with your partner whenever you feel any different. One of the benefits of doing this is that you can share your troubling feelings with someone, and who better to share it with than your partner? Another advantage to communicating your worries with your partner is that it keeps them conscious of how they make you feel whether they meant to or not.
3) Tapping Into It
As long as your partner is not always vocal about their “position of power” or attempt to intimidate you with it, you could see it from a different perspective: as a great thing for you and your partner. Who’s to say you cannot also enjoy the benefits and advantages available to your partner due to their position? In fact, it shows true togetherness in a relationship when a person wants their partner to share in whatever they have, with the belief that it is just as much their partner’s as it is theirs. Like we established earlier, what matters is the mutual respect you both have for each other.
4) Being Self-Aware
This part actually applies to the person who is supposedly more “powerful” among both partners. It doesn’t do you or your relationship any favors to act in a way that makes your partner feel intimidated, especially if your ‘advantage’ is a result of elevated societal or financial status. You should make them feel at home and accepted, regardless of your position. The best way to achieve this is to remind yourself constantly that you do not need any form of superiority when it comes to your partner. Make them your safe space. Seeing yourself as their equal makes it easier for them to ignore the power inequality existing between you both.
However, this does not mean you should belittle yourself in order to fix your partner’s ego. The bottom line is that your words and actions should not make the situation more glaring than it already is.
Obviously, power inequality existing in relationships is at once a very peculiar and a very potentially polarizing circumstances for couples. An average corporate worker in a relationship with a powerful politician clearly faces a different situation from a person whose partner earns 30% more than their annual salary. At the risk of rehashing everything said above, both parties in the relationship must acknowledge their differences and move forward with the intention of truly making things work, in spite of these differences. “Love conquers everything” may not always be true, but it is certainly what matters when couples face imbalances that need to be kept in check.