Power differential in relationships

By KATE WALSH SOUCHERAY – Gazette Columnist

Do you find there is a power differential in your marriage, a friendship or with a work associate? If so, you are not alone. Research shows that there is a pervasive desire for power and that this desire crosses all aspects of our society and culture.

The questions might be asked: who has the power and how do they plan to use it? One may also ask, how do I get some of that power?

In order to adequately answer these questions, it is helpful to understand what a power differential is, how to recognize it in our relationships and how to respond to someone who is attempting to have power over us, rather than share the power with us.

To begin, power is when one person as more authority, control or influence over another person. They see themselves as having more command or clout in the relationship, and therefore, more of a voice in the workings of that relationship. A differential is a discrepancy or a gap between two people or entities and represents the distance between them.

In a relationship in which there is a power differential, one of the people believes he or she has more power over the other and attempts to assert that power. The unfortunate factor in such a relationship is that neither person is satisfied with this arrangement. And according to marriage and family therapy theories, we often choose people to be in our lives who emulate previous relationships because they are comfortable for us. This does not necessarily mean the relationships are happy or healthy, but that we understand them, so even if they are not good for us, we enter into them anyway.

The challenge, then, is to bring these relationship patterns into the light and help both people understand their part in the marriage, friendship or work association, and to see that they are both stuck in an unhealthy pattern. The one who is subordinate often feels the need to break free of the lesser role he or she has taken on and the one who is dominant often gets tired of always being in control.

So the key is to help everyone involved establish new patterns of being in the relationship together. We help the one who is meek become more vocal and learn to speak up and see that it is safe to do so and with the one who is bold, we help them learn to be softer and find the voice to be gentle and that it is also safe for them to ask for what they need.

All in all, everyone involved usually becomes more satisfied with the relationship and with their new assertion of personal power. If you find yourself in a relationship in which the power differential is not balanced, consider finding someone to help you work through the issues you and your spouse, your work associate or your friend face. If you do, you will all have the opportunity to move to a more stable, secure position as you find greater happiness and fulfillment in your relationship and in life.

There is one caveat to the balancing of relationships. If someone is in an unsafe relationship with a spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend or another person, please seek help to provide safety for yourself and those who depend on you. If you are thinking about challenging a power differential in your relationship and you feel unsafe, please be sure to seek help.

Kate Walsh Soucheray is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Stillwater. She works at Christian Heart Counseling at 275 Third Street South and can be reached at kate@christianheartcounseling.com or 651-439-2059 ext. 718.

  • Julianna G

    I found this article both concise & helpful. It’s easy for a layperson (not a licensed psychologist, therapist, etc.) to understand, and it contains basic definitions that will come in handy for future reference. Thanks, Ms Soucheray!

up arrow