A power struggle refers to an evident or subtle competition in a relationship for control and influence. Power dynamics may be either a growing or breaking point.
No matter how much you have in common with someone, inevitably, you’ll likely end up disagreeing on something. But disagreeing on a point isn’t the same as fighting for power with your partner.
Power struggles often manifest as a push to get your way on important topics where opinions or visions may differ. This may involve ignoring your partner’s perspective or needs, or crossing boundaries they have set.
Fighting for influence and control may become evident early in the relationship, but in some cases, it only turns into a roadblock when important topics are discussed and not resolved. Some of these topics may include:
- whether or not to have children
- parenting styles
- where to live or go on vacation
- how to spend and make money
- religious beliefs or practices
- moral, political, or ethical matters
- lifestyle choices
Besides differences in opinion and perspectives, power struggles may also result from one or both partners’ emotional challenges.
Insecure attachment styles, for example, may lead someone to resign to their influence in important matters out of fear of abandonment or rejection. Personality disorders like narcissistic personality and antisocial personality may make someone more likely to want to exert control and power over their partner.
Only a mental health professional may be able to accurately pinpoint if a mental health challenge is the underlying cause of unresolved power struggles.
In some sense, every relationship involves a power dynamic, but not necessarily a struggle.
It’s natural to disagree with your partner on some topics and want them to see things your way. But being in a committed relationship may imply negotiating how everyone’s needs are met, which in turn involves compromise from both partners.
Power struggles typically don’t become a challenge if both partners understand the need for compromise.
A 2021 study with 181 heterosexual couples found that objective differences in power don’t typically affect a relationship, but rather how each partner perceives these differences and their personal level of power.
Additionally, the study found that balanced power dynamics were associated with greater relationship satisfaction, higher libido, and increased emotional well-being.
Recognizing potential power struggles can help you and your partner prevent challenges.
Some signs of relationship power struggles may include one or both partners who:
- have trouble seeing things from the other person’s point of view
- have difficulty compromising or arriving at agreements
- engage in controlling behaviors
- resort to manipulating tactics
- hold grudges
- don’t respect boundaries
- feel they don’t have a voice or vote in important relationship matters
- engage in vindictive behaviors when things don’t go their way
- play the victim when discussing important challenges
Conflict resolution skills are essential to discuss important topics and reach a solution that works for both people in the relationship.
Other tips to consider include:
- avoiding getting emotional, especially letting anger control you. If emotion is starting to overcome you, try taking a deep breath to refocus.
- remembering that your relationship is built on commonalities, not differences
- figuring out what everyone wants and be willing to make concessions
- trying to be specific about expectations
- trying to empathize with your partner and seeing things from other perspectives
- respecting differences in opinion and validating your partner’s point of view to make sure everyone’s wants are considered
Seeking the support of a mental health counselor is also highly advisable. They’ll be able to explore possible causes of your challenges and propose effective coping mechanisms.
Power struggles can arise when couples grapple for control of a relationship, disagree on a basic tenet, or there’s an objective imbalance in power.
Power struggles aren’t inherently negative. Finding healthy ways to resolve conflict, landing on common ground, and agreeing to a compromise can all help strengthen relationships.