, Volume 37, Issue 5-6, pp 361-379

The Balance of Power in Romantic Heterosexual Couples Over Time from “His” and “Her” Perspectives

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In this investigation, the balance of power between men and women in romantic relationships was examined with a sample of 101 heterosexual couples, some of whom were surveyed up to jive times over a four-year period. A majority of the participants (who were primarily Caucasian and middle class) reported some imbalance in power in their relationship (53% of the men and 52% of the women on a global measure of power; 67% of the men and 65% of the women on a measure of decision making). The longitudinal data indicated that perceptions of power were quite stable over time. When power imbalances in relationships occurred, the male partner was more likely than the female to be seen as the power holder, although these differences were statistically significant only for men (full sample). In support of W. Waller's “principle of least interest” [(1937) The Family: A Dynamic Interpretation, New York: Gordon], being the less emotionally involved partner in the relationship was associated with greater power. We further found that men were more likely than women to perceive themselves as the less emotionally invested partner. Perceptions of power balance were generally unrelated to either relationship satisfaction or to the likelihood that the couple broke up over time. In one exception, men who perceived their relationship to be equal in power (but not decision making) reported the highest level of satisfaction. We conclude that the balance of power still often favors men in these romantic couples (especially in decision making), although couples do not always agree on their perceptions, with male partners tending to see more male dominance than females.