Who's on top? Power in romantic relationships

Abstract

Power balances are investigated in a sample of 413 heterosexual dating individuals (86% white, 9.7% black, 4.3% other ethnicities). Less than half the respondents perceive their relationships to be equal in the distribution of power, and men are over twice as likely as women to be viewed as the partners having more power. Imbalances are also evident in three related measures—decision-making, emotional involvement, and equity. A higher proportion of both women and men say that the male partner, rather than the female partner, made more of the decisions, was less emotionally involved, and in general was “getting a better deal.” Finally, male dominance, but not equality of power between the genders, is associated with greater romantic relationship longevity. More specifically, the higher the relative degree of power attributed by respondents to the male, rather than the female, partner of a dyad, the lower is the subsequent rate of relationship dissolution.

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This research was supported in part by a National Institute of Mental Health grant (1 RO3 MH42699-01). The author thanks Susan Sprecher, Larry Cohen, and Brian Powell for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Appreciation is also expressed to Brenda Gunn for her assistance with graphics.

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Felmlee, D.H. Who's on top? Power in romantic relationships. Sex Roles 31, 275–295 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01544589

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Keywords

  • Social Psychology
  • Male Partner
  • Romantic Relationship
  • Good Deal
  • Related Measure