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Laina Bay-Cheng does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment. When it comes to power in romantic relationships, men are often cast as dominant and women as deferential.
In my most recent studyI asked young adults about their heterosexual relationship experiences.
Unsurprisingly, power was skewed in favor of one partner versus being equally balanced or shared in most of their relationships. But the appearance of symmetry disappeared once we looked at the implications of these power differences. The young men and women may have been equally likely to report imbalances in their relationships and to feel subordinate in their relationships. However, the costs of feeling subordinate were not equal. They rate different aspects of the relationships and share details and anecdotes along the way using text, emojis, images and even audio clips.
In the current study, my colleagues and I focused on one portion of the data: how the participants 59 women and 55 men rated their various heterosexual relationships in allfrom one-time hookups to long-term commitments, in terms of stability how harmonious and even-keeled a relationship was ; intimacy how emotionally close and connected they felt ; and the balance of power between them and a partner.
We tested whether the balance of power in a relationship was related to its perceived stability and intimacy. Comparable proportions of women and men reported that they had been the dominant or subordinate partner in a relationship. We also found that if people felt like their partners had more power, they tended to think of their relationships as ificantly less stable and intimate.
On the other hand, if people thought they were in egalitarian relationships — or if they thought they were the ones calling the shots — they viewed their relationship as more stable and intimate. Looking separately at women and men, we found that it was only women who thought the quality of their relationship changed depending on how much power they held. When they felt subordinate to a male partner, they perceived the relationship as less stable and less intimate.
They felt relationships in which they were dominant were just as stable and intimate as ones in which they were subordinate. They were also subject to coercion and abuse. This was true for 12 women who held less power in a relationship including two who depended on a partner for basic needs like housing — and even for three who felt like they had more power than their partner.
On the flip side, two men in our study said they had controlling girlfriends, but in neither case did this mean there was physical, sexual or emotional abuse, as it did for the young women. Men are less likely to worry about the possibility of being assaulted or abused by a female partner.
For men, having less power in a relationship is an exception — and usually a benign one — to the rule. For young women — especially those who are also racially or socioeconomically marginalized — relationships in which they have less power are just yet another domain on top of workplacesclassrooms and public spaces like streets and subways in which they need to guard against sexism in all its forms.
Endless battling for equality and defending against mistreatment is exhausting. And for women, it does not make for warm, harmonious relationships.
Be Curious — Leeds, Leeds. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. In most relationships, one partner wields more power than the other. Laina Bay-ChengUniversity at Buffalo.
But appearances of gender equality can be deceiving.Married looking for a dominant friend
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Chapter Marriage and Family