On this episode, Melissa and Siria talk about power dynamics. You will learn about power dynamics and how fighting for power impacts your relationships.
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3 Tips To Help Balance The Power Dynamics In Your Relationships
Throughout the course of this show, we’ve engaged in conversations around a number of topics, such as boundaries, family roles, intimacy and self-compassion. The more that I was thinking about it, at the heart of most of our episodes, it relates to relationships in some way. As I observed that, I was looking at some of the news that appears on my social media and my inbox.
It all consists of stories about someone or something exerting some power over another, whether it’s a country exerting power over its citizens, political parties or creating legislation based on religious principles. I started to wonder, is it human nature to want to wield power over one another? If so, how does it impact relationships? As I dug deep into this topic, the term power dynamic service, I thought it would be a great chance for us to discuss it here on the show.
That’s what we are going to do.
That’s what we are doing.
We are discussing power dynamics in this episode.
When I mentioned it to you, what were your initial thoughts on it? It’s very amiable.
I’m a curious person. Let’s dive into that one. I didn’t have a dog in the fight but as I started doing my own independent research on it, I was going down a couple of different rabbit holes where I didn’t necessarily stick in power because let me tell you like the internet. When you google some things, you will get some interesting results, and I ended up on this dude’s website that was all about power and exerting power over people and relationships. I started going down like the romantic relationship, and he’s like breaking down how power happens in a relationship. I was reading it and was like, “Where are you getting this information?”
That guy is probably single as shit.
I’m not naming him or his website because I’m not stupid. I was looking at it and was like, “I’m not sure about this topic,” so that’s where I’m at.
When we are talking about power dynamics or at least what I’ve seen online, it’s all about referring to power in a way that it’s shared. We’ve talked about social construction before, so before we even delve into power dynamics, it’s important to take a moment to maybe even unpack or discuss what we think power means. What initially came to mind, even as some of the examples that I shared earlier when I think of power, I think of physical oppression sometimes.
I don’t necessarily think about other ways we might exert power. As I looked more into this topic, power dynamics, the word power doesn’t necessarily mean physical power. Rather, it refers to how much influence one person has over the other. A few examples would include a person who may make more money than the other and has more power when it comes to making financial decisions.
Another example can be if I possess greater leadership capacity. I might have more power in setting the direction of a project that we might be working on together at work. Another person may be more extroverted than the other, which can result in an imbalance in a social environment. Those are a few examples of the different power dynamics that could be at play.
It’s an interesting definition to me because when I was looking at it, power and influence are two different things, and your definition puts them together. They can go together but I feel like power and influence are similar beasts but they have different connotations to them.
I agree with that to a certain extent. It was interesting because even before this topic surfaced for me, I remember there was a book or something that I came across. It was dark psychology and using body language and stuff to influence and to get your way. In a lot of books that you see in business or the art of the deal or negotiation, it’s almost like you got to take the other person down to get on top. When I think of power, I think of that but I agree that influence can be good. There’s also a very negative connotation to the word power, especially that gets reinforced by what we see in the media now. I agree with you. Power does influence but does it go both ways?
I don’t think so because power is you have a title. Let’s take the financial one that you gave us as an example. You have more buying power. You can buy more things , but that doesn’t necessarily mean that because you bring more money to the table, the other person in your relationship can’t influence how you use that power.
That would be if you have a healthy balance of power in your relationship. If it’s teetering one way where the person’s like, “I make the most money, I’m going to make the decisions.” The person is like, “You are right. I don’t have that much influence or sway.”
Influence, though, has more to do about being able to change people’s beliefs, getting them to change because they want to, as opposed to power being, “I’m the person in charge, so you are going to do it.” Everyone has influence but not everyone has power. When I was looking at this, they were talking about two different types of status that you have with power.Everyone has influence, but not everyone has power. Click To Tweet
Low status, you are super approachable, less authoritative. You might get sucked into a victim triangle where because you have no influence, you get dumped on. You think of the corporate world when you are at the bottom of the ladder. You are going to get all of the crappy assignments and other things as your status increases. Essentially, your power increases. That could change.
The other status was high status. This one was interesting because it was slower movements and speech, and they gave off this air of, “Don’t come near me,” communication. It was like, “That’s interesting,” because it’s all about the power authority in respect. That made me think of a certain president that we may have had not too long ago and how they behaved. I was like, “You may have interacted with these people where they don’t want to talk to you because you are not the most important person in the room or they feel like you have nothing to offer them.” That’s why power is icky to me. When I was looking at those statuses, I was like, “I don’t like either one of those.”
I don’t either but when I was looking at it again, I did go down a rabbit hole between power dynamics and personal relationships versus power dynamics and work relationships. Work relationships, I feel, are a little bit more cutthroat. You are going to do what’s most advantageous to you typically because you want to get ahead in your career as opposed to working with others. When it comes to a little bit more intimate relationships, we hope to be more mindful or at least consider our partner when we are making decisions or looking at how our dynamics are with one another.
What was very interesting, though, is that you do learn that power dynamics are present in all relationships. It doesn’t matter how hard you try. There will always be a power imbalance in any relationship, and every aspect of your relationship influences the balance of power. I mentioned financials earlier but then they even gave examples. If you always determine, let’s say, whose house do you normally go to for Thanksgiving or whose family you celebrate the holidays with?No matter how hard you try, there will always be a power imbalance in any relationship and every aspect of your relationship influences the balance of power. Click To Tweet
That’s because that person might have that control or that power within the relationship. It was very interesting because it broke down the relationship into various components. Every decision that a couple makes, it’s usually because one person has made the decision on behalf of either the couple. I was like, “This is true.” I did come across an interesting principle. I’d never heard about it before but it made me giggle and I will explain why. It’s the principle of least interest, and it was coined in 1938 by sociologist Willard Waller.
According to this principle, people are not equally committed or invested in relationships. There is always one person who has less control or influence over what is happening in the relationship. The person who is more dependent on the other for their happiness, their financial wellness, etc. is more willing to sacrifice their wants and needs, thus giving up their power or influence in the relationship, while the person who possesses more power is less motivated to sacrifice or support the other.
Basically, what he goes on to say is that we have probably all been at either or both ends of this at some point in our lives. I was like, “Yes.” Why I laughed when I first came across this first principle of least interest, the name itself just made me chuckle but Vince will always tell me like, “I love you more.” I was like, “Stop. No, you don’t,” but he does.
You heard it here. It has been documented.
It is straight out of the boy’s mouth. It’s straight from him, and there is always one person that will give more to another person that will take more in various regards. I was like, “I have been in relationships where I have been the one that has exhibited all the power.”
Those were all in past life spins. That was not anything in this lifetime.
No life before you. It was garbage.
All of it, just so we are clear.
How about you? Have you experienced life on both ends of the spectrum?
I have been in a long-term relationship for over twelve years, so yes. In this relationship, it goes back and forth. It ebbs and flows. It was interesting, I was watching this psychologist, and she was talking about when couples break up. This was a TikTok video, so you guys can make fun of TikTok. It’s okay. She was talking about people breaking up at 3, 5, 7 or at 11 and 15 years, and this is what she was seeing in her practice.
More odd numbers.
All of these odd numbers and what she was saying, though, was that at the beginning of it, it’s because people haven’t learned how to communicate with each other and how to deal with conflict. On the other end, it’s because they stopped being friends. They need to learn how to be friends with each other. I was thinking about that. I was like, “That’s an interesting point because there’s going to be an evolution.”
If you get to a point in your relationship where it is all schedule, conflicts or making sure that you are, “We are doing this, I’m doing that,” that makes it complicated. With children, I would certainly do that, where you no longer spend time with each other. All of it circles back to the power part of it. Your relationships are going to change over time. They are not going to be the same, and so I do think that pendulum of power is going to swing depending on the health of your relationship, where you are in your relationship, and what other complications have you thrown in there.
We are willing to go to plants, and that’s about it. We are not going to throw in pets or children. There are certain things that are not going to necessarily impact the relationship but at the same time, they do because, again, it goes into this whole power situation. How could you not experience a power imbalance in any relationship?
I like this metaphor of a pendulum because it ebbs and flows. It does bounce back and goes forward. You can’t be all the things all the time. I’ve tried it. It’s not successful. At some point, you do have another person, as a friend or as a partner, that can step up and exert that power, maybe when you can’t or you don’t possess that ability. I found the topic to be so interesting. Do you think that it is a human’s desire or need to want to wield control or power?
I don’t necessarily think it’s something that humans want. In our American culture, it is something that we are told we should want. Going back to your social constructionism, I don’t know. I feel like it’s a message that I received that if you have power, you want to keep it at all costs. That makes people start doing stupid shit, embezzlement, fraud or other things to try to keep up with status, for example.
There are other people who want power because they want to influence a powerful change. For me, it’s what’s the motivation for wanting the power? Is it because you want to make yourself the center of attention? Do you want to be the one that saves the day? I remember I was on a board of an organization, and they had wanted to start a scholarship program. It was like, “Great. This was something that we talked about for a while.”
The person who was my number two in the organization was very much like, “I want to do this during my time. I’m going to draw the line.” I was like, “I don’t care.” As long as there’s some traction on it and we can work towards that, that was fine. Did not happen during his lifetime at all. It didn’t happen during mine or his, and it took many years, and now, there is an amazing Andale scholarship that they do. That’s the Latino Bar Association but part of what came out of that was having that space for the organization to get there when it was ready and having leaders that could put in that vision.
They talk about these level-five leaders. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that. There are different kinds of leaders that you have. There are these types of leaders who can set a vision for an organization. They are visionaries, basically. It goes beyond themselves way further in time. That project of that scholarship fundraiser, it’s amazing. It’s an amazing opportunity. It’s going to keep going but it was something that the leader at the time who created it knew was something that could continue forward. She might have had the power and the influence at the same time to do it but it wasn’t for her, if that makes sense.
It reminds me of what you were speaking to when we did the legacy building episode when we are talking about we might not experience it in our lifetime but getting the ball moving or moving in that direction helps build that momentum to actualize whatever it is that you were trying to set out to do in the first place.
I’ve also seen examples where people have never wanted power or never wanted to do anything. They get dealt a hand with a child with a disability or have somebody in their family have a tragic accident, and then they go all in on figuring out how to remove obstacles, make things better, make the schools better, and get more education. It’s because they have that personal invested interest in helping their loved one or that’s what sparked their interest in it. All of a sudden, they become a very knowledgeable, powerful person in that industry even though they had no desire to do it before.
Sometimes you got to look at what are the circumstances that are being presented in our lives and what is calling us to do these things. Your child may not be in school anymore but your ability to advocate for children because of what you learned for your own child is going to help so many other parents down the road. I constantly see examples of that where people are like, “I had no interest in this,” and then so and so happened. I saw this thing that impacted me on a personal level. They get involved, and they can make some powerful changes in the world.
I like how you are using powerful and the word power in this context because, again, when I first was looking at power dynamics, it’s like, “I must succeed at all costs, and you must lose.” That’s not to say that power has to be conceived in that way. It can end in a win-win relationship. It may not always be balanced in relationships but I also think that you can share the power equally or as best you can with your partner, a friend or a colleague.
The whole dynamics thing was very interesting and understanding, and everything impacts the dynamics of the relationship. There were a few things that I came up with in terms of helping to balance power and relationships, and these are from my own personal experience. Before I get into this, I want to dovetail off of what you were talking about in terms of how life experiences could project someone to maybe go into a new path that they may not have thought they maybe could or possess the strength to do so.
I know that in several episodes, I’ve talked about this need for control in my life, and that was a result of childhood trauma. I think too, if you are good friends or in an intimate relationship with this person, you also have the understanding of where this need for control is coming from, this need for power or taking control of the situation. For me, it was when Vince understood why I needed to exert “power,” he was like, “You can have it.” It didn’t matter to him but I digress.
That’s interesting come from because it’s acknowledging, “I don’t need to be right. I need to be understood. You must understand that this is part of why my process works this way.” It isn’t necessary, “I need to have control to have power. I need to have control to be safe.” That’s different from saying, “I need to be in control all the time because I need to be the most powerful person in the room because I got the biggest ding-dong in the room.” No, that’s different than, “I need to know certain things. I must go through my rituals or other things to feel safe.” That, to me, is a different conversation. Good job, Vince, for noting that and being like, “Sure, you can have it.”
It does, and it’s funny because I hadn’t even thought about it that way in terms of feeling safe at 100%. I feel safe with you, Vince. That’s why I’m able to let the pendulum swing your way on occasion. Anyways, we’ve touched on the fact that power, however, we define it, isn’t necessarily positive or negative. It’s depending on how you are using it and your intent behind it. What I’ve done to help bring balance or restore balance in the relationships that I have is to vocalize my needs and wants. Many of us, at some point in our lives, have sacrificed our happiness for the expense of others.Power isn't necessarily positive or negative. It depends on how you are using it and your intent behind it. Click To Tweet
I know we’ve had plenty of episodes where we’ve talked about people pleasing, and we knew our needs weren’t being met but we never vocalized them. What I invite you to do is to take a moment to write them out if you need them because oftentimes, we don’t even know what they are. Sit down with a person, whoever that is, whether it’s a colleague, a friend or a partner. Vocalize what they are, have a true honest conversation about what they are, and ask that person if they can meet your needs.
If they can’t, as sad as it is, at least you will know where they stand, and you can have the opportunity to make an informed decision as to what you want to do. The second one I have shouldn’t shock anybody, lean into your strengths. Together, brainstorm all the strengths that you each possess. Both individually and collectively, and then next, sit down and discuss how you each might use your strengths to invite a balance of power into the relationship.
Vince is excellent when it comes to finding unique places to stay, eat or travel to. I will often let him take the driver’s seat when it comes to vacation planning with no desire. I might say, “Seattle sounds like fun,” but then he goes off with it. Me, I like budgets and accounting, so I have full control over managing our expenses. If you sit down and have a conversation about what your strengths are because I know Vince would not want to touch the budgets at all and stuff, the financials or anything but something that I excel at. Divide the power. Maybe the word power is what’s holding us up here.
What you are talking about there has more to do, at least as I’m hearing it has more to do with you playing to each other’s strengths. You like playing in the vacations, great. I will do the budget for the household. The caution I would have to everybody is not to learn how to do the thing that your spouse or partner can do well.
This happened to a lot of women in Southeast Asia, where they are living longer than men but they never learned financial literacy. They never learned what bank accounts they had or how to do any of things. You have to know at least how to do it and be like, “I know how to budget but I don’t like doing it.” Don’t completely become ignorant on purpose.
That’s not what I’m insinuating at all.
It’s not, but which is why I bring it up to make sure that you know how to do it. Matt knows how to plan a vacation. He’s just not as good at it because I’m the cruise director of the relationship.
When thinking about power dynamics in the relationship, it’s like, “Who’s steering the boat? Is it always one person or do you each take turns at the helm?” When I’m looking at power dynamics in the relationship, that’s what I’m thinking that you each take turns. Do you drive a ship? You sail.
You steer a ship but it is important to know how to do some stuff. Matt and I had a financial conversation. I was like, “Let me give it to you, and you deal with it,” and he said no. Part of why he said no is he’s like, “You need to learn how to do this for yourself because it’s an important skill.” This had to do with investing. It was something that I didn’t have a lot of confidence in.
It was something that I wanted him to do, “Here, I will give you the money, and you be my financial planner.” He was like, “No, you learn. It’s not that hard. Let’s start with basic things.” Him, being willing to teach me and me being open to it has made a world of difference in terms of us being able to talk about money in very open ways. It was, “You need to learn how to do this.”
That dovetails into the last thing, which is that you keep the other person in mind. Let’s say I wanted to invite Vincent to look at an expense. It’s something I want to do around the house and how we might go about affording it and everything like that. I might invite him into the conversation. While we are vocalizing our needs, it’s also important to keep the other person in mind. I can’t tell you how many decisions I would make because, again, I thought I had the power.
I would make decisions without even conferring or connecting with Vince beforehand. A perfect example is when I purchased the house. When I purchased the house, I had more say over the decor or any updates that I would make but then he later told me, he’s like, “I don’t feel like this is my home.” That resonated with me.
Now, what I do is I invite him to help pick wall colors or the furniture. It helps him feel an equal partner in the relationship and has him feel as if like, “This is my home too.” I like going into what you’re talking about instead of being like, “Here, be my financial planner. Let’s work on this together. Let’s do this as a team by keeping the other person in mind.”
Keeping another person in mind for any of these relationships, whether it’s personal or work relationships. It’s going to be important for you not to be a dick. Try not to do that, and keep another person in mind. There are certain things where I will be surprised. I will be like, “I was thinking about doing this, and I’m going to get some pushback. It’s usually involving shopping and buying something that I may or may not need.”
I’m surprised at how many times he says yes. He’s probably giving me more like, “That sounds fun,” answers, and then I give him credit for it because he is a lot stricter. We also have other things that we’ve fallen into naturally in our relationship. There are certain things that I don’t like doing, like taking out the trash. I can do it. I’m just, “No, I’m good.”
At the end of the day, what I want our readers to walk away with and what I’ve taken away from this episode, the image of this pendulum resonates with me. We need to move away from this all-or-nothing. I must hold all the marbles. I must have control. I understand this need to feel safe. I get that, speaking from personal experience but you have to be able to also let go. It probably is one of the greatest demonstrations of strength but this swaying of this pendulum is a part of being in a relationship and part of, dare I say, growth.Letting go of control is one of the greatest demonstrations of strength. Giving in to the sway of the pendulum is just a part of being in a relationship and of growth. Click To Tweet
It is part of that. I would say the other thing to add is that you have to know yourself, which goes back to, at least, my number one role, know thyself because you have different strengths. When I was thinking about this topic, the analogy of, “Are you a sprinter or a jogger?” Those bodies look different and what you put into them is totally different because a sprinter needs a small burst of tons of power.
They are going to be working on their legs and have massive legs. Long-distance runners are going to be very wafer-like little pencil people because they are working on their oxygen, lung capacity, and stamina. You may want to be a long-distance runner. Your body may not let you. Your strengths may not get you there.
There are some most things you can learn, and you can train yourself in these things, including learning how to wield power responsibly and how to be influential. You can learn how to do all those things but remember, what are your specific strengths? Are you more of a sprinter or a jogger? What I’m trying to say is don’t necessarily fight against your nature. You want to work with yourself as much as you can towards whatever goals you may have.
That’s it for this episode. Find us on Instagram @Pivotal_Moments_HQ for all the behind-the-scenes and sister-like banter you know and love. We want to thank our producer and music director, Ron Johnson.