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Is power balanced in your marriage?

conflict fairness sex Jan 06, 2021


It’s the marital equivalent of the Wi-Fi network in your house. It’s an invisible force and yet it’s always there, operating in the background. And, just like your Wi-Fi, when power goes out of whack, you feel an instant surge of irritation, anger, and sometimes even rage.

When we started writing The 80/80 Marriage, one of our primary goals was to better understand the dynamics of power in marriage. We had both experienced first-hand the sting of resentment that comes from imbalances in power. We knew what it felt like to be controlled around big decisions, intimacy, and even trivial domestic tasks. 

After lots of interviews and introspection, we came to see that power in marriage takes four primary forms. It arises in finances, big decisions, domestic affairs, and even in the bedroom.

Is the power dynamic in your marriage balanced across these areas? Ask these four questions to find out.




Question 1: Does one of you control the power of the purse?

Money is perhaps the ultimate currency of power in marriage. Our relationships, after all, reflect our broader culture, where money is an indicator of status, success, and influence. When financial power becomes imbalanced, you or your partner might feel controlled or ignored. You might feel the resentment that arises when you're working hard to save and your partner just returned home with a surprise big new purchase. So, when it comes to saving, and spending, its worth asking: how does power show up for you and your partner?


Question 2: Does one of you have decision rights?

Marriage is a crazy journey that often requires the two of you to make hugely important decisions together. Where do we live? Where do we send our kids to school? Is it time to buy a new car? When it comes to these consequential decisions, balanced power looks like both of you playing an equal role, consulting each other, and sharing in the decision-making process to create an outcome of shared success. When power goes out of balance, by contrast, the dynamic flips, with one person exerting disproportionate sway. What’s your power dynamic around decision making?


Question 3: Does one of you control daily domestic life?

This form of power is subtler than the other two. It’s the control that arises when one partner rules over the social calendar, parenting style, what you have for most meals, where you go on vacation, or any other of the 1000 or so other micro-decisions of everyday life. So it’s worth asking: Does one of you hold the upper hand here? Or have you created a structure of balanced power in domestic life?


Question 4: Does one of you reign supreme in the bedroom?

This might just be the most invisible and yet also the most explosive face of power in marriage. It’s the form of control that arises when one partner dictates the way things go down in the bedroom. This could be how you have sex. It could be how often you have sex. It could be the risks or lack thereof that you take in the bedroom. Imbalances in power easily emerge in this area because, for many couples, it’s awkward and uncomfortable to talk about power and sex. How about you? Do you experience any imbalanced power dynamics in the bedroom?


Of course, you might be asking, “why ask these uncomfortable questions about power?“ The reason is that, without awareness, these power dynamics are almost impossible to shift. When we become more aware of them, however, change becomes a real possibility. And that’s the goal of this exercise -- to begin to see more clearly where and how power shows up in your marriage so you can open the space for change.

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