Giving up some control might lead to more comfort and calm in the long run.

  • How people perceive their own power position in a relationship influences their happiness.
  • Greater satisfaction comes when both partners feel like they have a say over the matters that are most important to them.
  • Give up some decision-making power when your partner cares deeply about something, and negotiations about other things become easier.
Brooke Cagle/Unsplash
We needed a new car. The wagon we were driving was slow to start. Dented on the driver’s door, had an electrical short that meant the windows wouldn’t go down, or up. It was a well-used 20-year-old vehicle.

My husband and I sat down, talked over our budget, and some thoughts about the features we wanted in a new car. Then he picked out the car.

Why? Because he was the one who would drive it most often. And—this is the biggie–he cares a lot more about the cars than I do.

In our relationship, things are rarely in balance. But they do balance out. I am more focused on the day-to-day operations, kid stuff, household chores. I manage the money. He does more outside, handles most of the home maintenance, and works longer hours.

Sometimes he does more. Sometimes I do. It just depends on the week and our work schedules, but one thing that is true for both of us is that we both feel like we have power in the marriage. We both believe we have a say over the things that matter.

The Balance of Power

That so-called perceived power balance is important to relationship success, say psychologists.

Research by Robert Körner from the Institute of Psychology at Martin Luther University and Astrid Schütz from the University of Bamberg looked at the balance of power within couples and found the happiest couples are those where both partners feel a high sense of personal power.

When people feel they have influence, can assert their preferences on the things that matter to them, and have some decision-making power, they tend to be happier—even if the power scales in the relationship are unbalanced in other ways.

Nobody wants to feel disregarded, disempowered, stepped on. With one person making all the decisions, calling all the shots, the other person could feel controlled or dominated. This does not contribute to a good feeling or deeper connection.

In our marriage, we do have some different priorities and things that we care more about than others. Since everything we do impacts the entire family, we talk over everything and negotiate often.

This isn’t always easy or without conflict. Sometimes, when we both care deeply about the same things, like parenting and money issues, we’ve got to walk away, take a break to calm down, and come back later.

But when I have a strong opinion about the living room furniture, or the daily schedule, or meal prep, or future planning and goals, he often defers to me. When he’s talking about cars and power-washing and home maintenance and work, we talk all that over too, but he usually makes the call on those matters.

We don’t always agree. And honestly, I probably care more about the minutiae than he does. Neither of us lives in a vacuum. Seldom are decisions made without some discussion, but ultimately the one who has more interest gets to make the final call.

It took me a while to learn how to do this. I’d lived alone for a long time and I wasn’t used to having to defer to others or talk through the major decisions. But now, 19 years into this marriage, this kind of power-sharing is such a relief.

I don’t need to know about everything. Don’t need to have an opinion or weigh in. I can show up, listen, learn, and support. And that leaves me more time, energy, and clarity to focus on the things I do know more about, the things that I’m more talented in—like organization—the things that I care about, like scheduling.

This shared power allows us to both lead and follow and that dynamic has been good for our relationship. It allows for some independence, freedom to make decisions about the things that are most important to us.

That helps us retain our own senses of self and power. It leaves us feeling that we are important and valuable to the relationship as a whole. So, when it comes to negotiating the things we both care strongly about, we can work through it a little easier. Nobody needs to exert power over the other—it doesn’t become about winning or losing—because we both feel like we’ve won.