HALLE, Germany — A new study finds being a “power couple” may be the secret to having a long and happy relationship. Researchers in Germany say this doesn’t mean men and women need fame and wealth to be happy, but they do need a certain sense of power over their relationships.
Study authors from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the University of Bamberg say power is all about being able influence others and the ability to keep others from influencing you. In relationships between men and women, the study finds each partner in the happiest pairs both feel they have a measure of power.
“It sounds like a dog-eat-dog world or the world of business. But power also plays a role in romantic relationships. The feeling of being able to make decisions in a marriage, for example, has a big influence on the quality of the relationship,” says Robert Körner from the Institute of Psychology at MLU in a university release.
‘Relationships have become more equal’
Previous studies show there’s rarely a perfect balance of power between romantic couples. In fact, researchers say men typically have more influence over decisions than women. However, these traditional roles are changing in modern times.
“Romantic relationships have become more equal – especially in western societies,” says Körner.
Study authors interviewed 181 heterosexual couples living together for at least one month during their research. These couples were all between 18 and 71 years-old and had been together for around eight years on average.
Researchers looked at how both actual power and the perception of power impacted each relationship in terms of satisfaction and commitment. Their surveys included questions measuring each person’s level of admiration for their partner, their trust in them, sexual satisfaction, and even their feelings of oppression and constraint by their partner.
“We also calculated the balance of power to investigate the extent to which the traits of each partner were similar to each other,” Körner explains.
The results reveal, even as society changes, men still tend to hold more positional power in a relationship — based on higher incomes and sometimes higher levels of education. Men also displayed a greater need to make decisions in their relationships than women.
Surprisingly, however, those two factors did not influence the quality of a relationship according to the couples. Researchers found the same also applies to the balance of power. Even when men and women living together were more equal in their power based on wealth or education, the study did not find any connection between that and their feelings about the strength of their romance.
“The results surprised us, as earlier research has often suggested a direct link between the balance of power and relationship-based outcomes,” the researcher notes.
Happiness is all about freedom
So if money and influence don’t influence a relationship, what does? It turns out the happiest couples are the ones who report having the greatest feelings of personal power. In other words, partners in the strongest relationships each feel they have the freedom to do the things they would like to do.
“It appears that the subjective feeling of power and the feeling of being able to act freely significantly impact the quality of the relationship,” Körner says.
For most of the couples researchers interviewed, both men and women said it was important for them to be able to express their preferences when making decisions.
“Maybe this feeling extends to different aspects of the relationship. Whereas the woman might want to decide on where to go on vacation, the husband chooses where to go for dinner. One thing to keep in mind is that our sample included rather happy couples, which favors effective negotiation. In other partnerships, there is definitely potential for conflict in this respect,” concludes Professor Astrid Schütz.
The study appears in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.