Chapter 11:
Power in Intimate Relationships

Social Power

      Social power is the ability to influence
the behavior of others and resist their
influence on us.

Power as a Social Exchange Process

      The Bases of Power

      The Process of Power

      The Outcome of Power

The Bases of Power

      From a social exchange perspective,
power is based on the control of valuable resources.

      A powerful person does not need
to have direct control over these resources:
indirect control can be sufficient.

      But, power based on resources requires that the person over whom power is held values the resource.

The Bases of Power (continued):

      Resource power also depends on the availability of alternative sources of the resource.

      The greater one's alternatives, the less dependent one is on any one person and the less power any one person has over one.

      In a dyadic relationship, power and dependency are inversely related:

      The one who is more dependent has less power.

The Bases of Power (continued):

      Many different types of resources can serve as the basis for many different types of power.

      The social norms within a culture also affect power.

      These norms may directly allocate power in the society, or they may indirectly distribute power through cultural beliefs about what is valuable in the society.

Types of Resource Power:

The Bases of Power (continued):

      Resource-based power does not necessarily operate the same way for both men and women.

      Traditionally, it has been expected that men would base their power on money and status, while women would base their power on love and sex.

      If power is based on different resources, can power be equal?

      To answer this question, we must consider whether the resources are equally valued, equally easy to exchange across various social interactions, and equally under control of the individual basing his or her power on it.

The Process of Power

      The process of power refers to the way that power is expressed.

      Our use of language may be a subtle means of expressing power.

      For example, interrupting someone is usually associated with having greater social power, and males tend to interrupt females more than vice versa.

      The role of touch in expressing power is less clear, as touch can express dominance or solidarity.

The Process of Power (continued):

      Men and women man use different power strategies.

      Some research as found that in heterosexual relationships, men are more likely to employ power styles that are direct and, while women are more likely to use indirect styles.

      Not all research, however, has obtained this gender difference.

The Process of Power (continued):

      In one study, the power styles of women were found to be more confined to stereotypically feminine tactics, while men appeared to have more freedom to use a wider variety of power styles--masculine and feminine.

      When men and women use nontraditional power styles, they may find themselves liked less than those who use the power styles traditionally associated with their gender.

The Process of Power (continued):

      Women who speak in an assertive manner are respected more by both male and female listeners.

      Male listeners, however, are more influenced by a tentative female speaker than by an assertive one.

The Outcome of Power:

     The outcome of power can have different levels:

    Orchestration power refers to the authority to decide who will decide;

    Implementation power refers to the actions taken once power has been delegated.

The Outcome of Power (continued):

      Research on decision making by husbands and wives has been criticized by some for overestimating the power of wives by mistaking implementation power for orchestration power.

      On the other hand, it is also possible that research, particularly that involving questionnaires, has underestimated the power of wives, since both husbands and wives may give stereotyped answers emphasizing the power of husbands.

The Outcome of Power (continued):

      In estimating power in an intimate relationship, there may be a general tendency for people to overestimate the partner's power while underestimating their own.

      It is clear, however, that even today female dominance in a heterosexual relationship is less acceptable to both parties than is male dominance.

      Men are expected to take the initiative and women to take the role of responder (traditional gender role perspective).

The Outcome of Power (continued):

      Both husbands and wives are more comfortable in either egalitarian or male-dominated relationships than in female-dominated marriages.

      In addition, it appears that heterosexual relationships in which the female publicly displays dominance may be less enduring.

Power and Personality

      Individual differences in the need for power have been defined in two different ways.

      One approach defines need for power as reflecting concerns about weakness and has found that single women have an especially high need for power.

      Another approach defines need for power as an interest in strong, vigorous action that produces strong effects on others.

Power and Personality (continued):

      On the basis of this definition of need for power, men and women have similar needs but may express them differently.

      In general, men's need for power has more connections with their intimate relationships than women's need for power.

      Among men, those high in need for power are less satisfied and less committed than those low in need for power.

Power and Personality (continued):

      Men high in need for power when they were young were less likely to have wives with full-time careers when they were thirty-something.

      In addition, men high in need for power may inflict more physical abuse on their female partners.

      Men high in need for power are also more likely than men low in need for power to engage in "profligate behaviors" such as drinking and gambling; this association is mot found for women.

Power and Personality (continued):

      It has been suggested that women are more likely than men to express their need for power in socially constructive ways because women are socialized, more than men, to be socially responsible.

Power and Understanding

      It is widely supposed that the weak need to understand the strong:

      That is, the one who has less power needs to understand the motives and desires of the one who has more power in order to please and placate the more powerful member of the relationship.

Power and Understanding (continued):

      If, then, males are more powerful in heterosexual relationships than females, there should be a positive association between female understanding of the male and progress in the relationship.

      This finding has been obtained in a number of studies.

      Most of these studies, however, failed to guard against an alternative explanation:
the power of stereotypes.

Power and Understanding (continued):


      If both a man and a woman describe the man in a stereotyped manner, the woman will appear to understand him.

      This process accounts for why randomly paired partners were found to be happier in their marriages when the woman could predict the man's view of himself.

      It is still not understood, however, why agreement on the male stereotype and not on the female stereotype distinguishes happy couples from unhappy ones.

      More recent research suggests that the gender difference in understanding may be a thing of the past.

Power and Violence

      According to two national surveys conducted in 1975 and 1985, marital abuse has not changed across the decade, and it remains high.

      Surprisingly, a number of studies have indicated that wife-to-husband abuse is often higher than husband-to-wife abuse.

Give some possible explanations.

Power and Violence (continued):

      It does appear that women victims are more likely to suffer serious injury than are men victims.

      Spouse abuse is associated with experiencing stressful events, having a low socioeconomic status, and growing up in a violent home.

      In the cycle of family violence, children who witness parental abuse are more likely as adults to be involved in spouse abuse (as abuser or victim) and to abuse their own children.

Power and Violence (continued):

     Why Do They Not Leave?

      Research on spouse abuse indicates that victims are less likely to leave the relationship when they do not have adequate economic resources and when they have invested more (in terms of time and affection) in the relationship.

      In addition, victims may fear that if they try to leave, they will suffer even greater physical harm.

Power and Violence (continued):

     Violence in Premarital Relationships!

      Although different studies have obtained different estimates, it is clear that physical violence occurs in a large number of premarital relationships, especially between co-habiting couples.

      Sexual coercion, by physical or psychological means, is also widespread.

      More men than women report having used sexual coercion, but both sexes seem more aware of having been coerced by others than of their own coercive actions.

Chapter 9:
Social Power