Women Are More Impacted by Power Differences in Relationships Than Men

Apr 12, 2017 at 6:15 p.m. ET
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Who calls the shots in your relationship these days? It's something you probably don't spend a ton of time pondering if you have a healthy relationship, especially as traditional (read: outdated) gender roles quickly become irrelevant. But according to a new study published in The Journal of Sex Research, relationship dynamics may not be as par for the course as you might think, and feeling subordinate to your partner’s decisions in a relationship can have a major negative impact on its stability — especially if you’re a woman.

The study analyzed the dating lives of 114 adults between the ages of 18 and 25 in heterosexual relationships. Researchers sought to find out how each partner perceived and internalized their relationship experiences through timelines of their sexual and relationship experiences. This involved rating different aspects of relationships and recording feelings through anecdotes, audio clips, video and even emojis.

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According to study author Laina Bay-Cheng, associate professor of social work at the University of Buffalo, if you ask a couple who's "alpha" or "in charge" in a relationship, it’s likely that both people will identify the same partner. The same goes for being the beta — or less dominant partner — in the relationship: Couples are likely to agree on which partner makes most decisions in the relationship.

That's all well and good, unless it results in one of the partners — the submissive one — feeling less stable and secure as a result of having less control in the relationship. And as it turns out, that's what happens to women in these circumstances. Female participants who self-reported being the beta partner perceived their relationship to be less stable, whereas women who reported being alpha didn't have those feelings.

What it means that beta men don't feel their relationships are unstable, but beta women do isn't speculated upon by the researchers, but you have to wonder: Does it have to do with the fact that women are so used to being subordinated and sidelined, treated as the less important, disempowered gender for hundreds of years?

Perhaps we're a tad more sensitive to being treated like we don't deserve to call the shots than men are — and rightly so. This could be a (fully warranted) age-old wound and anxiety that has beta women thinking about their partners, "Why should I answer to you?" Hey, it's a fair question.

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