In an ideal world we would love and be loved in equal measure. Unfortunately, we often love someone who doesn’t love us as much and in the same way in return. It can be heartbreaking experience. They may reject us, or it may develop into an unequal relationship where one person holds the power.
Kristin Neff and Marie-Anne Suizzo, two psychologists at the University of Texas, investigated this issue in a 2006 study in which they asked people to rate who has the most say in their relationship – them or their partner.
In their experiment the respondent is asked to think about their relationship, and who was in the most dominant position. Neff and Suizzo found that those who perceived themselves to be in subordinate relationships were more likely to admit that they acted in a false way with their partner and felt less able to be themselves with their partner. Inauthenticity does not bode well for the future of a relationship. Loving without its return can be soul destroying in the end.
So is it any better to be the person who holds the power? One has to ask why someone would put themselves in a relationship in which they don’t love the other person. It might be that this reflects their childhood in some way and the need they developed to be in a powerful position. Children who struggled for affection may find themselves in this position as adults.
Either way, if the power imbalance is too great, one has to wonder if the relationship is worth continuing. Both people may be getting something out of it in terms of satisfying some distorted psychological need, but at the same time are missing the opportunities to develop a real authentic loving relationship.
Neff, K. D., & Suizzo, M. A. (2006). Culture, power, authenticity and psychological well-being within romantic relationships: A comparison of European American and Mexican Americans. Cognitive Development, 21(4), 441-457.