11. Power Benefit Romance - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
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11. Power Benefit Romance

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > Roles Rigidity Repair in Relationships

Roles, Rigidity, Repair, and Renovation in Relationships and Therapy
by Ronald Mah

Intricately related to authority and equity issues is power in the relationship, couple, or family.  Money and power are also often synonymous for many individuals or couples.  "Schwartz and colleagues (1995) argue that wives who are less financially stable are the least likely to achieve marital equality and shared power.  Research findings also show that the more time wives spend in the labor force in relation to their husbands, the more they view their marriage as equitable (Kollock, Blumstein, & Schwartz, 1994)" (Zimmerman, 2000, page 339).  Denial of equity and money considerations in the relationship adheres to a more romance-based foundation to pairing up.  In contrast, equity theorists may be reluctant to believe wholeheartedly in unconditional acceptance, and believe that marriage in particular is founded on marketplace principles that assess relative contributions to and benefits from the relationship.  As with many relationship principles, a more balanced non-mutually exclusive perspective can incorporate idealistic values with equity principles.  Need for equity in relationships and need for unconditional acceptance in a relationship need can be compatible since "…acceptance of one's 'real' self is extremely rewarding.  Unconditional acceptance from a marital partner might be conceptualized as the maximum level of reinforcement possible in an intimate relationship.  Further, our culture promotes the idea that 'true' love will, indeed, satisfy our basic, human desire to belong and to experience total acceptance (Walster & Walster, 1978).  Thus, it seems probable that individuals growing up in this culture will strongly desire, and expect, that their future spouse will understand who they 'really' are and accept and appreciate them on the basis of this understanding; that is, that their spouse will validate them.  And because feeling validated is both maximally reinforcing and expected in a marital relationship, individuals who experience their marital partners as validating should also feel that they are 'getting what they deserve' in the relationship; they should describe themselves as equitably treated and very satisfied" (Matthews and Clark, 1982, page 171-72).

Partners who felt validated in the couple tend to see themselves as equitably treated.  Being validated by ones partner had strong influence on marital satisfaction whether one receives lesser, equitable, or greater than equitable benefits in the relationship.  Equitably treated or over benefited individuals were highly satisfied and confident of still being happily married in ten years.  Even validated partners who received lesser than equitable benefits, although slightly less satisfied still anticipated relationship durability.  Relationship equity/inequity for validated partners did not have great influence on either how satisfied or stable they experienced the relationship.  On the other hand, partners who do not feel validated in the couple find equity issues strongly influencing relationship satisfaction and their expectations of relationship stability.  Both non-validated partners who over and under benefited were seriously dissatisfied with their relationships.  Under benefited and non-validated partners felt high uncertainty that in ten years they would still be married.  Although equitably treated but non-validated partners were more satisfied with their relationships and more confident about relationship duration than inequitably treated partners, their satisfaction and certainty was significantly lower than equitably treated individuals in validating relationships (Matthews and Clark, 1982, page 183).  Validation may be an emotional and psychological form of reward that supplements and/or compensates for other more concretely tangible reinforcements.  Financial resources or material acquisitions may be insufficient "scorecards" of partner equity and equality, while "romantic" inputs are highly beneficial.  Having the most and biggest most toys or the ability to acquire them may not be the most important factors to relationship satisfaction.  Appreciation, nurturing, and caring may offer the validation Matthews and Clark discuss, well compensating for "stuff" that is symbolic of valuing.  It is logical that individuals who validate their partners would also seek to have reciprocal and balanced interactions throughout the relationship.  Validation includes attending to the needs and desires of one's partner, hence the greater likelihood of equitable treatment.  The therapist will often find unequal or inequitable power as expressed in authority, status, access, dominion, and resources within any relationship.  What that means symbolically to each partner may be more important than any objective calculation.  

Each year, Carina and Kim went on one big vacation.  They tended to take turns picking out the destination.  Last year, they went to the Superbowl because Kim was a big football fan.  Because of high demand, the tickets for the game and related events, plane tickets, and housing for the week turned out to be more expensive than they had planned.  This year, they were going to visit Ireland where Carina's great great something or the other grandparents had come from during the Irish Potato Famine.  She had always dreamed of visiting the homeland.  She had talked about it for years with Kim.  Finally, Kim had said enough with talking and dreaming, they had to do it.  It was going to be very special.  As special as it was, it turned out with great vacation packages to be a lot less expensive than the Superbowl trip last year.  Kim was worried that Carina would feel cheated because Kim's dream trip- the Superbowl cost more than Carina's dream trip to Ireland.  Quite the contrary, Carina felt highly validated that Kim was so invested in her achieving her dream vacation.  She could tell that Kim was so excited and pleased for her- sometimes, even more than she was.  Financial equity was irrelevant, although they were spending less money on her trip and this year with her bonus, she made more money than Kim did this year.  It was equal… equitable… whatever… it was great!

The power dynamic between Carina and Kim was supposed to be egalitarian.  In practice as with their dream vacations, some things were more important to one or the other.  Power and control in certain areas were critical to Carina but unimportant to Kim.  In other areas, Kim wanted more power and control.  As long as their respective areas of concern for power and control did not coincide- that is, come into conflict, there were no real problems.  When there were mutual areas of importance, then they needed to reconcile divergent power needs.  Since they both had very strong desire to be validating, respectful, appreciative, and caring to each other, they did not have major conflicts resolving power and control.  Although, they both liked to have power and control, they also worked from a collaborative model that modulated any potential problems.  A somewhat negative perspective holds that human individuals are biologically preset to be selfish about gaining benefit whenever possible.  However, because of this people have also had to learn how to compromise with one another in order to survive.  Societies then developed processes and behaviors to disperse resources based on equity principles that required maximizing collective rewards.  Communities would reward individuals that treated others fairly and equitably while punishing those who treated other unfairly.  Thus socialized, a member of the community would tend to seek out and find beneficial relationships where what he or she receives in the relationship is fairly linked to what he or she contributes to it.  In such societies, inequity in relationships would be distressing to so socialized members if they feel they benefit more than they deserve considering their contributions to the relationship.  Of course, the most distressed members would be those who feel that they do not get their just due in rewards considering how much they contribute to the relationship (Matthews and Clark, 1982, page 169-70).  Zimmerman (2000, page 338) noted that the four primary components of marital equality that address issues of gender and power in intimate relationships are

(1) division of household labor and child care,

(2) balance of power,

(3) value placed on responsibilities, and

(4) individual well-being.

Carina and Kim were attuned to the possibility of each getting a just and comparable reward for their mutual contributions to the relationship.  Kim had some family-of-origin values about money that caused her to worry that Carina would experience the difference in costs for the vacations as inequitable.  Kim feared that Carina would find the expensive Superbowl vacation as Kim over-benefiting and herself under-rewarded with the economical Ireland trip.  Kim brought up this concern because of concern for Carina's well-being.  The partner who gains disproportionate benefit in a relationship may feel guilty, anxious, or fearful of retaliation.  The partner failing to get a fair shake might experience anger or resentment. Both types of partners may try to "eliminate their subjective distress by either restoring actual equity to the relationship (altering participant's relative contributions and benefits) or by restoring psychological equity (changing their perception of the situation)" (Matthews and Clark, 1982, page 170).  If these and other attempts to deal with the inequity were to fail, the relationship may feel too unfair and distressing.  The inequitably treated partner may feel the need to terminate the relationship.  Inequitable relationships lack the stability of more equitable ones.  Both partners: Carina and Kim valued a collective sharing and benefit.  They quickly resolved financial inequity concerns on dollars spent on dream vacations once the therapist focused them on how each partner had attained emotional/spiritual fulfillment in an equitable fashion.  

Shared values and expectations are critical to what and how individuals are drawn together in the first place.  When partners are in sync, then the conversation, negotiation, and resolution of problems or concerns are more likely to be positive.  For example, with the one career and one homemaker families, "regardless of which gender is primarily at home with the children, couples report high levels of satisfaction with their marriages.  Several factors seem to contribute to this finding.  The couples have shared values about how to raise their children, they are content and able to live on one income, they value and respect the work and contributions of their spouse, they are mostly satisfied with the division of household labor and child care, and they have good communication skills.  Additionally, the balance of power in these couples is perceived to be largely equitable" (Zimmerman, 2000, page 347).

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
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