Do you feel like your relationship is a never-ending battle? Are you stuck in a push-pull loop, worrying the relationship isn’t the same anymore? You may be struggling with an imbalance in power dynamics

We all want to feel seen, supported and validated in a relationship, right? So what happens when the initial honeymoon period of a relationship tapers off, and it becomes more difficult to rationalise (and empathise with) your partner’s reality? You may find yourself withdrawing or distancing yourself from them. And even avoiding talking through issues as a way of sidestepping tricky conversations.

On the other side of the coin, you may feel rejected, wanting more than your partner is willing to give you. You may find yourself criticising your partner for not doing enough or caring enough. Not feeling heard or nurtured can result in heated arguments or intense frustration. A sense of resentment and a feeling of not being good enough can then unravel, making the relationship feel harder with each passing day.

Psychotherapist and Counselling Directory member, Mila Palma talks about this demand-withdrawal power dynamic in her article, Stopping the negative cycle of protest-withdraw with the help of emotionally focused couple therapy. She talks about the demander, who often feels excluded and longs for change. And the withdrawer, who tends to go numb - doing anything to avoid their partner’s (sometimes angry) demands.

Partners who tend to withdraw in response to the pursuing partner tend to report feelings of hopelessness and lacking the confidence to act; shutting down and numbing out in response to negative emotions arising.

Power imbalances can often cause one person to feel inadequate and the other person to feel smothered. If you’re craving intimacy and your partner doesn’t reciprocate, you might feel anxious about either being abandoned or concerned that things aren’t as good as they were.

You may find yourself slipping into a push-pull relationship, where you can’t help but find fault with your partner and pursue them more. Their only response is to pull further away, hoping the problems will eventually disappear. The distancer-pursuer dynamic is all about the struggle over the level of intimacy and can often be both confusing and exhausting for both of you.

What are some signs of unhealthy power dynamics?

A healthy relationship requires good communication, trust, and compromise. Some red flags to look out for when it comes to unhealthy power dynamics are:

  • loss of boundaries
  • needs aren’t being met
  • lack of vulnerability
  • avoidance
  • inability to speak up for yourself
  • lack of mutual respect
  • ongoing arguments
  • little or no intimacy
  • absence of personal responsibility
  • decisions aren’t being made together
  • intimidated by angry demands
If power dynamics start to worry you, please tell someone you trust as soon as possible. As always, you do not need to wait for an emergency to seek external support.

Power dynamics in age-gap relationships

The sensitive subject of age-gap relationships has hit the headlines recently - there seems to be a trend towards increased understanding when it comes to who people choose to be with. But there is much controversy around what age difference is deemed acceptable. Also, how age gaps can whistle for more conversations when it comes to significant seasonal divides in age and power imbalances.

This wider concern about age-gap relationships and an imbalance in power dynamics comes from the worry that younger, less experienced partners are more vulnerable to pressure, oppression, or even abuse. Happiful writer Bonnie talks about this in her article, What are age-gap relationships (and why are they controversial?):

“While this can be a valid concern, particularly when you hear of large age gap relationships between those aged 18-25 with partners in their late 20s or older, this automatic assumption that all age gap relationships are predatory can also lead to younger partners being less likely to open up about worries or issues that may arise in their relationship.”

I’m not here to give my opinion, but to highlight the mixed bag of relationship experiences and their potential imbalances.

At Happiful, we strive to move past viewing relationships through a singular lens and understand that relationships come in all different forms.

Some studies highlight that those in age-gap relationships live longer, and that women in partnerships with younger men show increased levels of satisfaction due to a more even playing field in terms of financial equality and career progression. There really are pros and cons to any romantic relationship. And as long as you both fully acknowledge and understand what you’re embarking on (with similar life priorities), the partnership can be a success.

Counselling and relationships

Counselling can be a way to help balance out power dynamics and make way for the partnership to grow. Changing a power dynamic will involve both individual partners carving out time to be vulnerable and respectful.

Counselling Directory member and relationship counsellor Jennifer Warwick (Postgrad Dip Counselling) explains more about counselling for relationship problems.

A counsellor can provide a safe and professional space for you both to discover your needs and work together to strengthen the relationship. Having the time to open up can help you and your partner get back on course with a renewed sense of commitment and trust.