If You Have to Use Power Plays to Feel Safe, You’re Dating the Wrong Person

Every relationship has a power dynamic.

In healthy relationships, two partners have equal or close-to-equal power. It means that both partners have similar abilities to exert influence over the relationship, and this influence is generally positive and reciprocal.

Though, the power can come from different sources. For example, one partner might have better financial power while the other has more social power. These different power sources are respected and valued by both partners, which creates a healthy balance in the relationship.

On the other hand, some relationships can have an imbalance of power. An example is a relationship between a woman in her early twenties and a middle-aged man.

Assuming that he’s ahead in his career, has more money and social connections, he has more power than her, and thus more influence (or control) over the relationship. He’ll usually be the one who decides where to live, what to do, and who does what.

As a result, the relationship will likely serve him better than it does her. She’ll struggle to challenge the status quo to meet her changing needs. If he abuses his power and acts disrespectfully towards her, it’ll be hard for her to set things right or leave.

Power plays in romantic relationships

Many studies have found that social-economic status is linked to relationship quality.

When a couple shares similar social-economic backgrounds, they report higher relationship satisfaction. It’s not surprising as similarity in social-economic status leads to equal power dynamics.

In the early stage of dating, especially if you use dating apps, power dynamics are not always obvious.

As two people engage in romantic and sexual activities, they establish a unique dynamic that guides their interaction with each other.

This often happens naturally, but in some cases, a partner might use power plays to gain more control over the relationship.

Examples of power plays are stonewalling, ghosting, blaming, shaming, deliberately delaying responses, leaving texts on read, feigning disinterest, withdrawing attention or affection for no reason, and so on.

These tactics position one partner in the chasing or waiting role who depends on the other partner to make decisions on them and the relationship while having their needs unmet.

In my opinion, using power plays in romantic relationships is a sign of insecurity or, worse, a character flaw.

It comes from the fear of rejection and the need for self-preservation.

A person who actively uses power plays is, in fact, not looking for a genuine, loving connection simply because it’s impossible to build real intimacy when all they do is about control.

My personal experience

A few years ago, I had the misfortune of dating a master of power plays.

He knew exactly what to say and what to do to increase his control in our relationship — I somehow became the one waiting, asking, pushing, not knowing what would happen next between us. It was painful and exhausting. I even thought it was my fault.

Needless to say, being with him, I didn’t feel safe.

Since the beginning, I was worried that if I opened myself up, he would use my vulnerability against me. If I showed too much interest, he would pull away. If I expressed my needs, he would make me feel silly.

But I was attached, so I tried to use power plays to protect myself and keep him interested. It didn’t work.

The power plays led to distrust and even hostility between us. I wasn’t as good as him, so I ended up deeply wounded while he moved on cold-heartedly and unscathed.

I should’ve known that if you have to use power plays to keep yourself safe, you’re in the wrong relationship. And what’s more, you’re not ready to date at all.

The takeaway

My relationship with that guy was a mess. I was also a mess.

I didn’t realise that the constant power struggle was a big sign of incompatibility, and there is a healthy approach to dating that doesn’t involve games and tricks to claim power over your partner or an agonising push-and-pull dynamic.

It’s simple — be authentic, treat your partner the way you want to be treated, communicate your needs, draw your boundaries, and act from a place of strength and love.

A genuine, interested partner will reciprocate your expressions of interest, care about your needs, and respect your boundaries while moving towards you. If a partner responds negatively to you or pulls back, don’t doubt yourself. Take it as a cue to lower your investment and place your attention elsewhere.

A power struggle is a sign of incompatibility.

Remember that a good relationship won’t leave you feeling helpless or doubtful. If anyone makes you feel this way, the shame is on them —they’re not right for you.

That said, in order to embrace this approach, you need to be in an emotionally healthy place yourself. If you feel the urge to use power plays when dating, it’s time to look inward and address the underlying issues.

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