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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
SHARP, R. M., Stitzinger, M. J. (2003). Power and Satisfaction in Intimate Relationships. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 6. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved October 6, 2022 .

Power and Satisfaction in Intimate Relationships

Sponsored by: ELIZABETH HAMMER (eyhammer@loyno.edu)
The present study expands upon research done on power and satisfaction in romantic relationships. The hypothesis was that those with less power would also be less satisfied. Using data from fifty-four college students, the reported level of power and satisfaction in their relationships was examined. Power was measured using questions from the Sprecher and Felmlee (1997) study. To measure satisfaction, the Hendrick Relationship Assessment Scale (1988) was used. An effect was found that higher power in a relationship was correlated with lower satisfaction. It was also found that longer relationships were correlated with less satisfaction. The findings did not support the research hypothesis but are still useful in the future study of relationships.

The study of romantic relationships has fascinated many social psychologists over the past few decades. One subset of this topic is the study of power in these relationships. The present study hopes to discover who has more power in most couples and how this relates to the partners’ satisfaction in that relationship. Power issues are very important in romantic dating situations, especially when imbalances in power exist. It is useful to study these imbalances to have a greater understanding of what makes a more satisfying relationship for both partners. Several previous research endeavors have found out a great deal about power in relationships. One research team interviewed Mexican couples to discover how people define power in intimate relationships (Harvey, Beckman, Browner, & Sherman, 2002). Power was described as control over one’s partner and having decision-making ability. Both males and females agreed on this definition. Most described their relationships as egalitarian, claiming that in a true loving relationship, power should not exist. Men and women had different views on what made themselves feel powerful, and decision-making duties were often delegated in accordance with typical gender role divisions in labor. This study did not, however, focus on the relationship of satisfaction to this perceived relationship power. In the research of Michaels, Edwards, and Acock (1984), it was hypothesized that the more equal a relationship was perceived to be, the more satisfied the partners were with that relationship. While this was found to be true, it was also found that in inequitable relationships, the advantaged partner (the one with more power) had more satisfaction than the disadvantaged partner (the one with less power). Zak, Collins, Harper, and Masher (1998), on the other hand, found that the partner with more perceived control was actually less satisfied with their relationship. Again, they found that the most satisfied couples were the most equal couples. Sprecher and Felmlee (1997) focused on the relation of gender to power in relationships. They defined power as the ability to influence one’s partners’ attitudes or behavior. Men were more likely than women to be perceived as having greater decision-making power. There was, however, a sizable minority of female-dominated relationships. Power had been previously found to be related to emotional involvement in the relationship. The partner who is less interested in the relationship is thought to also be the partner with the most power. Sprecher and Felmlee found that men were more likely to be the less emotionally involved partner. They found, however, no relationship between perceived power and relationship satisfaction. Mixed findings have been discovered on satisfaction related to power in relationships. Therefore, it is an important topic to study in order to gain more knowledge on the connection between these two variables. Hopefully, the present study will help bring light to the subject. Based on the previous research and on our own ideas, we hypothesized that the partner with the least amount of power in the romantic relationship will be the least satisfied in that relationship. The people who report the highest equality in power will be more satisfied with their relationship than those who are in unequal power relationships.

Participants The participants will be undergraduate college students, both male and female, from Loyola University New Orleans. To our knowledge, they will represent all racial and ethnic groups. All participants will be over the age of eighteen years old. The psychology department human participants pool will be used to recruit volunteers who will be receiving course credit for their participation. A sign-up sheet will also be posted so that interested students may volunteer.

Materials The survey administered begins with a few demographic questions including gender, age, year in school, and major. The next three questions were designed in order to know the participant’s current relationship status. It was determined whether the person was currently in a committed romantic relationship and for approximately how long this relationship has been going on. If the subject is not currently in a relationship, it is determined whether they have been in one previously. This information will be used to determine which data to analyze. It will allow us to separate participants into three groups: 1) answered survey about current relationship 2) answered survey about past relationship and 3) answered survey hypothetically. To measure relationship satisfaction, we used the Hendrick Relationship Assessment Scale (1988). This is a seven-question test which uses a four-point scale to measure satisfaction. A sample question is “How good is your relationship compared to most?” The answer scale ranges from poor (1) to excellent (4). To measure relationship power, two questions regarding power and decision-making were taken from the Sprecher and Felmlee study. Also taken from this study were two questions to measure emotional involvement and commitment to the relationship.

Design and Procedure Participants will come to designated classrooms where the survey will be administered in groups. First, they will read and sign the informed consent forms which tell them that they will be responding to questions regarding their romantic relationships. They will be reminded that their answers will be anonymous and kept completely confidential. They will then be administered the survey, which they have as much time as needed to complete, although it should take no longer than twenty minutes. The instructions will be read to them and any questions raised will be answered. The participants are asked to answer the questions in reference to their current romantic relationship if they are involved in one. If they are not currently in a committed relationship but have been in the past, they should answer in reference to that relationship. If they have never been involved in a romantic relationship, they will be asked to answer the survey hypothetically. Once the survey has been completed, it will be collected in a manila folder and any questions of the participant will be answered.

The mean satisfaction score, on a scale of one to four, was 3.09 with a standard deviation of .7273. The mean power score, on a scale of one to seven, was 3.65 with a standard deviation of .9053. The mean emotional involvement score was 3.77 with a standard deviation of 1.27. Pearson Correlation tests were performed in order to test the relationships between all of the variables. The main hypothesis that less power was related to less satisfaction was not supported, r=.331, p<.05. The direction was contrary to what was expected. It was found that more power was related to less satisfaction. Pearson Correlation tests were then performed separately on the male and female data. For each gender separately, power and satisfaction no longer had significant correlations, likely due to reduced sample size. To investigate the possibility of a curvilinear effect, the participants were divided into three groups: high, equal, and low power. High power was defined as having a power score of less than 3.5. Equal power was a score between 3.5 and 4.5. Low power was a score greater than 4.5. A one-way ANOVA was performed with the three power groups and the satisfaction scores. It approached significance with F=2.835, p=.068. The high power group had a mean satisfaction score of 2.72 with a standard deviation of .97. The equal power group had a mean score of 3.23 with a standard deviation of .57. The low power group had a mean score of 3.24 with a standard deviation of .58. Another finding was that longer relationships were related to less satisfaction, r=-.513, p<.05. When analyzed separately by gender, it was found that for males, the correlation between relationship length and satisfaction was significant, r=-.842, p<.05, while for females, it approached significance with r=-.498, p=.070. The participants’ data was again divided into three groups, those who answered the survey in relation to current, past, or hypothetical relationships because this could have an effect on their perceptions of power and satisfaction. The current data is the most useful set to analyze. While the correlation between power and satisfaction was not significant in the current relationship data, it was at least in the right direction for the hypothesis at r=-.201, p=.395. It was in the past and hypothetical relationship groups that the correlation was in the direction contrary to the hypothesis. For the past group, it was r=.231, p=.257, and for the hypothetical group, it was r=.729, p<.05. When the current and past relationship groups are joined and the hypothetical relationship data is thrown out, there is no longer a significant correlation between power and satisfaction, r=.236, p=.114.

The purpose of this study was to examine the correlation, if there is one at all, between power and satisfaction in romantic relationships. In our sample, the findings were contrary to the hypothesis as we found that people who reported a higher sense of power had less satisfaction with their relationship. It is important to note, however, that when analyzing the data of those in current relationships by itself, the people with less power had less satisfaction, although this was not a statistically significant finding. It was the past and hypothetical relationship groups that tipped the overall finding to be contrary to the hypothesis. It is also important to note that when the hypothetical relationship data is not analyzed at all, a significant correlation between power and satisfaction no longer exists. The data would have greater validity with a sample of just people who are in current relationships. One major limitation in our study is the small sample size. With fifty-four participants, it is difficult to draw significant conclusions. With a larger sample of specifically people who are in current relationships, perhaps the findings would have been different. Also, our sample was approximately 75% female and 25% male. With a more balanced sample, our analysis of gender in relation to the variables could have been more useful. Another limitation is that our sample included only college students, so the results would not be able to be generalized to the greater population. One interesting and significant finding, which was unexpected, was that the longer a person was in a romantic relationship, the less satisfied they were in that relationship. This was especially the case for the males. While this phenomenon seems disturbing, the best explanation for it seems to be that people think more realistically about their relationship when they have been in it longer, whereas in the beginning of a new relationship, maybe people tend to think more optimistically. One could find out more about this phenomenon through future research. Although the hypothesis was not supported, it was not too surprising considering that mixed findings were discussed in the literature review. Our findings are consistent with the Zak et. al study, who also found that more power was related to less satisfaction. They are not consistent, however, with the Michaels et. al study, who found that less power was related to less satisfaction. It is hard to draw too many reliable conclusions from the current study, so practical implications need to be based off of future research, with more consistent conclusions. The correlation between power and satisfaction still needs this future research. It would be useful to study different types of power, such as decision-making or physical power, and relate this to satisfaction. It would also be useful to test couples, in order to see how each partner feels about the relationship.

Harvey, S.M., Beckman, L.J., Browner, C.H., & Sherman, C.A. (2002). Relationship power, decision making, and sexual relations: An exploratory study with couples of Mexican origin. Journal of Sex Research, 39, 284-291.Michaels, J.W., Edwards, J.N., & Acock, A.C. (1984). Satisfaction in intimate relationships as a function of inequality, inequity, and outcomes. Social Psychology Quarterly, 47, 347-357.Sprecher, S. & Felmlee, D. (1997). The balance of power in romantic heterosexual couples over time from “his” and “her” perspectives. Sex Roles, 37, 361-379.Zak, A., Collins, C., Harper, L., & Masher, M. (1998). Self-reported control over decision-making and its relationship to intimate relationships. Psychological Reports, 82, 560-562.

Submitted 12/6/2003 11:46:44 AM
Last Edited 12/6/2003 11:55:39 AM
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