The Dynamics of Power: Money and Sex in Intimate Relationships
Pepper Schwartz Davis Patterson Sara Steen
University of Washington
Decisions about money and sex are among the most contentious that couples make. In this article, we discuss how power and gender affect decision-making and communication on these issues in romantic relationships. The two factors that influence the distribution of power most strongly are social norms about how power should be distributed and the personal options and attributes of each individual. Both norms and resources are strongly influenced, in turn, by a traditional system of gender privileges and placement, historically granting most economic and relationship power to men. These norms, however, penetrate some relationships more than others. Decision-making patterns depend, to some extent, on a couple's social class and the distribution of resources within the couple's relationship (the amount of resources each partner has relative to the other).
Defining power, and who has it, is of course a difficult task. We adopt the classic Weberian definition of power: the ability to carry out one's will, even against the will of others. Implied in this definition is also veto power, the power to prevent another from carrying out his or her will. This is a common conceptualization of power in the study of families and romantic relationships ( McDonald, 1980) because it can be operationalized as decision-making power and is consistent with normative resource and exchange theories of power.