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Harnessing Harmony: Balancing Power and Addressing Relational Aggression in Newlywed Relationships

Do you ever feel like your voice and input for couple-based decisions counts for less than your partner or goes unheard? Maybe you have had a situation where your significant other took control of the decision-making process altogether and you felt powerless, frustrated, or ready to lash out at them? Maybe you’ve been the one to make a unilateral decision without your partner’s input or against their wishes? If so, maybe you also felt hurt by something your partner said to get back at you? If you can relate to any of these situations, know that you are not alone. There are reasons for these situations and solutions that can help you, your partner, and your relationship improve.

Woman and man working on a computer together

First, the reasons: When couples first marry, they tend to develop a power dynamic. Power in this setting refers to one’s ability to give their voice, influence decisions, and develop the relationship in the way they would like. A power dynamic involves how much voice and influence each partner has. When a power dynamic is balanced, both partners give relatively equal amounts of voice for what they feel is important and both partners listen to/accept the influence of the other. As you likely know, couples should aim for a balanced dynamic as a healthy balance gives both partners a feeling of direction, influence, and validation.1,2

Unfortunately, power dynamics in a relationship can easily become skewed. When this occurs, the favor most often falls to the partner with more financial experience and knowledge.3,4 Additionally, it seems to be a natural part of newlywed progression to have a period of time where both partners, even if they both have experience and knowledge with finance, feel that they lose direction, influence, and validation.5,6 These negative feelings can lead either partner or both to become relationally aggressive.

Relational aggression does not itself involve strong physical or verbal abuse, although these actions can also be present.2,7,8 Rather, relational aggression involves intentionally damaging or manipulating another’s relationships and social standing with the purpose of reducing emotional well-being. This type of aggression commonly takes the form of spreading rumors, gossiping, social exclusion, or altering others’ perceptions to harm a partner’s reputation. Although these examples may seem extreme, they can slowly become a common part of a couple’s interactions when left unchecked. Note, presence of relational aggression does not necessarily mean that the relationship is doomed, but it does mean that the partners need to work together to correct their power dynamic and curb their aggressive reactions.

with with head in hand with another man laughing in the background

Second, the solutions: Now that you know a few possible reasons why the balance of power in your relationship may change or be skewed towards one partner’s input, you can better understand how to resolve and prevent imbalances in your relationship. Also, you know possible reasons why you or your partner might act out with relational aggression. This, hopefully, will allow you to address any current or future acts of aggression with more empathy and guidance towards resolution and better decision-making in the future. The question then, is “How?”

Dr. Xiaomin Li and colleagues discovered some of the fundamentals for how power dynamics, relational aggression, and financial habits come together to influence romantic relationships.9 To do this, they analyzed survey responses from both partners from about their first year of marriage to about their fifth year of marriage. Foremost from their analysis, the researchers found that both husbands and wives in a newlywed couple will likely experience a perceived decrease in relational power. This perceived decrease may be due to both spouses paying less attention to the efforts of their partner, viewing their own healthy financial behaviors as a reward for their spouse, and giving less attention to the healthy behaviors of their spouse. This initial decrease, although normal, can contribute to any couple experiencing relationship imbalances and small acts of relational aggression as each partner uses aggression to shift power towards themself.

Fortunately, healthy financial habits seem to counteract this decrease in power; husbands’ and wives’ healthy financial behaviors were associated with a balanced view of power in the relationship. In other words, healthy financial habits seemed to give each partner their own sense of direction, influence, and validation. Notably, this fact holds true even if one person knows more or less than the other about finances, so it is less important that one person be an expert in finances and more important that both partners develop and maintain healthy financial habits.


  1. Take time to notice, appreciate, and express appreciation for your partner’s healthy financial habits. Nobody is perfect at finances, we are all still learning, and we all deserve some appreciation for our efforts. In order to help both you and your partner develop trust and feel appreciated, set aside time to discuss your financial habits. Financial habits in this case might include setting and keeping a budget, paying bills on time, and saving money for large future expenses or emergencies.

As you discuss what you and your partner do individually and together, celebrate any healthy habits, set goals to improve any unhealthy habits, and consider taking time to learn about finances together or individually. Also, it can be very meaningful to look for things that your partner is doing well without them having to tell you directly, such as when they shop for items on sale rather than buy full-priced items, cook a meal at home rather than order out, or remind you both of bills that need to be paid rather than letting them go unremembered. Reputable resources for financial education can be found here and here and here.

  1. Become aware of and address any signs of power imbalance or small acts of relational aggression as a couple. It is, unfortunately, somewhat common for partners to experience power imbalance, feel hurt or frustrated, and act out with relational aggression. These occurrences can be very discouraging and emotionally harmful, but they can be resolved. It takes awareness, loving communication, and thoughtful improvement.

Begin by reflecting on the most recent decisions that affected both you and your spouse. Ask yourself:

- Did both my partner and I know about the decision before it was made?
- Did we both listen to each other’s thoughts and feelings about the decision?
- Did we work together to find a choice that we could both agree on?
- Did both my partner and myself avoid acting out negatively to hurt the other after the decision?

If the answer to all of these questions was yes, there does not seem to be a power imbalance or relational aggression. If the answer to any of these questions was no, there may have been an imbalance and hard feelings, and you should consider addressing it with your partner. If speaking about relational matters is difficult or does not come to a fulfilling resolution, consider meeting with a therapist. Resources for couples counseling can be found here.


1Hallenbeck, P. N. (1966). An analysis of power dynamics in marriage. Journal of Marriage and Family, 28(2), 200– 203.

2Shapiro, M. (2007). Money: A therapeutic tool for couples therapy. Family Process, 46, 279– 291.

3Kelly, H., Chandler, A., LeBaron-Black, A., Li, X., Curran, M., Yorgason, J., & James, S. (2022). Spenders and tightwads among newlywed heterosexual couples: Perceptions of partner financial management behaviors and relational well-being. Journal of Financial Therapy, 13(1), 21– 38.

4Schuler, S. R., & Nazneen, S. (2018). Does intimate partner violence decline as women's empowerment becomes normative? Perspectives of Bangladeshi women. World Development, 101, 284– 292.

5Fishbane, M. D. (2011). Facilitating relational empowerment in couple therapy. Family Process, 50, 337– 352.

6Kim, M., Park, G. S., & Windsor, C. (2013). Marital power process of Korean men married to foreign women: A qualitative study. Nursing & Health Sciences, 15(1), 73– 78.

7Cheung, D. S. T., Tiwari, A., Chan, K. L., Fong, D. Y. T., Chau, P. H., Yuen, F. K. H., & Tolman, R. M. (2020). Validation of the psychological maltreatment of women inventory for Chinese women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35(21), 4614– 4639.

8Oka, M., Brown, C. C., & Miller, R. B. (2016). Attachment and relational aggression: Power as a mediating variable. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 44(1), 24– 35.

9Li, X., Wheeler, B. E., James, S. L., LeBaron-Black, A. B., Holmes, E. K., & Yorgason, J. B. (2023). For richer, for poorer: Financial behaviors, power (im)balance, and relational aggression among different-gender newlyweds in the U.S. Family Process, 00, 1– 16.