Proven strategies to deal with power play in relationships

14 May 2024
Julie Fernandes Written by Julie Fernandes
Julie Fernandes

Julie Fernandes

Julie Fernandes is a content writer specializing in blog posts, and works extensively with both...

Click here to know more
Srinithi Sridhar Reviewed by Srinithi Sridhar
Srinithi Sridhar

Srinithi Sridhar

Srinithi Sridhar is a trauma-informed and queer affirmative therapist. She primarily works with...

Click here to know more
ClosePlease login

Have you ever felt like you’re constantly walking on eggshells around a parent, partner, or friend? No matter what you do, you almost always fall short of their expectations and fail to measure up. If this sounds relatable, chances are that you are being manipulated through power play in your relationships. 

Power play isn’t always about dominance or submission; rather, it’s about how people deal with specific situations. However, sometimes it can take the form of excess dominance in a relationship. A study by the Gottman Institute found that 80% of couples’ arguments are perpetual problems with no resolution, often stemming from unhealthy power dynamics. When that happens, it’s time to step up and take action.

Gaining a better understanding of the common power plays in relationships can help resolve conflicts and help you build emotionally secure relationships. In this feature, we discuss power play in different types of relationships and strategies to deal with them. 

Power play and relationship types

Whether it be the relationship with your parents or a friend, power play can be seen in almost any relationship. Here’s how you can recognize and deal with them. 

1. Parent-child relationships

Proven strategies to deal with power play in relationships

Do you ever feel pressured to prioritize your parents even when you’re facing other urgent deadlines or commitments?  Perhaps they withhold affection or approval until you cave into their demands—or worse—and often resort to threats or intimidation.  These tactics, often unintentional, can have serious consequences in the long term. In an American survey conducted during COVID-19, 55.1% of teenage respondents said they suffered emotional abuse from a parent or another adult in their house in the preceding year, and 11.3% said they suffered physical abuse.

These actions, often unintentional, chip away at a child’s confidence and leave lasting emotional scars. Another manipulative tactic involves showering a child with affection for achievements, and then, becoming distant or critical when performance falters. Studies suggest that conditional love has a negative influence on the development of children.

Signs of power play in parent-child relationships

  • The guilt trip: When a parent uses phrases like “If you don’t visit, I’ll be so sad” play on your emotions to force a specific behavior.
  • Conditional love: Your parents’ affection seems to hinge on your achievements. This creates immense pressure and chips away at your self-esteem.
  • Threats and intimidation: Yelling, threats of punishment, or using fear to control your behavior are not healthy parenting techniques.

Effective strategies 

  • Practice “”I” statements: Instead of using accusatory language and tone, express how their behavior makes you feel. Focusing on the ‘I’ helps to shift the focus on to the problem and not on blaming one another. Try saying, “I feel pressured when you say you’ll be sad if I don’t visit” instead of “You’re always guilt-tripping me.”
  • Set boundaries: As you mature, boundaries become essential. Discuss privacy expectations, decision-making processes (joint for teenagers, more independent for young adults), and acceptable forms of punishment.
  • Seek support: If manipulation is getting out of control or causing you significant anxiety, consult a therapist or counselor. They can provide effective communication tools and strategies to cope with different manipulative situations. 

2. Romantic partnerships

Proven strategies to deal with power play in relationships

Does your partner ever punish you with silence? Perhaps they constantly monitor your social media which might leave you feeling suffocated. Imagine excitedly planning a weekend getaway with friends only to be met with your partner’s disapproval.  

Pair frequent silent treatment with chronic criticism, and the person at the receiving end may start to feel assaulted, rejected, and hurt. A manipulative partner may also use finances to control your life. Research suggests that financial abuse occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. This highlights how such manipulative tactics, intentional or not, lower your confidence and make you dependent on them.

Signs of power play in a romantic relationship

  • The silent treatment: It creates a “lose-lose” situation, which hinders productive conversation and develops resentment between the partners.
  • Financial control: Whether it be your hard-earned money or theirs, they constantly limit your access to money and decide your spending habits. 
  • Jealousy and possessiveness: These behaviors stem from insecurity and a desire to control you. In the long run, it suffocates the relationships.

Effective strategies

  • Empathic confrontation: Choose a calm moment to express how their behavior makes you feel. Focus on specific instances and avoid accusatory language. Use phrases like “I feel insecure when you…” or “I would appreciate it if…” to have a productive conversation.
  • Strengthen your support system: Creating a network of supportive friends and family can provide emotional validation and help you maintain boundaries.
  • Couples therapy: A therapist can teach you and your partner healthy communication practices while providing a safe space to deal with underlying issues. 

3. Friendships

Proven strategies to deal with power play in relationships

Friendships built on trust, equality, and support shouldn’t be a battleground for control. Yet, even close friends can resort to power plays. Research suggests that women may be more likely to experience emotional manipulation in friendships compared to men. These power plays can be just as damaging as romantic or parental manipulation.

Your friend may deliberately leave you out of activities or gatherings to create dependency and punish you. Manipulation can also take the form of someone needing to be your constant priority. The natural desire to feel loved morphs into controlling behavior, which then forces you to bend to their will. Naturally, it may leave you questioning the friendship’s foundation.  

Signs of power play in friendship

  • Social exclusion: When a friend intimidates or threatens to end the friendship, or makes you feel unwelcome in certain social circles to get their way.
  • Gossip and manipulation: Spreading rumors or using information shared in confidence as a tool for control.
  • One-sided dynamics: Think of people constantly needing support but rarely reciprocating.

Effective strategies

  • Assertive communication: Show your friend that their behavior is affecting you. “I feel like I’m always the one making plans. Would you be interested in taking turns initiating activities?”
  • Evaluate the friendship: Is this a genuine two-way street, or are you constantly giving without receiving? Direct your energy only toward those friends who prioritize healthy ways to maintain bonds. 
  • Prioritize self-care: Friendships with unhealthy power imbalances can be emotionally draining. Engage in activities that bring you joy and build a strong support system.

Remember, healthy relationships are meant to uplift and empower you. They provide a safe space for growth, shared experiences, and unwavering support. Don’t settle for connections that chip away at your self-worth or manipulate your behavior. You deserve genuine connections built on mutual respect and open communication.

If you find yourself questioning the true nature of a relationship, seek help from an expert. A mental health professional can teach you how to deal with difficult situations and build healthy boundaries.

Help support mental health

Every mind matters. Every donation makes a difference. Together, we can break down stigmas and create a more compassionate world.

Disclaimer: MyndStories is not a non-profit. We are a private limited company registered as Metta Media Pvt Ltd. We don't fall under Section 80G and hence you don't get a tax exemption for your contribution.