6 Signs Your Partner Is Systematically Usurping Your Power

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couple standing near window, him looking at her while she looks out the window, half-smiling

Unequal relationships, where one partner has more power than the other, are often unhealthy. When one partner has a lot more power, the relationship is toxic.

The powerless partner slowly stops asking for — and getting — what they want and need. They start to feel more insecure, their self-esteem drops. They stop being an active creator of their own life.

Sometimes it’s easy to spot these relationships; one partner makes the rules and decisions, and the other is expected to follow and gets in trouble if she doesn’t. From the outside, inequality and toxicity can be obvious.

From the inside, it’s not always so clear. Our feelings of love or attraction or being bonded with our partner can get in the way and muddy the waters. We can’t always put our finger on what the problem is.

We can’t easily identify that we feel powerless. This makes it harder to make the changes needed to take our power back.

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Here are six signs that you feel powerless in an unequal relationship

1. You feel bad about yourself when you spend time with your partner

If you feel worse about yourself when you are around your partner, start looking at why. Does your partner put you down, disregard you, or minimize your accomplishments? Making you feel inferior is an effective way of diminishing your power and maintaining theirs.

2. You begin to question your judgment and feel confused about what is true

If you find yourself unsure about things you’ve always been sure about, or feeling like your judgment and reactions are “wrong,” your partner has been sending direct or indirect messages that you are wrong, and that they are right — the ultimate power play. Taking your self-trust away takes a lot of power from you.

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3. Your friends don’t like your partner

Your friends, if they’re good friends, are a North Star for you. They know you, they love you, and they want what is best for you. Their vision is not muddied. If they don’t like your partner, it is probably meaningful, and it is probably an indication that your partner is diminishing you and your power.

4. You find yourself doing less of what you enjoy

In an unequal relationship, the partner with the power will inevitably deprioritize the things you enjoy, instead prioritizing what they enjoy and think is important. When you don’t feel validated and listened to, it’s easier to go along with what your partner wants to do, leading to a life that feels less fulfilling.

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5. You become anxious or depressed

When we feel powerless, we respond by feeling either threatened or defeated. If you feel threatened, your anxiety will kick in: You may notice a tightness in your chest, an often-upset stomach, and feeling worried and on edge. If you feel defeated, you may cry often and feel like you have no energy or motivation.

6. You can’t see how to end the relationship

If you recognize that the relationship is making you unfulfilled or unhappy but can’t imagine how to actually end it, you may have lost trust that you can effect change. You may be so used to being denied that you don’t know how to end the relationship and make it stick. This is a sure sign of feeling powerless.

When you don’t have power, and you’ve been deprioritized by your partner, it’s very hard to assert yourself in the relationship and be heard. Here’s the thing: your power doesn’t come from being heard. Your power comes from knowing what is best for you and doing what is best for you, regardless of whether you are heard. If you are feeling powerless, you can take your power back.

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Suzanne Manser, PhD is a licensed psychologist and an expert in eating disorders, anxiety, and self-acceptance. She shares more of her writing and insights on her website and on Instagram