How to Maintain Power & Control in Relationships

There are many ways to keep power and attraction in a relationship.
And on this website, we already discussed many of them:

BUT those articles are about nasty power moves, manipulation, and win-lose relationships.

This article here instead teaches you the basics of power in a relationship, as well as the healthy ways of maintaining attraction and power in the relationship.

date with flowers

#1. Chemistry: Settle Down With Those Who Like You

So simple, so obvious… Yet so overlooked.

What all dating advice for men and all dating advice for women seem to do is teaching people how to get those who are on the fence about them.

That might make sense for hooking up.
Or for improving your seduction skills.
But for relationships, it just doesn’t work nearly as well. If the person you settle down with feels “meh” towards you, you’ll always be fighting an uphill battle in your relationship.

On the other hand, when you enter a relationship with someone who naturally likes you, the relationship is naturally stronger, more affectionate, more sexual, more loyal, more supportive, and… Just plain better.

This is so obvious that it doesn’t need an explanation. But it does need reiteration, because most people only focus on getting who they want, and not so much on who also wants them.
When looking for a relationship, this is the sweet spot:

how to maintain attraction
  • You like them, both physically and personally
  • They like you, both physically and personally
  • They’re around the upper end of SMV you can realistically get 

If you must pick two and are undecided between mutual liking and someone who’s a bit more attractive but also colder towards you, you’re probably better off prioritizing the first two. 
Even purely from a genetic inheritance point of view in case you want children, children growing up in a warm and healthy household with loving parents who love each other will most likely “outperform” children from a more attractive mate, but growing up in a less warm and supportive environment.

#2. Be High Quality & High SMV

Your overall value confers power in three different ways:

2.1. Options for Sex, Dating, & Life Satisfaction

Dating and relationships present a certain element of negotiation.

Fisher and Ury in Getting to Yes refer to options as “BATNA” or “best alternatives to a negotiated agreement”. It means that the more alternatives you have, the more power you have.

Sure, relationships are not exactly like negotiations.
Relationships also entail feelings, a history together, possibly children and, as well, love.
But alternatives do also matter.

The individual with more alternatives only settles for good relationships, and he is not afraid of:

  • Enforcing rules of proper conduct
  • Calling out all power moves and uncooperative behavior
  • Enforcing personal boundaries of mutual respect
  • Addressing and extirpating any hint of abuse as soon as it appears

There can be a darker consequence to options.
For some people, and more for men than for women, having lots of options might mean that they care less about their partners and contribute less to the relationship.
You can help counter that with some conscious effort and exercises -see the ebook on relationships-.
But the best cure here is quite simple: develop a great relationship that it’s a pleasure being in. Then you will realize that casual sex is fun, but that a great relationship is a whole different ball game.

What Confers Options 

Options go beyond the sexual and relationship aspect.
You have options when you can lead a happy and fulfilled life, no matter which specific person is in that life.

On top of dating opportunities, options include:

  1. Life mission bigger than the relationship
  2. Enjoying alone time -or at least not being afraid of being alone-
  3. Passions and hobbies you’re happy to dedicate more time to
  4. Large social network you enjoy hanging out with
  5. A few good friends you love

And some also add:

Having options means having lots of options to have a good and fulfilling life.

2.2. (Ir)replaceability

What makes you irreplaceable?

The qualities we listed in the sexual market value are crucial, of course.
But when it comes to relationships, there is more, including:

  • Supportiveness
  • Companionship
  • Interest in our partner’s life 
  • Listening skills
  • Uplifting mood / the ability to make others feel good
  • Shared mission
  • Shared interests
  • Empathy

Yes, basically, all the traits that make you both a high-value person, and a pleasure to be with.
And that’s why boyfriend and girlfriend candidates are superior to lover candidates: the ideal boyfriend candidate is the whole package.

#3. Keep Working On Your SMV

Your SMV is not fixed in stone, but it shifts over time.

How it shifts is, in good part, up to you.
Imagine two partners enter the relationship with around the same sexual market value, but then each develops differently:

SMV chart over the course of a relationship

Who do you think is more likely to have power in the relationship?
Who is more likely to engage in mate-guarding behavior? And who is more likely to grow disillusioned of the relationship, and seek an out?

You know the answer.

To you, it means this: the best way to maintain leverage, power and attraction in a relationship, is to keep improving yourself.

If you seek self-development with an eye not just on yourself, but on the relationship, that self-development is also the best thing you can do for the team.

Exceptions: Jealous & Fearful Partners 

These types of partners will perceive your self-development either as emotional disconnect, or as a threat:

  1. Partners who do not ever work on improving themselves or their lives’ condition
  2. Partners with low self-esteem (they feel like you’re too good for them)
  3. Partners who see relationships as competition (you are “winning” if you improve too much)
  4. Anxious partners who don’t feel safe, secure and loved (they will fear abandonment)

In case of competitive partners, you either need to teach and school them -see Power Power-, or if they are a lost cause, you need a better partner.

Consider that if you are really making strides in your life, a bit of fear is almost natural and normal.
You can help assuage your partner’s fears by building them up, reminding them why you are happy with them, and why you chose them.

Men Have a Natural Advantage

When it comes to growth over time, men have a natural advantage.

The first obvious reason is that men retain more sexual market value over time than women do (see SMP dynamics for more).

But it’s not the only reason. 
Men, on average, also take less time off for childcare and household management. Usually, men use that time in ways that lead to both personal growth and SMV growth. 

Compare the two:

  • Woman: “I grew two children and learned a lot about child psychology. I missed a lot in life by staying at home most of the time, but I feel happy and fulfilled” 
  • Man: “thanks to my hard work I moved into the board of directors. I grew more confident as I took over more responsibilities, and gained more real-world experience as I traveled across the country and worked with all kinds of people. As a bonus for leading my department’s turnaround, I even make much more money. I feel accomplished, strong and powerful.”

The woman’s child-rearing might be a bigger contribution to society than the man’s job.
But the man’s job awards far more SMV points.

Advice for Women:

To retain power and attraction over time, do the following:

  1. Seek activities that increase your value and SMV
  2. Seek activities that limit the loss of your value and SMV
  3. Above all, limit your dependence from him

Staying at home is OK.
But it can become a problem if you become wholly dependent on him.
Until the children are young, he needs you, so you will likely not see any problems bubbling up.
But the issue might start when the children are independent and you’re still at home. Some men are cool with that because they have more of a team-mindset. 
But more exchange-minded men will perceive the relationship as unbalanced. And their attraction, love, and respect, will tank. 

That’s why, depending on the man, I do agree with the female dating advice that it’s best for women to keep their financial independence.

But, with most men, women don’t have that much to worry about, because:

Most Men Throw Their Advantage Away & Disappoint Their Women

Most men throw their natural time advantage away, and it’s more often women who grow discontent over time, not men.

Research shows that more men feel like their relationships are “good”, while more women than men are actually disappointed by those same relationships. As sociologist Dr. Schwartz points out, women have higher expectations than men, and that can lead to discontent and disillusionment.

The proof is that women initiate more divorces, and college-educated women, which we might expect to be more driven and demanding, initiate divorces at an even higher percentage than men do.
Women also report being less happy than men during the relationship (Rosenfeld, 2017), and happier after the divorce (Craft, Erik D, 2002).

To me, this all points to the same conclusions:

  1. Women have higher expectations
  2. Men are not living up to those high expectations 

The main reason, in my opinion, is that men place the bar lower for the relationship, the emotional connection, and for themselves. They grow complacent, fail to keep improving, and they’re OK with sitting on their assess.
The second reason is that women are more practical than men. And they are more likely to ask themselves:

If there is no love left, if this guy isn’t doing anything with this life, if we’re living a dull life… What’s the point of even being together?

But of course, if you’re a man reading here, you’re not “most men” :).

#4. Make It So Good They Just Can’t Leave

Some dating advice promotes relationship control techniques aimed at keeping one’s partner insecure.

That advice can work.
BUT… It can lead to toxic relationships, it doesn’t work nearly as well with high-quality partners, and it always makes for poorer relationships.

The opposite and positive approach to relationship power and retaining attraction is this:

Make the relationship so good, that they can’t be without it

Just put yourself in your partner’s shoes: who are you going to want to be around the most, or miss the most if things don’t work out?
That awesome guy/gal who supports you in your goals, listens to you, and makes you smile, or that entitled try-hard guy/gal who is never there when you need them because they are playing power games and want you to chase them?

Stupid question, right?

I can tell you that the first time I needed help and support from my ex-girlfriend and I realized she wasn’t there… That’s also when I realized I wasn’t going to be in that relationship for much longer.
On the other hand, the partners I miss the most are the ones who loved me the most.

Exceptions to A Giver’s Attitude

There are 3 exceptions:

  1. The phase of the relationship: don’t give all your support too soon
  2. The type of partner: don’t give your all to narcissists and entitled partners
  3. The SMV of the partner: don’t give your all to a higher SMV partners who don’t appreciate you

Avoid Too Much, Too Soon

Please remember we are talking about relationships here.
Supporting too soon and too much while dating can reek of desperation. So don’t go out of your way until you’re together and until your partner has shown they can operate within a cooperative frame.

Entitled and Narcissists

Entitled and narcissistic partners feel like they are owed love for being so great.

Avoid these people for relationships.

And when non-pathological men and women start taking you for granted, strategically withdrawing your love and support can help remind them what they’d be missing if they keep acting selfishly.

Higher SMV Partner

The best relationships see the partners:

  1. Roughly matched in SMV, OR
  2. The higher SMV partner wants his/her partner irrespective of SMV

The Ashton Kutcher-Demi Moore relationship is a typical example of the latter.

However, if you are unmatched in SMV, you can’t be sure you’re in the latter category until your partner has had the chance of leaving you first.

For example, you might be in a situation where you help a higher SMV partner when they’re down on their luck and they’re desperate for help.
Once they’re back on their feet, if they don’t truly appreciate you, they will likely move on.

Here is a meme for you to understand this concept:

example of 48 laws of power

So if you want to be Machiavellian about it, provide love and support as long as that love and support does not lead them to a place where they above you, and won’t you need anymore.

Whenever you’re not sure, always revert to the general rules:

  1. Seek collaborative relationships & win-win
    1. Cut out non-collaborators & win-lose players
  2. Mix power with warmth
  3. In LTRs: give without keeping track, and expect your partner to do the same

#5. Be A Leader, Mother Figure, or Father Figure

Last but not least:

Long-lasting power within a healthy relationship is rooted in good leadership.
If you’re the man, there is nothing healthier, more loving and more powerful than being a good leader of that relationship.

If you’re a bit older, or wiser, or more life-experienced, then a leader and father-figure role is also a valid option.
Father figures are calmer, they talk less, listen more, they dispense good advice and, in case of more anxious women, also help to center them emotionally.
If they’re more on the playful side, a father figure can also mix in some of the “babying power moves” (see Power University).

How Leadership Gets You Girls

Women & (Supportive) Leadership

For women, the leader role is admittedly a bit trickier.

We have already mentioned that there can be good relationships with the woman in charge, and these relationships also tend to last longer.
But what to do if she does not want to take over that leadership role?

Well, then there are three options:

  1. The “mother figure”
  2. The “full support” girlfriend
  3. The “tell him how to lead”

The Mother Figure

The mother figure provides the man with the unconditional love that a mother would provide a child with. 
This is a technique Robert Greene talks about in his The Art of Seduction, but it’s not necessarily a game. Some women naturally have that attitude towards men. Bree Holson talking about Charlie Sheene is a perfect example:

“Little boy Charlie that I want to protect from the world”. That’s the mother’s figure style

The Full-Support Girlfriend

The second works especially well with driven men.
The supportive woman provides the driven man with a safe platform from which to take over the world.
For driven office workers, the supportive woman provides him with a safe environment to unwind back home in the evening.
This is why so many powerful men have long-term wives who do not share the limelights: they need those women.
In the most wildly driven men, the woman also serves as a health life-preserver. Tim Grover, trainer of some of the best athletes in the world, says that women provide men with a respite from the dark side that drives them.

The “Tell Him How to Lead” GF

The third option is how some women naturally behave with less dominant men.

In a study, low-dominance men were paired up with high-dominance women and were told to execute tasks as a team. But they couldn’t work together: one could only execute the tasks, and the other should lead.
From the outside, it looked like men took the leadership position most of the time. So the researchers thought that low-dominance men were forcing themselves to be more dominant and leader-like.
But when researchers analyzed the conversation, it turned out that 91% of the time it was the women who told the man to get into the leadership position.

You can do something similar, either through direct command, or with indirect influence.
With this option, the facade is that the man is leading, but he is just executing her tasks.
This can be a good middle ground between being the leader, and letting him lead.

 Poor Ways of Keeping Power

Now let’s review some poor, but common relationship advice.

Albeit the advice below might work, it tends to be value-detracting, making the pie smaller for everyone.
And remember this: smaller pies are bad for both, and toxic relationships are toxic for both partners, so you don’t win either.

#1. Need Her (/Him) Less

Needing your partner less is an inherently low-quality approach to relationship.

On the surface, it’s the equivalent of “have options”, but it takes the negative aspects of it, and it comes from a defensive and fearful mindset.

While “having options” focuses you on becoming a better person who has chosen his partner, “needing your partner less” does the opposite.
It puts you in the mindset that you are together because you got lucky, or because that’s all you could get.

Finally “needing her less” does not come from a mindset of improving the relationship, but you work against the relationship. If you take it along its natural conclusions, then “needing her less” means that you’re better off alone.
If that’s the case, then be a man and stay single.

#2. Never Show You’Re Fully Hers/His

The idea here is to never fully commit and to instead keep your partner guessing about your true intentions.

Again, this might work in giving you some sort of short-term power when they are most hooked to you, but this is also exactly how abusive relationships work.

#3. Anything Based On Fear, Manipulation & Power Moves

Here is a rule of thumb:

If it’s based on short-term patches and power moves, it’s usually bad for the long-term.

Short term games might have a strategic place in dating, but they’re toxic when repeated in long term relationships.
And if games are used to cover up your actual personality, that means that you’re entering a relationship in which you can’t be yourself. And that’s the definition of setting yourself up for failure.

What are the short term power moves?
Things such as:

  1. Make him/her jealous with triangulation
  2. Always invest less
  3. Don’t meet his/her needs
  4. Lower his/her self-esteem

Etc. etc.

We’ve already discussed the problems with this approach: it leads to toxic relationships, and it mostly works with lower quality partners.

After all, who’s more likely to accept bad behavior?
It’s these groups of people:

  1. Lower quality partners who feel like they are getting someone so much higher SMV, that they cannot expect anything better. If that’s the case, you probably should seek someone more around your level and treat them better.
  2. People coming from dysfunctional homes, who never even knew good relationships could exist
  3. Generally low-quality individuals

Summary

The issue with most advice on relationship control is that it either focuses on power and control only, or it focuses on feelings and communication only.

But the two go hand in hand, and cannot be considered separately. Focusing on power only is toxic, and focusing on communication only is naive.

The best thing you can do to have positive power in your relationship is also the best thing you can do for yourself, for your partner and for the world: be the best (wo)man you can be.

And then leverage that value to shape a partnership that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

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