When we talk bout inequality, we tend to talk about it in terms of problems like gender inequality or racial inequality. It's also possible, and dangerous, to be in a relationship that's structured around inequality. In this case, the inequality I'm referring to means a difference in power between partners.
When one partner has all the power in a relationship, it typically leads to an abuse of that power, through controlling behaviors, intimidation, and violence. More often than it should, that violence leads to death. As a former Domestic Violence Victim Advocate and Planned Parenthood Certified Responsible Sexuality Educator, I've seen small power imbalances grow to big inequalities, which grew into horrendous domestic violence situations.
An imbalance of power is definitely a serious red flag that there's something wrong in your relationship. At the very least, it means that you're in an unhealthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships may not be abusive or violent, but they're still unhealthy. And they still have the potential to become abusive or violent.
If any of the red flags below apply to your current situation, it's important that you work through those issues ASAP. If you're afraid to bring them up to your partner or your partner is unwilling to work towards a healthier life for you both, then you may have to face that it's time to move on.
1. You Don't Get To Make Decisions
If you don't get to make decisions, it could be that your partner is in control. It often starts out small, like deciding what to eat or what movie to watch. Soon enough it's how you spend your money and how your time/who you spend your time with. In an equal relationship, both partners get to make equal decisions, even if one or both partners occasionally have to make sacrifices and compromises for the overall greater good.
2. Your Goals Are An Afterthought
If you're in an equal relationship, your partner wants you to succeed and to continue having and reaching goals. In an unequal relationship one partner often becomes intimidated by the other partner's success. They may try to talk their partners out of going to school applying for jobs, or even taking up new hobbies. They may worry about you meeting new people and becoming unfaithful. They're also often insecure about you having something in your life that they're not a part of. This kind of inequality often leads to a situation where you can't leave because you don't have the income or education to make it on your own. It's a clever trick abusers use to keep control.
3. Your Partner Never Apologizes
According to online dating site Meet Mindful, when one partner never apologizes, it could mean they think they're superior, and never wrong. It could also be a tactic used to show dominance. In equal partnerships, both partners freely admit when they've done something wrong and aren't afraid to make amends. They also don't always put the blame on one partner when things go wrong. In fact, even when one partner is wrong, both partners will often apologize because they're upset that there was conflict or pain. Never saying sorry or taking responsibility is a total red flag.
4. You Feel Criticized
If you feel like everything you do is wrong, that could be your self-esteem calling. But if you feel like you do everything wrong because you have a partner who treats you like you can do nothing right, that's another thing entirely. Constant criticism and judgement is one way abusive partners wear others down so they're easier to control. It could also mean that your partner doesn't consider you an equal, but instead sees you as a child. It's not possible for a grownup to have a successful. healthy, respectful relationship with a child. Think about that.
5. You Live In Your Partner's World
Do you still get to see your people, or do you hang out with your partner's family exclusively? Has it been months since you've seen your friends because your partner doesn't like them? I hate to burst your bubble, but when your partner discourages you from seeing your own friends and family, it's a mega red flag that you're in an unhealthy relationship. These behaviors are often about power and control. Your partner is using isolation to deal with insecurity and jealousy. Not cool. No relationship is a replacement for your squad.
6. You Never Win Arguments
Arguments in a relationship aren't really something you should worry about winning or losing. They should be more about resolving conflict. But let's be real. Sometimes you're right, and it's really satisfying when your partner sees that. If you're in an unequal relationship, that won't ever matter because your partner will never be wrong. In extreme cases, you'll be too afraid of your partner to even bother arguing. True partners consider how their actions and words impact you and don't fight just to win.
7. You Live With A Lot Of Expectations
Are you expected to make dinner every night? To take care of the kids? To have sex on demand? To take care of the bills? Even little things, like are you expected to always show your partner who you are texting, or to change your plans when they conflict with what your partner wants to do? Is it pretty much a given that you're not in charge? Do you have to wait on your partner hand and foot? If you don't cook will your family starve? Not cool. You're a partner, not a servant. Even if you have the kind of relationship where you both agreed that you would stay home and care for the family, that doesn't excuse your partner from being a partner, a friend, or a father.
A lot of article say you'll know deep down that something isn't right when you get into an abusive relationship, but my own experience is that this is often ridiculously untrue. Clever abusers can put on their Prince Charming hats and only slowly take the off over time, in ways you barely notice. Take care of you and learn all you can about healthy relationships to make sure you stay safe.