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Power imbalances in relationships can have a significant impact on the well-being of both partners. While power imbalances can take many forms, financial imbalances are a particularly common issue. When one partner has significantly more financial resources than the other, it can create a power dynamic that can be difficult to navigate.

At the root of this issue is the fact that money is often tied to other forms of power in our society. Those with money have access to resources that those without money do not, which can create an unequal playing field in many areas of life. This is particularly true in relationships, where money can impact everything from where you live to what kind of lifestyle you lead.

When one partner has significantly more money than the other, it can create a power dynamic where the wealthier partner has more say in the relationship. This can manifest in a number of ways, such as controlling the finances, dictating where the couple lives, or even influencing major life decisions like starting a family or pursuing a career change.

One of the biggest challenges in these types of relationships is that the power imbalance can be difficult to see. The wealthy partner may not even realize that they are exerting undue influence on the relationship, while the less wealthy partner may feel like they have no choice but to go along with their partner’s wishes.

Power Imbalances in Relationships

Building Financial Independence as a Strategy

One way to address power imbalances in relationships is to work on developing open and honest communication. Both partners should be encouraged to share their thoughts and feelings on important issues, and to listen to each other’s perspectives with an open mind. This can help to create a more egalitarian dynamic, where both partners have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Another strategy for addressing power imbalances is to work on building financial independence. This can be challenging if one partner is already financially dependent on the other, but it’s an important step towards creating a more equal relationship. The less wealthy partner can work on building their own career and financial resources, which can give them more freedom and autonomy within the relationship.

At the same time, the wealthier partner can work on recognizing the power imbalance and taking steps to mitigate it. This might involve giving the less wealthy partner more control over certain aspects of the relationship, such as the household budget or major decisions about the future.

It’s important to note that power imbalances in relationships are not always related to money. There are many other factors that can create power dynamics, such as differences in education level, career status, or social status. In these cases, the same strategies for addressing power imbalances may still apply – open communication, working on building independence, and recognizing and mitigating power imbalances where they exist.

Understanding the Dynamics of Power in Relationships

Ultimately, the key to addressing power imbalances in relationships is to create a more equal partnership. This may involve making changes to the way decisions are made, the way resources are distributed, and the way each partner’s contributions are valued. It’s not always an easy process, but by working together and committing to building a more equal and respectful relationship, it’s possible to overcome even the most challenging power imbalances.

While domestic abuse is often considered to exist largely in the realm of the have-nots, Toronto family lawyer Inna Tsinman says, in fact, it has no socio-economic boundaries.

A spousal partner may exercise inordinate control over another spouse through various forms of abuse, no matter what their income bracket or level of education, says Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law.

When that involves wealth, the power imbalance in a relationship could result in a paralyzing control over another individual’s life, finances, career and reputation, she tells

Tsinman says affluent abuse is an issue that is just now surfacing and being discussed in the media, pointing to a recent Chicago Tribune article in which two women shared their painful domestic abuse experiences.

Makes them feel powerless

They chronicled their lives as victims, despite their privileged lifestyle, and how status and money were used against them to make them feel powerless and less likely to leave the relationship.

“I’ve seen it in my practice,” she says, “women are often regarded as chattel.

“Women complain that they can’t make any decisions on their own even though they’re surrounded by wealth,” Tsinman says. The Tribune story notes that one in three women — and one in seven men — will be victims of domestic violence.

She describes affluent abuse as being among those with access to greater resources than average people, often involving those considered to be professionals, from wealthy families or successful in business.

But, Tsinman says, there hasn’t been a great deal of research focused on abuse among those with financial resources, and it has therefore been under the radar during the ongoing discussions about the prevalence of abuse.

Strategies for Addressing Power Imbalances

Abuse can happen regardless of the financial circumstances

“Any type of abuse can happen, regardless of the financial circumstances,” she says.

The problem, Tsinman adds, is a global phenomenon, pointing to the tumultuous breakup and custody battle of a billionaire and his sixth wife, playing out in a London, England court, The Telegraph reports.

One way to break down that bond between a victim’s material survival and the abuse is for the court to penalize those who exploit their economic power over their spouses through the economic coercion tort, she says.

“Having a tort recognize the harm it does to women” who feel powerless to leave abusive, controlling relationships, because they think they have no options, Tsinman says.

The role of the court is to deter abusive behaviour, and it has the ability to impose a financial award to send a message to the individual and the public that it will not be tolerated, she says.

“That award then also provides the victim with the financial ability to leave the relationship and offer some comfort about how they will survive on their own,” Tsinman adds.

A tort of economic coercion

A case involving a woman — who was told her job would only be secure if she married her boss’s friend — would be a good fit for a new tort of economic coercion.

Tsinman, principal of Tsinman Law, is developing a test for the tort that she says would fill a gap when it comes to protecting women in relationships of economic dependency. Such women typically face harassment or distress as a result of the financial pressure to perform sexually, she says.

In a recent B.C. case, Tsinman says the judge’s decision outlines the groundwork for the tort.

“Although it’s an annulment case, this is exactly the duress we speak of,” she says.

Economic duress

According to the decision, a man who owned and operated a hair salon where the woman worked “suggested to the claimant that she marry one of his relatives who was residing in India” and he would later sponsor the man to immigrate to Canada as a permanent resident. Her boss said her “employment with the company would be secure only if she accepted this suggestion,” the judgment says.

In granting the annulment, the British Columbia Supreme Court justice refers to the definition of “economic duress” as determined in a 1988 ruling.

“It must place the party to whom the pressure is directed in a position where he has no ‘realistic alternative’ but to submit to it,” the decision says. As well, “duress has the effect of vitiating consent.”

The judge called the marriage a “sham” that was performed for immigration purposes and granted the annulment.

Tsinman says the case also reflects on issues linked to employment law.

The Role of Gender and Power Imbalances in Relationships

“The lines can be blurred in some workplaces, and that could be why this kind of thing would happen,” she says. “The boss almost takes on a patriarchal role.

For example, a woman who grew up in a violent home with a manipulative father will sometimes enter the workforce and find the same personality type in her employer, Tsinman says.

“This person just completely surrenders herself to him. She may not realize it herself,” she says. “She is looking for approval even if the rewards may not be there, just to please him.”

In the B.C. case, the claimant must have been terrified, leading her to leave the marriage before consummating it, and losing her job in the process, Tsinman says.

The removal of specific financial benefits is a key element of Tsinman’s proposed tort, she adds.

“This kind of case should validate and accelerate the acceptance of the tort,” she says.

Physical or emotional abuse

While it may be more common for women to feel financially dependent in relationships, making it difficult to leave situations of physical or emotional abuse, the same can be true for men when roles are reversed, says Toronto family lawyer Geoffrey Wong.

As the gender pay gap decreases, these situations are likely to become more prevalent, says Wong, an associate with Tsinman Law.

“With this trend, this will cease to be largely a women’s issue,” he tells

Wong and Inna Tsinman are advocating for the development of the tort of economic coercion that would help protect people in long-term relationships who are financially dependent and face harassment or distress as a result of the pressure to perform sexually. Tsinman calls this situation “coercive caring.”

“There needs to be a tort for dealing with these types of situations in order to empower the victims to leave these relationships,” Wong says.

He says this issue is important for women, but he has had male clients who also feel trapped because of their lesser earning power.

“The nuance in these scenarios is there’s more of a stigma if you are a male who is dependent on the woman,” Wong says, adding he has noticed this among older clients who were brought up to believe a man’s worth is defined by his ability to provide financially.

Power Imbalances Beyond Money: Factors to Consider

“I had a client who was at the point of self-harm when he came to the realization his partner wanted to end the relationship,” he says. “He wondered how he would take care of himself when he had been so dependent on this person. ‘How do I look at myself in the mirror every day and call myself a man?’”

Of course, self-worth is not based on the ability to provide, “but for these people that feeling is very real,” Wong says.

“That stigma has an impact on their prospects in terms of what they can expect in a separation. In the legal system, spousal support looks at both means and needs,” he says.

If one partner has health problems that prevent them from working, it creates a situation where they are financially dependent on the other who is further ahead in terms of their earning power, Wong says.

“You still have this dependency, which is exactly what support is meant to rectify,” he says. “If you are in an affluent and long-term relationship that suddenly ends, you don’t receive support based on what you need to get by. It’s on a level that equalizes you with the other person, so you both maintain the same standard of lifestyle.”

Power imbalances in relationships can be serious, so speak to a lawyer or family law coach.