Coming Out on Top: Power Struggles in Your Relationships

In the piece on Dale Carnegie’s advice, a commenter asked about dealing with power struggles:

Hey Chase this is a great article. Could you do an article about how to handle power struggles in friendships? I find it really has to do with investment. For example, my friend wants me to meet him somewhere, but I want him to meet me. Its like five minutes away, but its a power struggle thing. I get really annoyed when people do this because I’d like to have friends who don’t try to make things a competition like this. But I also have learned from this site that everyone is like this. Can you help me out?

In the end, power struggles are always about the same thing, whether they’re in your romantic or sexual relationships, or your platonic ones – and I’ll cover all of these and everything else in the scope of this article.

power struggles

There’s little more frustrating than having to deal with the relationship equivalent of guerilla warfare, but this is exactly what power struggles are – someone using frame control attempts, passive aggression, moral superiority and other forms of social subterfuge to undermine your position and climb the social ladder to a position above you in the hierarchy.

Not fun at all... and frequently quite draining.

So let’s talk about how power struggles come about, and what you can do once you realize you’re in one.

power struggles

The first thing to understand about anyone who engages you in a power struggle-type situation is that he (or she) is an opportunist. If he did not think he could win the struggle, he would not commence it in the first place... instead, he would continue to hang back, observe, and wait for the right opening.

Power struggles most often occur in situations where a leader is inexperienced, uncertain, or otherwise unpopular.

In a group of friends, for instance, if one takes the initial leadership role because he is louder and bolder and more outgoing, for instance, but the other friend or friends begin to detect holes to his approach that make them begin to suspect he is merely putting on a show, they’ll begin to challenge his leadership and struggle with him for power.

In a sexual relationship, if you start off in the up role and your partner is in the down role, but she begins to see things that don’t add up for her and make her think that you aren’t as legitimate a leader as you claim, she will begin to test and challenge you here.

The big thing to understand is that people doing this are not bad people – because EVERYONE will do this with anyone in a leadership role over him but who he starts to get the impression would make an inferior leader to his own self.

If you and I are friends, and I always plan things out and take the initiative, but you start thinking for whatever reason that I’m not really doing such a good job of it and you’d do a better job yourself, you will start countering my suggestions with your own. No matter how swell a guy, if I am sufficiently not a good or respectable leader for you, you will begin to get annoyed at doing things the way I want to do them.

And next comes the power struggle.

The Follower’s Dilemma

I’ve noticed when we discuss leadership-follower dynamics in both romantic relationships and other social relationships, a lot of people’s hackles get raised. In the modern West, we just DON’T like talking about social relationships in terms of leaders and followers, or dominant parties and submissive parties, or social rank.

Everyone, we have been told our entire lives, ought to be equal.

Indeed, my normal advice to anyone finding themselves playing politics too much is to get out of that circle, stop climbing the social ladder, and elevate himself above this pettiness (because really... is there anything pettier than wrestling around with someone for control of some insignificant friend group of a handful of ordinary people?).

Yet, there’s no denying the reality of social rank WITHIN social systems; when you are in a well-formed social group with other people, you’re either the top guy, or you’re somebody else, and the farther down the chain you get the more confused you become as to exactly what your role is, partly because it’s harder to tell... but also partly because if you’re not the top guy, the intrinsic vanity we naturally possess as people tends to not want to let us recognize this.

The follower’s dilemma, then, is this: he gets to relax and not have to make as many decisions, BUT he must trust that the leader is doing a better job of leading than he would or could himself – and that means:

  • The leader plans better events,
  • The leader handles logistics better,
  • The leader gets cooperation from others better, and
  • The leader helps him (the follower) achieve HIS OWN objectives better

... than the follower would on his own.

If he starts believing that the leader is NOT or CAN not do this, then he has a difficult decision to make: does he stick it out and hope the leader gets his act together... does he walk away and give up on the group altogether... OR, does he launch into a power struggle and see if he can’t rise to power, take control of the relationship, friendship, group of friends, company, country, or other human/social organization, and do things better than the old leader did?

Signs of Weakness

The major signs of “weakness” in a leader thus are:

  • You think you’d do a better job planning or scheduling events than him
  • You think you’d do a better job handling logistics and coordination than him
  • You think you’d do a better job getting group buy-in and cooperation than him
  • You think you’d do a better job helping yourself (and others in the group, if more than two people) achieve your objectives than him

As soon as you, or anyone else, starts feeling this way, your mood in the group will change... from “content” to “dissatisfied.”

And the worse a job you think the leader is doing, and the more you feel your and/or the group’s needs are not being met, the greater the dissatisfaction you will feel will be, the more you will resent his “unrightful rule”, and the more openly you will begin to resist and challenge him.

power struggles

If you are on the receiving end of a power struggle, what this usually means is that you’re slipping up on your role as boyfriend, lover, paramour, friend, coordinator, etc. Depending on the other person or people involved, you may have made a BIG slip, and LOTS of them... or you may have just made one small, tiny slip just once, and the other person pounced.

This is especially true if she is narcissistic; some people simply don’t gel with the follower role and will fight for leadership in whatever group they are a part of the moment they see a realistic opening for them to. When you deal with very confident, high ego individuals, you must be PERFECT in your handling of your relationships with them IF you are in the leadership role and don’t want to deal with power struggles.

As you might guess, power struggles are almost inevitable over a long enough amount of time – even if you have a friend or a girlfriend who’s very submissive, over time you will tend to forget about something important to her, or start stomping all over one of her goals accidentally, and she’ll have no choice but to start fighting you for control of the relationship to either

  1. Seize it herself and get what she needs; or

  2. Fight to a standstill / true equality, at which point she will leave (because you are not her follower, she doesn’t need you as a leader, and there’s essentially no point to retaining her ties with you since she is going to fulfill her own objectives as a leader while you go to fulfill your own objectives as a leader – the two of you go your separate ways); or

  3. Compel you to do a better job as a leader, regain control of the relationship, and start serving her needs better.

And if your lover or friend is a less-submissive person by nature, it’s going to take a lot less of a buildup before the power struggles start showing up at your doorstep.

Worth noting that sometimes, if you are a very calm/relaxed person and you are dealing with a very vibrant, high-energy person, you may encounter large initial power struggles because high-energy people are used to having most lower energy people roll over around them purely by being pushy and persistent enough. In this case, if you really ARE a Law of Least Effort dominant individual, they will quickly find that their efforts to roll you are like waves crashing against the rocks – maybe if they had a few thousand years they might roll you down, but in the meantime, it’s just a whole lot of wasted effort.

However, they will still try first because experience tells them that high energy person vs. low energy person leads to them winning 99% of the time, and they won’t know it’s different with you until they try and find you won’t budge. This is the case of them reading a strength of yours as a weakness inaccurately because they are filtering it through their lens of previous experiences, and there are other things like this.

power struggles

I started privately referring to putting down episodes of drama from girlfriends as “quelling the rebellion”, as in, “Wow, that was a lot of drama – but I sure quelled that rebellion pretty nicely.”

And it’s the same with any kind of power struggle, whether relationship drama or attempts by friends to shift your outings with them onto terms more favorable to them (akin to what we discuss in “Dating on Your Terms”).

If this is a deep relationship with a clear hierarchy between the parties, power struggles really are a form of rebellion; they’re a way of throwing off the yoke of someone in control who isn’t serving your needs properly.

However... there is another situation we need to discuss first, and that’s the situation where the other person just genuinely doesn’t need you all that much.

When It’s Not a Rebellion

I occasionally will find myself in a situation with some person I’ve met – could be a girl I grabbed a phone number from, or some guy who’s contacted me and wants to talk business or hanging out – and he or she will want me to do things on his or her terms.

But, I genuinely just won’t care very much about what this person has to offer me. I WILL see them or talk to them if they will do it on MY terms... but if they won’t, I just don’t really care.

For instance, a girl may be trying to get me to come see her, but I would rather she come see me. If she won’t come see me, that’s fine, because I have plenty of other things to do and other girls to see. I probably won’t even think about her again until I hear from her again.

But in her eyes, we may be locked in a power struggle. She’s trying to get me to do what SHE wants, and, to her, it seems like I’m trying to get HER to do what I want.

In actuality, she’s the only one in a power struggle; I’m telling her, “Here’s my offer; take it or leave it; I’m indifferent either way.”

Likewise with some people who contact me to talk business or socially or whatnot; I’ll get a lot of, “Let’s do a phone call; I’m available at this time, this time, and that time.”

But what’s being offered doesn’t really interest me, so I offer to talk over email instead. They counter with how important it is to talk over the phone.

They may view this as a power struggle; I’m trying to do things on my terms. But in reality, I just don’t care enough to set aside some of my time to hop on the phone with this person and let them talk away at me about something I’m not terribly interested in. An email I can browse quickly and fire off a response to at my leisure is one thing; a long phone chat with someone I hardly know about something I’m not interested in is another entirely.

So, when you’re assessing whether you’re in a power struggle or not, this is an important question to ask yourself first: are you meeting important needs of this other person, and/or providing value that is hard or impossible to replace... from her point of view? If “yes”, then you probably are in a genuine power struggle.

If “no”, though... it may just be that what you view as a “power struggle” is simply the fact that the other person doesn’t view what you have to offer as worth the trouble of doing things the way you want her to do it.

It sometimes is simply the case that before you can even worry about a power struggle, you’ve got to worry about providing more social value to this other person that he or she values, subjectively, personally (that is: not stuff that you think he SHOULD value, but stuff he actually values, himself), instead.

Putting Down Power Struggles

power struggleBack to rebellion-quelling.

Let’s say it’s pretty established that this is a substantial relationship between you and this other person. Let’s say you BOTH get solid value out of the relationship, and things were great for a while, but recently, there’s this power struggle dynamic that’s entered into things.

Well, the solution’s simple enough: you need to be more willing to boot this other person than she is to boot you.

You must have an abundance mentality about whatever it is this person is to you: lover, girlfriend, buddy, boss, colleague, etc. Power struggles in the end are ultimately about who needs whom more; if you need him more than he needs you, you will fold to his efforts eventually.

Yet, if he is a more replaceable part of your life than you are his, you’ll find it not terribly difficult to regain power.

That works like this: in examples like our readers from the start of the article, where the reader asked a friend to come to his place, and the friend countered by asking the reader to come to his place, here’s all you do: you communicate back something like, “Haha, guess we’re both super lazy today. Well no worries; I’ll be here playing backgammon [or whatever] – stop by later.”

Now, either the friend will come by, or he won’t. If he doesn’t, it’s either because:

  1. It’s become a big ego thing for him now and he HAS to win (that is, it’s become a dominance contest, and whichever of the two of you wins is going to get a testosterone spike, while the loser takes a big testosterone hit), OR

  2. He just doesn’t really care a whole lot about getting off his behind and walking 5 minutes to come hang with you

Generally speaking, the rule of thumb among men here is that the inviter goes the distance – if you’re going to ask your buddy to hang out, you should probably go to his place or offer to pick him up. Sending messages like, “Hey dude, come over,” comes across as dominating and emasculating to all but the most cowed males, unless you have something really amazing to offer him if he does (e.g., “Hey dude, come over – I’ve got these two swimsuit models in my living room and I need a wingman” – he should have no problems coming over for THAT one).

So, make sure you’re not the one making a faux pas by asking someone for investment without providing sufficient incentive for him to feel like it’s worth doing for any reason other than that he is at your beck and call.

Assuming you are the one in the right here though – you’ve been perfectly cool, offered him value that you know HE will appreciate, and you’re not asking for investment without offering something of equal or greater value in return – then the right play is just doing the, “Cool, no worries, catch you later then bro,” message which basically says if you’re going to be a dick about it, I’m not interested.

The subtext here is, “If you can’t be cool and do things on my terms, then the awesome value I’ve just offered you is closed to you.”

So if you texted your friend and said, “Hey man, head on over and let’s do some pregaming then hit the bars and go pick up chicks,” and he says, “Dude, why don’t you come over here?” a, “Haha, cool, guess we’re both lazy, well let’s try to meet up later,” followed by you making no effort to text him later will send the right message that that behavior is not cool and you’ll waste no time on it, and he loses whatever value you offered if he’s going to behave that way.

In romantic relationships, the dynamic you need to follow is what we’ve discussed in other articles on dealing with drama; if she’s a casual relationship, you must never freak out or let it be a big deal – just act like she’s being ridiculous. If it’s a serious relationship, you must put the pimp hand down, so to speak, and deal with the rebellion in a very firm, very non-negotiable way. Here are the articles on the specifics of doing this if you need a refresher:

In larger groups of people, it’s mostly about letting the group decide. Groups are intelligent in that they will let the best leader lead. So power struggles here aren’t really power struggles so much as they are requests that the group decide whether you or another really makes for the best leader.

As an example, let’s say you are currently calling most of the shots about what a group does. Let’s say you propose that everyone meets for giant margaritas next Wednesday at Jorge’s Mexican Ranch. Some guy who’s been power struggling with you a lot then jumps in to say that Wednesday’s not really a good day for him and Thursday would be a lot better... and let’s all do that trendy new lounge instead, that’ll be a much better place than Jorge’s. This is a clear vie for power – he’s rejecting all of your suggestions and making value judgments on them, which is his way of saying to the group, “Hey, this other guy is doing a crap job at leading the group – I can do way better.”

At that point, the other members of the group are either going to say, “Yeah, the lounge sounds great!” or they’re going to mumble and grumble and go, “Nah, let’s do Jorge’s... I don’t like that new lounge.”

The key to winning power struggles here is just having a better thumb on the pulse of the group. If you know what the other people in the group want and are doing a commendable job leading it and helping the group do what it most wants and enjoys to do, any challengers looking to unseat you who don’t have an even BETTER read on what the group wants will fail (and usually un-invite themselves from the group not long after... it can be pretty humbling for a guy to try to seize power in a group and fail; and, generally, if you’re trying to seize power it means you aren’t happy with the current state of things and are trying to remake the group in your own image; if the group just stays the way it is you’re likely to bail and go looking for something more in-line with your wants, needs, and objectives).

Power Struggle Recap

Ultimately, legitimate power struggles are all about one thing: I feel like you aren’t doing a good enough job of tending to my needs.

The person who declines because he just doesn’t care about what you have to offer is telling you that you’re way down the line value-wise – clearly, you’re not taking care of HIS needs (and probably don’t even know what they are).

The person who was good with you for a while but now is fighting you is telling you that somewhere along the line she’s started feeling unsatisfied – and now you either need to shape up, hand the reins over to her, or let her go to find someone who can do a better job of leading her.

And, the person who barges into a group and starts trying to wrest control of it from you is saying, “You don’t have a very good bead on what this group wants – I can do a better job of it,” and going back to the group for a yay or nay vote. One of you will come out on top – and the other will probably soon exit the group.

Remember that to quell the rebellion, you must not just be able to put things back onto terms favorable to you, but fix the value problem you’re having so that rebellions don’t keep springing up.

A band of guerilla fighters doesn’t start fighting the government because it thinks getting shot at and massacred is a good way to spend the next 5 to 20 years. It rebels because it thinks the government is doing a crap job of tending to its needs, and that if it gains control of the nation it can do a better job.

When people are power struggling with you, it’s the same deal, just at a much smaller scale – instead of trying to run a nation, they’re trying to be the ones running the dynamic between you and them.

Fend that off, and do a better job of running things and meeting and exceeding everyone’s needs, and you won’t long need to deal with this.

Chase Amante

Chase AmanteAbout the Author: Chase Amante

Chase woke up one day in 2004 tired of being alone. So, he set to work and read every book he could find, studied every teacher he could meet, and talked to every girl he could talk to to figure out dating. After four years, scads of lays, and many great girlfriends (plus plenty of failures along the way), he launched this website. He will teach you everything he knows about girls in one single program in his Mastery Package.


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Alcaeus's picture

Hey Chase,

Solid article as usual. Certainly gave me a birds-eye-view understanding of power struggle relationship/dynamics.

Lately a power struggle has been gnawing at me and has come to the forefront of my daily interactions.

I have lost immense social value in my group as this dude has been vying for attention and social power at my expense.

I blame my current low status mostly on myself, because as I practiced my law of least effort social calibration, some insults, and passive aggressive attacks have damaged me without my realization that I needed to address said attacks, instead of 'letting them role of my back'.

Instead the mentality I was rocking was, "I'm beyond such insults, look at the tool try to climb me for social prestige; How adorable." However, I have lost my position as the chill, super layed back dude, that builds everyone up. I was relegated into a loser, who brings no social value to the group and can be pushed over.

The 'leader' is gaining ground because he now chastises me openly and is awarded with a chuckle every now and again from the other members of the group at my expense. Whereas in the beginning, no one dared try to insult me because I was too mature and mysterious (didn't know what I was capable of), then the power struggles were met with silent onlooking from the other members and now it's at the point of open laughter.

Today I dealt with it as best I could. Called him out on it. "The next time you say something slick to me, I'ma brake your teeth, then I'ma break your face. Don't fuck with me bitch nigga!" First time I gave a threat in months! I was half honest about punching him but it was effective. The onlookers in the group got quiet with thrill and anticipation and the 'leader' backpedaled, "Hey bro, chill." "You sneaky ass rat, watch how you talk to me from now on bro. Real talk." He began to nervously chuckle it off. But I maintained intense eye contact and after grilling him for 3 seconds I looked over him in an "I'm above you" manner. Then got back to work and ordered a classmate to fetch a tool we needed as I read the instructions, and the 'leader' uncomfortably shuffled and fidgeted.

Chase, that was shit I learned from middle school in the hood, and though it is primitive, it got the results I was looking for. I was curious if you knew a more socially adept way of displaying your dominance/quelling power-struggles/ or straight up avoiding that shit because now I feel that though I won that battle if a confrontation like that happens again we really are going to fight.

And fights are a lose, lose...


David Riley's picture

Hey Alcay,

"Niggas talk shit till get lock jaw everybody plays the tough guy till shit pop off." - A$AP Rocky

Unfortunately, when dealing with certain types of people these confrontations will happen until it's properly addressed. Ignoring problems doesn't do anything but make them grow worse. When people go to disrespect you, don't ignore it call them on it in the beginning. You should never let things slide, especially when you're dealing with aggressive cats in the hood. They will walk all over you and disrespect you in front of everybody if given the opportunity. It only gets worse from there.

"Hey man, I'm gonna need you to watch the attitude. I feel like you're taking some serious shots at me. That doesn't fly around here." When you address the problem upfront. It lessens the likely hood of it happening again. I'm from the Midwest, and I had to deal with these kind of circumstances all the time. Until I learned to stop letting them slide.

Be easy,

Just Dave

mrpresident's picture

Chase; great article, as always. I have a question for you, however. So I recently moved back to State A from State B, the former of which I grew up in and have most of my family and friends, as well as all my former hookups. About a month ago, this girl I used to hang out with messaged me via social media. A few years ago, we went on probably 4 dates, hung out a lot, she would refer to "us" and "we" a lot in doing every day things, and she actually slept over a few times although we never had sex, because she told me she didn't want to sleep with me too fast; then, one day, she lost interest and it abruptly ended. After reading your website for awhile, I now know I was put into boyfriend territory and her level of attraction/interest faded after a few dates (I should have moved swiftly and bedded her), but alas. So anyway, I no longer have her number, and the only communicative medium for me to contact her is social media. So how do I approach her again, if at all? I know she's available and want to re-connect with her in the right way. Any advice? What would you do in my situation? Much obliged, Chase.

tayoisrich's picture

Your case is similar to three situations that I have been in... Mr man, you lost your chance by NOT making your move to sleep with her after 2, 3 or 4 dates! Just keep improving yourself and keep going out to meet more girls. Move on, Move on & Move on!!! I am sure Mr Chase & Mr Colt is tired of these kind of questions... there are more than 100,000 beautiful girls in your state... go and approach some of them instead of looking back at your fuck up (it happens to all of us).... it is healthy for you... remember abundance mentality (look for that article on this site).... you would thank me later on if you just take my advice!

I hear voices in my head...

Witt's picture

Great article as always, Chase!

The dynamics of social maneuvering has always piqued my curiosity and you definitely shed some new light on the issue. There's a situation I'm wondering if you have any suggestions on.

A good friend of mine has this tendency to be somewhat contrarian. He's a great guy, tons of fun and provides a lot of value in my life, so I don't want to just walk away. However, it can get a bit annoying and could potentially have social consequences.

For example: A while back we were planning a camping trip and getting a gauge on the weather. I mentioned a forecast I had seen and his response was essentially "Yeah, but that website's not very accurate." It's mostly petty stuff like that and a general need to tell you why the way he does things is better. For the most part I don't really care. Sure it's petty but whatever, that's him being him. However, a flat out rejection of value you try to offer definitely does not look good. That's not something I want a girl I'm with seeing.

Are there any good responses to situations like this?

I appreciate it, thanks!

David Riley's picture

Hey Witt,

It's best to talk to your friend about these types of problems and bring it to their attention first. Just tell him you don't feel comfortable bringing a girl around if he's going to be trying to undermine. Overall, if your friend is still a good friend he'll understand and will try not to do it as much. Just say it in a calm manner and let him know how it makes you feel at times. Say, "I feel undermined when I try to . . ." or "I don't feel my input is being appreciated as much anymore." You want to bring it out in the open and not let it fester.

Just Dave

jj123's picture


I know you've responded to a request of mine before by writing an entire post, but may I suggest another one? How about writing about or listing the specific signs that a woman has issues with men, and why such women should generally be avoided. Including, the sorts of things she'll say in regular conversation about men, what sorts of things she'll tell you about her exes, her general demeanor toward you, whether past cop calling means anything significant in the present context (even if she insists she was in real danger from a guy), how to interpret that she's relatively young (under 30) and already divorced, any gender-based double standards she believes in, etc. While it's common in this modern, Western culture for guys reading a site like this one, or complaining about "bad luck" with women to be labeled as having "woman issues," it does still seems that an even greater number of women (though by no means all) have "man issues," starting with resisting the calling out of double standards that disfavor men. Of course, this is OK.

Thanks again!

David Riley's picture

Hey JJ,

Noted, I will let Chase and the other authors know.

Just Dave

jijoe's picture

Man, how do you deal with people who try to tear you
down in high school using insults,... Any tips on appearing cool in these situations?
Like maybe wearing a smile while trying to answer them.
You said they called you "comeback king" so I guess you were really good
at NOT letting people getting you down.
Thanks man

David Riley's picture

Hey Jijoe,

It comes from an attitude of "I'm not the one". People will pick on people who they feel won't fight back. Once you start getting back at them and saying remarks, they'll back off. You can't be afraid of them. Just smile and say "Are you done?" Almost as if you're dealing with a child who's having a tantrum. You could also say "You must really like me with all this attention you've been giving me." This will make people feel uneasy and it starts to get to them. Especially, once you start mocking them and stealing their fire.

Just Dave

Dilusha's picture


I'm Dilusha from Sri Lanka. You may not even heard of our country. :D First of all, a Great article again. And I got something curious to ask. I read your article about having sex with American girls. There you've mentioned that American girls like foreign men a lot more than local men. But you've only mentioned about European and South American men. I just wanna know if the attraction is the same for South Asian men like me. Physically Us (Sri Lankans) aren't much different from Indians. Same physical features as Indians. But my skin complexion is a bit darker. Like Obama. :D Actually not only American girls, but all white girls on South Asian men like me. What do you think? Are they racist against dark skinned Asians like Us? :D

David Riley's picture

Hey Dilusha,

A lot of this has to do with fundamentals and experience. Some girls just don't know how to properly respond to foreign men because they've never personally interacted with them. As a result they may seem more reserved at times. You have to get them to relax and put them at ease. You can say, "You must not meet a lot of guys like me." Say it in a playful manner though. This will bring to her attention that she's acting weird and she'll stop. Some American girls are more open minded than others, you just have to find the more open minded girls.

Take care,

Just Dave

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