First comes love, then comes the realization that we are navigating life’s journey with another person who may have different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs than us. How do we deal with having differing viewpoints from our romantic partners? Perspective-taking is a fundamental social skill that helps us smoothly steer through the many bumps in the road, from picking out a thoughtful anniversary gift to helping us reach a compromise on a contentious issue. When people are able to consider their partner’s point of view, both they and their partners report being more satisfied with their relationship (Long, 1990). Although this basic skill is fundamental and beneficial, not everyone is good at perspective-taking, particularly in their romantic relationships (Kenny & Acitelli, 2001). So who is good at perspective-taking and who is lacking? To answer this question, I turned to the research on power. I was curious to find out whether feeling powerful in a romantic relationship might lead people to be better, or worse, perspective-takers.
Power is potent, affecting how people think, feel, and interact with others. Although thinking about powerful people might bring to mind the caricature of a power-hungry CEO, the reality is that power is not just in the workplace, it is part of all of our relationships, shaping how we interact with our parents, friends, and romantic partners. So how exactly does it shape our relationships? Or, in our case, our ability to step into our partner’s shoes? Well, the old adage, “power corrupts,” suggests that powerful people should be selfish, caring only about getting their own way and paying little attention to what their romantic partners are thinking and feeling. And there is research to support this – people are less likely to take strangers’ perspectives when they feel powerful (Galinsky et al., 2006) and in families, powerful members are less likely to perspective take (Barber, 1984). But on the other hand, for romantic relationships to survive, people can’t just be selfish—they have to think about what is best for the relationship, which means considering their partner’s point of view. Power helps people focus on and pursue their goals (Guinote, 2007), so perhaps power might actually help people become better perspective-takers in romantic relationships because it focuses them on maintaining their relationship?