Understanding power imbalances in friendships

Power imbalances in friendships don't have to be a stumbling block. With empathy, practical steps, and a bit of guidance, you can foster a healthy and balanced friendship. 

What are power imbalances in friendships? 

Power imbalances in friendships happen when one friend has more control or influence over the other. A power imbalance can manifest in different ways, such as: 

Cultural or social backgrounds

Differences in cultural or social backgrounds can lead to misunderstandings or one friend feeling marginalised or less empowered. 

Personality traits

Dominating or overly assertive behaviour from one friend can over shadow the other’s opinions and needs, leading to an imbalance. 

Relationship history

If one friend has previously played a more supportive role, then they may continue to exert more influence or control in the relationship. 

Professional relationship

If friends also have a work relationship where one is in a superior position, it may carry over into their personal relationship. 

Access to social connections

One friend having more extensive social connections of being seen as being more popular might lead to an imbalance in social situations. 

Financial differences

One of you may have access to greater financial resources which may impact on your friendship in many ways

How to spot power imbalances in friendships 

Spotting power imbalances in friendships requires careful observation and self-awareness. It might not always be easy, as the signs can be subtle and generally build up over time. Here are some things to watch out for if you’re worried about a power imbalance in your friendship: 

Unequal participation

Pay attention to who’s doing most of the talking, decision-making, or planning. If one friend is consistently taking the lead without consideration for the other’s preferences, it could signal an imbalance. 

Feelings of resentment or frustration

If you or your friend are experiencing consistent feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, or resentment, these could be indicators of a power imbalance. 


Look for signs of over-dependence, such as one friend constantly relying on the other for financial help, emotional support, or guidance. A balanced friendship usually has a more even give-and-take.  

Dismissive behaviour

If one friend regularly dismisses the other’s feelings, opinions, or contributions, it may indicate an underlying power imbalance. 

Constant apologising

Notice if one friend is constantly apologising, even when it isn’t necessary. This might be a sign of feeling less worthy or influential in the relationship. 

How to overcome power imbalances in friendships 

Overcoming power imbalances requires empathy, open communication, and commitment from both parties. Here are some ways you can approach it. 

Communicate openly and honestly

Like most things, one of the best ways to tackle a power imbalance is to get it out in the open by talking about it. If you feel like there might be a power imbalance in your relationship, share your feelings with your friend without blaming them or accusing them. Once you’ve shared your perspective, listen actively to what they have to say and how they’ve been feeling. 

Set clear and fair boundaries

Once the power imbalance is out in the open, it’s time to redraw the boundaries of your relationship. Discuss and agree on the boundaries that both of you genuinely feel comfortable with. It’s important to be really honest at this stage to ensure the boundaries work for both of you. And remember, these boundaries might change as time goes on, so regularly check-in on them to make sure they’re fit for purpose. 

Seek professional help if necessary

Sometimes, power imbalances are deeply ingrained and challenging to overcome alone. Friendships are incredibly important relationships in our lives, and they deserve all the dedication and focus that we give our romantic relationships. So if something isn’t right in your friendship, don’t be afraid to speak to a relationship counsellor. A trained therapist can provide a neutral space to explore the dynamics of your relationship and help both friends grow.  


How we can help

If you’re looking for support with your relationships, we can help. We offer a range of ways to speak with a trained relationship expert including ongoing counselling, 30 minute web and phone chats, and one session therapy.

Find out which service is right for you


How you can help

Have you found this advice helpful? Make a donation to help us reach more people and continue supporting the nation’s relationships:


Can't afford to donate? We understand. Instead, we ask that you leave us a 5 star review on Trustpilot.

Leave a review