Although researchers have investigated power relationships in families for twenty-five years, conclusions about normative family power patterns have been inconsistent and contradictory. Comparisons across studies have been difficult owing to different definitions of the construct, multiple methodologies, and inconsistent goals. With such confusion, a new, more integrated theoretical approach to the power issue seems warranted, as is suggested by the present paper. The current individual focus on power as a personal attribute can be replaced by a more dynamic, reciprocal, interactive process. Instead of specific or stable power patterns, power interactions should be fluid and time- or situation- specific. No one member would dominate, since power involves a mutual relationship system that changes its content, though not its rules of operation, across decision-making areas. Furthermore, family adjustment would relate to those rules and the family members' reactions to their particular exchange system but not to specific types of power structures. With these considerations, future research should analyze the process, not the content, of power operations in order to maximize the clinical and theoretical utility of its construct.
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