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Complete Relationship Dialectics Overview

Nicole is a relationship enthusiast who loves to share her knowledge online.

Relational Dialectics Theory

Communication is the key to every relationship.

In order to have effective communication and resolve conflicts in relationships, we need to understand relationship dialectics.

Relationship dialectics are present in all personal relationships. They are the opposing and continuous tensions that are normal in all close relationships. The tensions between opposing forces can either make or break your relationships. Therefore, it is crucial that you understand the different types of relationship dialectics.

Here are 6 types of relationship dialectics that you should be aware of:

1. Autonomy/Connection Dialectic

This dialectic involves the desires to be separate and connected, the opposition of which creates tension.

On the one hand, we want to spend quality time with our loved ones. On the other hand, we feel the need to assert our individuality, hence explaining our wish for personal space and privacy.

In other words, the autonomy/connection dialectic is the desire to have ties and connections with others versus the need to separate yourself as a unique individual.

Conflicts occur when both parties have different expectations and needs for autonomy and connection.

Yet, we need to bear in mind that both autonomy and connection are natural human needs. The challenge is to strike a balance between autonomy and connection as well as nurture both individuality and intimacy.

2. Novelty/Predictability Dialectic

The dialectic of novelty/predictability is the opposition of the desire for familiar routines and the desire for novelty.

Familiar routines provide security and predictability in our lives. However, too much routine is repetitious and makes our lives boring and uninteresting. Therefore, we seek novel experiences, to find something new and different from our normal routines.

Friends may take up a new sport, hobby, or activity together. Families may plan unusual vacations. Romantic partners might explore a new restaurant or go on an untypical date. By doing something spontaneous and different, we introduce variety into our customary routine.

The novelty/predictability dialectic is the desire for the relationship to be predictable versus the desire for it to be original and new. We need to have familiar routines and at the same time, to introduce a new element to spice up our relationships.

3. Openness/Closedness Dialectic

This dialectic involves the desire for openness in tension with the desire for privacy.

An ideal relationship is built on openness, which means both parties have to be honest. Nevertheless, complete openness would be intolerable.

Our conversation breadth (the range of topics discussed) and depth (the degree of the information revealed is personal) will vary. For example, we may discuss some topics with our friends and romantic partners but not with our families. On the contrary, we may disclose our secrets or painful memories with our families but not with our friends and romantic partners.

We will also want our own privacy where there may be some things we do not want to share with anyone.

In conclusion, the openness/closedness dialectic is the desire to be open and divulge information versus the desire to be exclusive and private. Since we need both openness and closedness in our lives, we will need to strike a balance between the two.

4. Favoritism/Impartiality Dialectic

The tension in this dialectic is caused by the desire to be treated fairly and impartially versus the desire to be seen and known as ‘special.'

This is especially true in the workplace, whereby the line between favoritism and impartiality blurs. You might want to be impartial to your colleagues but where and how do you draw the line if these colleagues are your friends?

Things become even more complicated when your boss is your lover. On the one hand, you want to maintain a professional attitude in your workplace. On the other hand, you don't want to be indifferent, or worse, cruel to your beloved. Once again, it becomes hard to draw the line.

Although we try to find a satisfactory compromise between these two extremes, it’s likely that we will tip the balance according to the situation.

When such a situation that calls for you to make a choice between favoritism and impartiality occurs, you will probably have your own concerns with varying degrees of priority. These concerns as well as the degree of priority will then incline you to favor one over the other or better yet, work out a plan that is best for that situation.

5. Affection/Instrumentality Dialectic

The affection/instrumentality dialectic is caused by the tension between the desire for affection to be genuine and the desire for affection to be motivated by benefits and perceived advantages of the relationship.

No matter how deep your relationship is with another person, materiality will always catch up. You can never sever materiality from relationships. Unlike the other dialectics where you try to balance the two opposing elements, everyone might have their own scale for this dialectic.

6. Equality/Inequality Dialectic

This dialectic is essentially the desire to be considered as equals versus the desire to develop levels of superiority.

For example, as a manager of a department, you might want treatment equivalent to that received by other colleagues, to be seen as equals. You might even want to be seen as a friend by your employees - someone whom they can share their work concerns with. Yet, at the same time, you require strict compliance from your employees.

Even though this might sound contracting, both equality and inequality are necessary.

Complete Relationship Dialectics Overview

Complete Relationship Dialectics Overview


Now that you understand the different types of relationship dialectics, it’ll be easier to identify the cause of your relationship problem should you experience one. You can then communicate your needs clearly and effectively to your partner.

Do bear in mind that you and your partner need to reach a consensus about the various relationship dialectics. For instance, both of you agree to respect each other's privacy. Or to agree that work and personal life should be separated. Perhaps, even agreeing to stay impartial in the professional workplace.

Remember, communication is the key to every relationship. Communication is also one healthy way to resolve conflicts.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 nicole-cw