“Build bridges and walls to include as well as exclude”
A dialectic tension is the perceived contradiction in personal relationships between two desirable goals or values that appear to be opposing tendencies, desires and needs…but are in fact both desirable to various degrees. In light of this, dialectic tensions shouldn’t be viewed as ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’ when it comes to maintaining these coupled tensions and their integration within a relationship. The importance of balancing of emotional values in a relationship is to recognize that these values are always in motion and as importantly, that the seed of the opposing value lies within the first and vise versa. These tensions have been symbolically recognized for centuries by the ancient symbol of ‘Yin and Yang’; where fluid and dynamic elements circle each other and each carrying an element of the other within them. The most common tensions found within relationships are questions of;
Companionship vs Independence
These are the push-pull desires of wanting to connect with your partner and wanting to preserve your personal independence, or how dependent the romantic partners are with each other. The degree of comfort within the relationship is the degree to which both parties understand the boundaries of the other, the emotional and physical space each is either giving or taking and to the degree of happiness to this agreement is. In most relationships, these boundaries are negotiated reactively rather than actively and are initial points of friction within an emerging relationship.
Candor vs Privacy
These are the tensions at arise between desiring to engage in self-disclosure, as opposed to maintaining a degree of privacy. In most relationships this involves to what degree that you share your thoughts, feelings, beliefs and past with your partner. Two central themes that are great sources for tension within a relationship are the degree of self-revelations regarding past relationships and the fears and anxieties currently driving your state of mind being expressed by insecurities, negativity and pessimism. While revelations in either are fine in moderation, it is when we hit our partners boundaries that we wear out our welcome of candor.
Predictability vs Novelty
These tensions represent the seeking of behavior patterns between stability and the desire for spontaneity. Frequently we lapse into a sense security and a behavior routine that is comfortable and easy for us which becomes boring. The challenge here is to provide the consistency we trust upon, but not so much that it becomes mundane by balancing between the expected and the unexpected. More critically though, is recognizing a contextual shift with our partners, especially those times in which they are worn, tired and ego-depleted. It is at these times we are better served by reaching for the familiar and trusted to help in assuaging a sense of exhaustion within our partner’s lives.
By far the most common strategies for maintaining relational tensions within a stabilized relationship is a selection and emphasis of a dominant poles, such as placing a high value on levels of connection, openness and predictability, followed with a temporary cycling of independence, privacy and novelty. When incorporated intentionally, the emotional desyncing and resyncing are renown for fostering deep feelings of arousal, attraction and connection within a partner, as witness by the literary work of the world’s various Casanovas’s and the center pieces of dime-store romance novels. This intentional emotional cycling is often considered the bulwark against a woman’s initial hypergamous reflex of feeling ‘unhappy’ within the confines of an all too stable relationship. Other strategies include segmenting or compartmentalizing access to and from various value elements. A common example would be having the ritual of ‘a night out with the boys’. A particular one to be on the lookout for is reframing, where a partner states that they are ‘just going through a phase’. This is typical of individuals who do not fully understand the flux of relational tensions coupled with inadequate communication skills and relational trust and respect to investigate these emotional needs appropriately and therefore are unlikely to cope or manage these tensions effectively or appropriately. The most sinister of these ‘phases’ is an unchecked woman’s hypergamous nature. A woman ignorant or unwilling to face her terribly destructive nature is not maintaining tensions by harmonically alternating the back and forth between them, but dumping her partner and her children on the teeter-totter of life in the name of naked sexual self-interest.
When there is a shift in value of a given dialectic from one polarized end towards another without an oscillation back, this is known as a turning point. In early relationships we see this primarily when a dating couple decides to become exclusive and committed to each other. The dialectic of independence moves and resides more fully with companionship. Later it may again intensify, when both partners in conjunction decide to advance their relationship civilly and socially in the form of marriage and family development. The major concern of turning points is not when we emphasize a pole mutually, but when it is sudden and the sentiment is anything but mutual. These turning points can be so acute that we change our interpretation of the relationship, what it means to us and what place it has in our lives. Navigating these turning points without astute relational maintenance and management skills and open and honest communication all too frequently turn into open conflicts. If left unattended to, the conflicts and tensions will not only do irrefutable harm to the relationship, but also to the individual parties, ultimately leading to the relationships destruction. At this stage relationship repair is needed, not simple maintenance. If relationship repair and re-negotiation cannot be achieved, then a dissolution of the relationship is in order at that point, before any unnecessary further harm is done.
Interestingly enough the same tensions that exist between two relationship partners also exist between the ‘couple’ and their relationships with their greater social networks, most notably between friends and family members. While the dialectic tensions between conventionality and uniqueness of a relationship occurs with some couples, more often than not the degree of inclusion and privacy is one that has to be negotiated, or more aptly put, renegotiated. Where one pair of the partnership had poor or weak personal boundaries with friends and family, those poor boundaries will surely be passed into the new relationship if left unchecked. In instances such as this, it is far better to identify it and regulate it early before the behavior in question becomes codified and fully established within the relationship (deal with her Mother, before she’s your Mother-in-Law).