MAINTAINING DIALECTICAL TENSIONS

Yin-Yang

“Build bridges and walls to include as well as exclude”

Dialectic what?

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.

Maintenance Strategies

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.

Turning Points

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.

External Tensions

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).

Managing Ego Depletion

Fuel-gauge

Men trip over mole hills, not mountains…

 

Limited supply of emotional energy

The problem with stating an obvious is that it doesn’t invoke introspection of the baseline idea or concept into our lives and how the obvious plays into our management and decision-making surrounding any number of issues that we face. They’re too easily glossed over. Much like an idea or concept hiding in plain sight, it’s just not seen. This is particularly true of the ego, the pool of emotional energy reserve utilized for self-control, decision-making and willpower. When this energy level is low, it typically impairs one’s ability to facilitate appropriate decision-making both on a personal level and on an interpersonal level which are exemplified by aggression, reduced ability to make trade-offs, decision avoidance, impulse decision-making and impaired self-regulation. Not quite what we want for a healthy relationship structure…

Emotional Muscle

Researchers in social psychology contend that the ego is much like a muscle, that it can be strengthened and built up over time through exercise. It is one of the reasons that older individuals tend to have more ego reserve than the young, is the fact at having lived longer lives and have as a consequence learned to manage this emotional reserve better through experience. And like any muscle, exercising it will drain and fatigue it, but given appropriate rest and refueling, it will grow stronger. But we don’t do that… we chronically strain ourselves and then pile on acute stresses on top of it, much like a cross-fitter who grossly over trains and ultimately ends up injuring themselves in the pursuit of health. When we chronically strain ourselves and then pile on acute stresses on top of it, we must increase the degree of self-care to counter it. If we don’t, we will be running ourselves on an emotional deficit and quickly become ego depleted and suffer the corresponding impaired, undesirable and maladaptive behaviors we wish to avoid in the first place.

A Morale Correlation

While there is a strong correlation between ego depletion and morale, one does not nessicitate the other though. An example is a marathon runner at the completion of a 26 mile run will suffer from a degree of ego depletion, in their ability to make cognitive processes the same way, as if they were well rested- they’re simply exhausted, but will likely be in high morale for having completed a strenuous task. This would be an example of an acute stressor with high morale. If the same marathon runner was then told they would have to walk back, now a chronic stress, we could expect morale to drop dramatically. The same is true in reverse, that we can give fuel to the ego, by ways and means of increasing morale. A relationship partner suffering from chronic or severe acute ego fatigue is a leading indicator for poor morale and future relationship ability impairment. If left unaddressed or mismanaged it can lead to very deleterious behaviors that ultimately lead to the relationship’s failure. How many people are led to cheating on their partners due to sustained chronic stresses built up within their relationship, or external forces acting on it? Learning to identify factors giving rise to ego fatigue, monitoring yours and your partners levels of emotional reserve and countering the effects of ego depletion are tremendous skills to utilize to avoid bigger issues down the road and sustaining a healthy long-term relationship.

 

Managing Conflict

AngryCouple

“Conflict is inevitable, but combat is optional”

The Nature of Relationship Conflict

Real conflicts in relationships are more than just elements associated with let downs, frustrations, incivility or broached boundaries. They’re deeper and more powerful than arguments and disagreements would at first appear. Relationship conflicts are situations where you or your partner perceive an emotional menace, whether that menace is real or imagined. What’s worse is that they tend to repeat and don’t go away from one relationship to another—that is, these menaces will travel with you into your next relationship and with a new partner. These are highly visceral reactions to situations that rationality will not clear away unless the phantoms that are driving this behavior are identified and addressed. It is important to realize that conflicts more central to issues of attachment and commitment will evoke not only a greater threat response from you or your partner, but are more likely to be the structural fault within your relationship and will be a leading candidate for that relationship failure. That is, unresolved emotional issues have a markedly disproportional negative effect on the health and viability of your relationships and as leaders and managers of our relationships we have a responsibility to lead and manage these.

The Nature of Conflict Avoidance

Much like the real issues driving emotional conflicts, conflict avoidance hides several significant motivators to avoid conflict interactions and serves as a good analogy to the hidden emotional issues behind conflicts. Most people can relate to a very basic element of conflict avoidance just because of the very nature of conflict itself; that it is absorbing, energy-consuming and honestly we want to believe that we have better things to do… but is that truly why we avoid conflict, or are there other issues that are really motivating us from venturing there? Would it be more true to recognize that we may be lacking conflict skills and have had a history of poor utilization of those skills and almost no recognizable ability to manage conflict in a healthy and productive way? Are we too afraid, feel too vulnerable or unsure how to bring to the light of day deeply guarded emotional issues with our partner? Are we honestly too insecure about the nature and true character of our relationship to test it in the crucible of conflict and are afraid to find out the reality of where it stands? Understanding these and any other motivator you may have to avoid conflict will be the first step you take to managing conflict within any relationship.

A Lack of Social Fluency

As children we go through the process of learning and developing a large number of social skills facilitating our interactions with others. One of the most important, but seldom taught or developed is conflict skills. And like all skills, unless as adults we continue to develop, nurture and hone our abilities, we’re slaves to the maturity skill level of our abilities of when we initially learned them, regardless of our actual age. It’s why you’ll see fully grown adults resorting to acting like children, because they honestly have no real ability to do otherwise. Their skill set is limited to that of a child’s. On a fundamental level the ability to hold constructive and healthy conflict sessions is a mark of maturity and one relegated to a fully developed adult. Children need to be taught the critical skills of collaborating with others, restraining anger escalation, rejecting shutting down and emotional withdrawal as a viable conflict management strategy and avoiding or changing destructive behavioral patterns of aggression, to resolve or manage conflict. If as an adult you have not developed those, have positive experience utilizing them and have confidence in your ability to enact these abilities, it’s time you sat down with your inner-child and have a heart-to-heart about developing them.

Emotional Gateway

In an emotional conflict people rarely convey the needs at the heart of the problem; the words being said isn’t what your partner is trying to communicate, the issue being addressed, isn’t really the true issue, as there is often a bigger issue behind a closed emotional door, that contains a very large emotional elephant. If we really listen to our partners, not only in what they are saying to us, but in the patterns of behaviors that bring us back to this same very place, time after time, we may come to realize that they are in fact bringing us to an emotional gateway. We ourselves may not even be aware of how deeply a particular issue from our past affected us, until a situation involving conflict has occurred to uncover it. Partners that don’t trust themselves, have the ability or established an operating pattern and history to discuss pertinent, at-risk issues appropriately will often utilize inappropriate methods to advance an issue into the forefront. They will start a minor conflict to segway the discussion into a larger and more important issue, that they feel inadequate discussing, often called a lead-in. A partner who fears holding a particular discussion due to fears of evoking abandonment issues, relationship flight (you leaving her) or heightened emotional insecurities, may in fact deny the presence of hidden issues, even when directly asked (she may not actually be even aware of it herself). We should be cognizant of this possibility and book mark emotional conflicts, so that if we keep returning to them, we can realize that there truly is something else there, even if our partner is unwilling to openly address it, or the fact we can’t see it. In such a case, finding and knocking on these emotional doors may not be enough. Our partners may continue to deny their existence. In such cases, it is not our responsibility to open those doors, it is our partner’s. If they choose to keep them shut and us out, we can only identify that we were aware, willing and offering a safe environment for them to share with us, but they are ultimately accountable for not doing so. Regrettably these issues tend to be the leading cause for relationship failures, known or otherwise and that is of their making, not ours.

The Crucible- a Test of Character

Emotional conflicts within relationships test the character of the relationship itself and can tell us as much about the relationship, as it does the individuals within the conflict. Just as we can deduce an individual’s social fluency by observing their social skill mastery, we can evaluate a relationship’s strength, health and vibrancy by observing how conflict is handled, regarded and managed within the relationship. Is the conflict not only addressed in a manner which seeks resolution by both partners, but do the partners separate the individual from the issue with tact and respect and do the partners utilize the source of conflict for greater understanding and comprehension of their partner? When done so, conflict can be a tremendous opportunity to lead to deeper respect, trust and intimacy. Conflict tests relationships and individuals more rigorously than other forms of interactions and can be very frightening because of it, but by developing our and our partner’s ability to handle, manage and constructively resolve conflict can we gain honest confidence in our relationship’s true strength and character, by having navigated through it.

Conflict Cost

We must learn to manage conflict because the risks involved in not doing so are very real and very, very costly. Appropriate conflict management prevents physical and psychological aggression within intimate relationships. We are vastly less likely to lash out with physical violence, in releasing engulfed rage and anger that has built up rapidly within a spiraling and unrestrained conflict setting. We are less likely to be physically domineering and physically aggressive, in an attempt to control or manage a situation where our skill sets have failed us. We are less likely to commit emotional and psychological harm in delivering vicious and insidious personal verbal attacks in moments of lost self-regulation. We are less likely to lose relationships that we have invested heavily in emotionally, physically, sexually, socially and financially. Beyond the total sum cost of any failed relationship, the cost of not developing conflict management skills is that this lack of ability will likely be handed down from Father to child. Parents that manage conflict appropriately are less likely to neglect or abuse their children and are more than likely to pass those positive behavior skill sets down to their children. The same hand that guides the Mother will be the same hand that guides his children.

Managing Unspoken Expectations

Titanic Model

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(A man surveying the results of an iceberg named ‘hypergamy’)

“Expectations that go unspoken do not infer consent.”

 Icebergs of Navigational Routes

Unspoken expectations, conditions, rules and obligations are like icebergs to the navigational routes of our relationships with others. They lurk in the byways rarely seen or noticed, and if so typically at a distance to become a natural part of one’s emotional landscape and an element forming your context for being. We sail past, around and quite often through these emotional berg flows with little consequences to us or our relationships until that frightful day when we strike one. And like icebergs themselves, what is visible to the eye is only a portent to the massive formulations that lies below the surface.

Obligated Servitude

We all have and created expectations for ourselves, our relationships and have projected those onto our partners. We have the natural tendency to expect the significant people in our lives to behave in a manner envisioned and internalized, to include operating in synchronicity with us, with little thought, planning or management, yet we cannot in all honesty and with integrity expect our partners to read our minds, pick up on every nuance of reflective or reactive body language, to read between the lines of what we say or do, or to fully understand and comprehend us, if we do not trust and respect them enough, to share and discuss what ails us or what we expect of them. Failing to do so is unfair, unhealthy and unwarranted and is a lazy, self-absorbed form of passive-aggressiveness behavior, that delegates the responsibility and accountability that is our own to others, without the courtesy or respect of open acknowledgement of those facts. It is a clandestine form of negotiation that sets our partners up for failure, obligation and servitude. These clandestine obligations create an incredible burden of pressure to recognize, understand and anticipate, that leaves even the most astute and capable partner drained, frustrated and ultimately overwhelmed. Ultimately it is a sign that we don’t respect ourselves enough to be willing to openly present, discuss and negotiate with our partners, what we feel, what we believe and what we expect. Sadly any relationship not built on respect, care and understanding is one poorly built and crafted, especially the one we create with ourselves, as that relationship is the one that gets projected to the world and our partners.

Crossed Boundaries

When someone does something that is in deep contrast to the standards, boundaries and beliefs, regarding behavior and consideration, we often feel deeply hurt, betrayed, angry and confused at this display of lack of consideration and care. It is natural and common to withdraw emotionally from the relationship and perceptions of a relationship change when there is a contrast between the ideal and reality. Furthermore resentment builds, as a result of any unspoken breaches of values that goes unaddressed. We naturally resent the transgression and now ourselves for not demonstrating the fortitude to embrace our own truth, with our partner, in an honest and open way and is then compounded with each additional occurrence or remembrance. This is a progression of emotional responses that sets off a chain of reaction, much like a domino cascade that spreads and leads towards the end of the relationship, such as a brush fire leads to devastating forest fires. Instead we should stop keeping the emotional peace of silence and honor ourselves by speaking up and speaking out.

Unrealistic Expectations

When we hold unrealistic expectations of and for our partners, we are in essence not seeing them for who they truly are or the reality of what we are asking of them and needing. It is a form of invalidation when we reject our partners, their efforts and investment in us and our relationships when we hold expectations that they cannot achieve. The greater the degree of disparity between what is expected and what is achieved is just the initial basis of frustration, which is sure to snowball to a larger magnitude of consequence. When unrealistic expectations are systemic and form an institutional element within a relationship, it is a sure sign that the partners are an inappropriate fit for each other, but instead of honestly looking at the true cause of the issue and resolve the relationship appropriately , we cling to our failed choice of a partner and relationship, and seek to control and brutally dominate it into submission, rather than face reality and release our partners appropriately with care, consideration and respect. When we hold unrealistic expectations of our partners, fail to recognize and utilize appropriate methods to resolve the relationship, should we ever be surprised when our partners after so much invalidation, disrespect and inconsideration on our part, choose to resolve the relationship inappropriately instead?

Conflict as a Vehicle of Awareness

Not all unspoken assumptions, expectations, rules governing behavior that sabotage relationships are known. In fact, there tends to be three categories that they fall into; the first is the spoken and conscious, which tend to be boundaries which are culturally held, known and actively expressed to our partners. The second is what is unspoken but known consciously, some of these I’ve just written about. The third is something that is unspoken and consciously unknown to us. It resides within us, without our conscious awareness of it. We simply don’t see it until it is upon us. Even then, like icebergs in the dark, we may not even recognize the entire mass and reality of what is before us, as we respond to the violation or transgression, with unexpected hyper-sensitivity on our part. It is at these moments that we should recognize our own emotional reaction as a signal to stop, look and listen to the source of where these emotions are coming from. Looking into the source of these emotions via psychological self-analysis and relationship autopsy, is an incredible starting point for determining what the underlying issue and concern is. Frequently they don’t reside or originate with our partners or the perceived transgression, but from our own past and development. It is only after consciously acknowledgement, acceptance and be willingness to account for these emotions, that we then progress to sharing them with our partner, utilizing relationship skills of conflict management, in communicating emotional needs, having a critical conversation, and setting boundaries with them. In doing so, we take on the accountability and responsibility of securing our own happiness and creating the life we really want. It is a process that is worth the investment not only for our relationships and partners, but individually for ourselves.

IMPULSE CONTROL & SELF-REGULATION

You cannot release tension by creating more of it…

Rationally, we know we cannot expect to live harmoniously with our partner at all times, but seldom do we emotionally accept that fact. Frustrations, unmet expectations, let downs, incivility, broached personal boundaries, poor behavior, brushes with insecurity issues, confrontations with un-resolved emotional developmental tasks can often trigger deep emotional reactions that fuel and give rise to unchecked jealousy and anger. These impulses drive our temptations to act utilizing rash behaviors and short-term decision-making that satisfy our basic instincts of self-preservation and immediate self-interest in releasing pent-up tension by lashing out. In the moment there is nothing more compelling and satisfying than completely releasing your engulfed rage and anger… …and then it is over… the moment and the relationship. You simply cannot have a healthy relationship where trust and respect do not exist, and in that moment of lost control and lack of self-regulation both were highly diminished if not destroyed. Just anger should be displayed in incredibly rare occasions and where it is truly warranted, if ever. Ultimately an angry defensive outburst moves you further, rather than closer together.

Negativity spiral of hostile reciprocation

It doesn’t have to be a flash of uncheck rage or anger that kills your relationship. The ease at which negativity, hostility and resentment builds into conflict, strife and reciprocated negativity is frightening, as it spins into an almost unrecoverable spiral of destructive behaviors, as partners interact in an absorbing state of animosity and hostility that fuels itself causing more harm to trust, respect and mutual admiration along the way… This negative spiral is one of the very real reasons that breaking up is the norm, not the exception in intimate relationships. We simply unwittingly fan the flames of demise without squelching them early when conflict is most manageable.

Pro-relationship action

An important function of promoting and enhancing your relationship is your ability to respond constructively rather than destructively to negative impulse temptations. To prevent damage to your relationship and to your reputation regard anger, frustration, the surge for dominance or aggressive competitive action to be ‘right’ or ‘win’ as a caution sign to alert your to problematic emotional situation. The angrier you feel, the less effective you will be able to solve any problem, as it decreases your ability to think, take in new information, take fresh perspective or to come up with new solutions. This is especially true in any form of group activity where consensus building or collaboration building is essential in pursuit of any shared or common goal.

Stop!

Taking a moment to take in a deep breath and letting the surge of adrenaline and emotions to pass through you, to clear your mind for an instant to think before you speak and to think twice before you act, may be all you need to release the tension and relax the body and mind from the fight or flight mode you’re currently on. It is this interruption that allows you to build awareness and establish self-control, to regulate yourself and to act through your beliefs appropriately. Taking a moment to stop and re-affirm your core values will ease the effects of hasty anger by reminding us why those values are important to us. By recognizing that anger is an emotional caution sign, it will help us focus on our long-term objectives, rather than short-term gratification and avoid our natural hazardous responses.

Look!

In the moment of pausing look into not only the situation, but what you really want. Take perspective. How you want to be regarded. Where you want the relationship to take you. How do you value the relationship. Who do you want to be. What are your values and are you acting through those. Focus on your behavior (the only thing you can control) and not of your partner’s is essential. Empowering yourself instead of attempting to control others or the situation is a key component of overcoming anger tendencies. Control what you can- you.

Listen!

Listen to your partner. Not just in what she is saying, not just in what she is doing, but listen for what may be driving those words and actions. Utilize your powers of perception to try to understand what are her needs, wants and feelings of expectations that are unresolved or unmet? What is she emotionally aching for that she cannot reach? Before we speak, before we act, be very careful not to invalidate your partner, as once we have the opportunity for any productive discussion or problem-solving is all but gone.

Listen deeper!

Listen deeper still. Listen to deep within yourself and ask yourself why you’re responding negatively rather than positively to a potentially destructive partner’s behavior? It most likely will underscore unresolved emotional or developmental tasks for yourself well beyond the initiating event. Mentally bookmark this emotional reaction response and investigate it by performing a psychological self-analysis by looking at emotional patterns of behavior, as well as perform a relationship autopsy of those relationships that surround those feelings. Frequently strong emotional responses are unconscious and subliminal signals that unresolved dependency needs and developmental tasks are unresolved and will hinder the health and wellbeing of not only your relationship, but for you as well.

Ego-depletion

Self-control is not the whole story in regulating impulse control. Stress, general frustration, exhaustion, poor nutrition, lack of sleep and competing simultaneous demands will affect will-power and self-control reserves of anyone. It is important to recognize that your self-regulatory strength may be limited. As it is depletable. As it is renewable. Even someone who is committed to his or her relationship may fail at self-regulating due to self-regulating strength depletion despite their motivation.

Self-monitoring

It is highly beneficial if we can self-monitor not only ourselves, but the circumstances and environment in which we are party to for signs that we may be taxed, fatigued or worn down and act to counter it. In many instances we can foresee and anticipate that in an up and coming situation we may reach a similar point, and instead of just ‘sucking it up and driving on’ we can actually pre-plan rejuvenating and energy replenishing actions strategically. Whether this is getting extra sleep and rest, eating properly, treating yourself well, taking a moment to pause and reflect, exercising, sharing a good meal with friends or having sex lavishly (even if it’s just with yourself) can all have a remarkable effect on your ability to express gratitude in life and confer an enormous happiness advantage in general.