Relational Dialectics in Interpersonal Communication. Part 3 of 4



once again let's look at an example only this time again using the dialectical tension of autonomy versus connection my friends Dave and Melanie brawler had been married for over 15 years they're very happily married and they have two kids recently I had the opportunity to honor both Dave and Melanie for their service to our local community I was preparing some award certificates to present to them and called my friend Dave to be sure that I had spelled his wife's name correctly he confirmed that I had but then he surprised me by telling me to be sure to use Melanie's maiden name on the certificate hmm I said okay but I was confused to be honest I thought she was married to Dave so I asked and he explained that yes they were legally married but Melanie had opted to keep her maiden name you see she comes from a strong Irish for Irish family background and she was the only child born to her parents she did not want her family name to just disappear because she married Dave but she also did not want to hyphenate her name as Melanie Donohue brawler she preferred instead to remain Melanie Donohue in honor of her family and her own personal identity interestingly her sons both bear Dave's last name brawler so Melanie resolved this tension between autonomy versus connection by opting for autonomy but only in relation to one area of her life that of her married name a second example was pretty much a common practice in the early 1990s for couples who live together before getting married very often both partners would sign a lease for an apartment but would maintain separate checking accounts to pay for their expenses in this way they remained autonomous when it came to their personal finances but were connected by the fact that they both signed the lease and were responsible for paying the rent the next strategy is called balance another word for balance would be compromised when partners choose this strategy they try to find a middle ground between the two opposing forces of attention to visualize this imagine two people on a teeter-totter if both people are exactly the same distance from the center and weigh exactly the same that teeter totter will balance perfectly and both people will be in the air with their feet off the ground let's look at this using openness versus closeness as the dialectical tension to be resolved your best friend Amol calls you up and starts a long conversation about his relationship with his girlfriend in the course of the conversation he tells you some very personal things things that you did not know and things that make you maybe a bit uncomfortable when he's all done he finishes and he pauses and then he asks if anything like he just described has ever possibly happened to you it has but you really don't want to talk about it because frankly it embarrasses you you would like this little secret to remain your own secret yet at the same time this is your best friend in the world and he just took a big risk and shared something with you according to the norm of reciprocity we talked about early in the course he is more or less expecting you to answer that question caught between the tension and being open in answering his question and being closed and risking hurting your friend or damaging the relationship you decide to answer the question in this case you'd be using balance as a way to resolve the tension the sixth strategy for managing a dialectical tension is called integration when people use this strategy they try to develop behaviors that will satisfy both sides of the tension at the same time this is the old idea of having your cake and eating it too here's an example that applies once again to autonomy versus connection dialectical tensions this comes from my own life my youngest son is 12 most of the time he keeps himself entertained either watching TV playing video games are playing with his friends he's fairly autonomous but every once in a while though he is either bored or lonely or will just have a strong need to be right next to someone a few days ago I was really busy grading papers for one of my classes he came into my office and he asked me what I was doing doing I told him I was grading papers he looked sort of sad and in this sort of small voice he said oh okay now I looked at him and I asked him what was wrong and even though he said nothing I could tell by the tone of his voice and by his body language that he wanted to do something so I asked him again Michael what's wrong this time he told me he had hoped that maybe we could watch a movie together on the couch over in the family room so I look at the stack of papers on my desk and I look at my son and of course my heartstrings are torn I have all this work to do and yet he really wants my time and attention okay so at the same time I didn't want to hurt my son's feelings so I decide to myself I'll tell you what I'm gonna do how about if I bring my work with me we'll go over to the family room together and I'll keep you company while you watch the movie and his eyes lit up immediately and a big smile spread across his face and he said excellent and off we went by joining him in the family room I was attempting to use integration to resolve my need to be alone to focus and grade my papers with his need to be with me and feel close and connected at the same time in the end it worked out really well he sat right beside me and enjoyed his movie and I was able to finish off all the stack of work that needed to be done while still being physically close to my son we both got what we wanted it's very important though to note that integration although it may sound and feel like balance is not the same as balance balance focuses on compromise where one or both parties have to give something up in order to satisfy the tension integration seeks to have both parties achieve what they want at least to some degree without having to compromise or sacrifice the seventh strategy is called recalibration and it's a little bit trickier to follow most of us probably see all three of the tensions autonomy versus connection openness versus clonus and predictability versus novelty as powerful opposites it's easy to that these opposites are bad or even undesirable and should therefore be avoided at all cost when a couple chooses to use recalibration as a tension resolution strategy they reframe the discussion or more or less change their state of mind regarding how they look at it instead of seeing the opposite sides of the tension as bad they look at the tension as positive and healthy instead of choosing to feel bad about feeling that old tug of war between the two sides they instead celebrate it as part of a normal and healthy relationship in essence they see the tension as complementary and perhaps even necessary part of their relationship so how might that work in an example again here's one from my own life after almost 20 years of marriage my wife and I are still best friends and partners one of the reasons is that we learned long ago how to deal with all three of the dialectical tensions we are both very independent people who enjoy and need alone time my wife is an artist who expresses herself through beautiful paintings weavings drawings and creating just amazing pottery if this is an essential part of who she is and who she was meant to be in my free time I love to play my six and twelve string acoustic guitars read books and hike and backpack with my boys about a year or so ago I had come through a very busy quarter and I was tired tired and quite frankly ready to take a break from my kids now don't get me wrong I love them all but just as teenagers need a break from their parents parents need a break from their kids from time to time as well as I recall I was particularly grouchy and irritable one evening I'd been snapping at the kids and I was in just a plain bad mood my wife took me aside she looked me in the eyes and she said to me you really need a vacation mm-hmm she was right I admitted that I could use a little bit of downtime she then asked me well if you could go anywhere for four or five days where would you choose to go I thought about it for a while and then I told her I'd like to go to Arizona now there's a particular hiking trail there that I had wanted to do ever since I was 13 years old to my surprise she told me to book a flight and go do it now me being me I immediately felt guilty about even thinking about this even though she's not that big an outdoors fan the thought of going alone just seemed strange and wrong to me vacations are supposed to be for the whole family right after all I've never really been a big fan of his and her separate vacations but she assured me that it was okay that the family would be okay and I really needed the break looking back on it I'm pretty sure she was tired of my being grouchy too and needed a break from me as well so I booked my flight flew to Arizona and spent a few days all by myself doing one of my very favorite things to do which is hiking and backpacking and I was able to achieve a goal I had since I was 13 which is reaching the top of a mountain trail just outside of Tucson Arizona

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