Relational dialectics theory (A Comprehensive Guide)

An interpersonal approach which is used for the communication process by adapting different approaches which is used to maintain a relationship between individuals is called relational dialectics theory.

This approach focuses on the stress and elements of struggles which both the individual or any one of the partners suffers.

The purpose of this approach is to deal with the problems, discomforts and the stressors while using a relational approach between the couples.

To understand the therapy name and its benefits of a communication let’s explore the meaning of this approach.

The dialectics in relational dialectics theory refers to the dialogue which is used as a competing state between the individuals on the specific conflict or problem.

The relational dialectics is a concept which used to communicate among the individuals. It was introduced by Leslie Baxter and Barbara M.Matgomery in 1988.

The main focus of this theory is to focus on the contradictions in relationships.

The concept is introduced to resolve the problems with the couple who maintain a relationship but have different personalities.

It is used to resolve the tensions among the two individuals. In this article we will discuss relational dialectics theory. 

Theory of Relational dialectics:

According to the philosophical approach, a relationship is a union of two individuals, as they come from different backgrounds and decide to sacrifice for each other on different aspects.

People feel the internal tension and have inconsistency when they are in a relationship.

With the passage of time, the relationship pressure re-occur and the nature of difficulties might be changed from one to another. 

The two main things that exist in the relationship are whether the pressure of the relationship remains or dissolves are harmony and separation.

The main factor of the distress is communication gap or the pattern of communication, due to this the relationship sustainability becomes in danger.  

The relational dialectics have two types

1.      Internal approach

2.      External approach

Internal approach: the approach is the approach in which problems exist between the partners or the two individuals.

External approach: this approach is that the problem which exists between the couples also exists now in society or vice versa.

Classification of Relational Dialectics theory

The relational dialectics (competing states) can be classified as follows.

DomainsInternal dialecticsExternal dialectics

Assumptions of Relational Dialectics Theory

There are different assumption of Relational Dialectics theory, by considering these the theory was proposed:

  1. Relationships are not linear.
  2. Relational life is characterized by change and has a dynamic approach.
  3. Contradiction or differences is the fundamental or basic fact of relational life.
  4. Communication is the central point to organizing and negotiating relational contradictions and to dissolve the conflicts.

Core Concepts and Assumptions

According to Baxter our life is a collection of social acts and there are differences that exist between, such as a ceaseless interplay between contrary or opposing tendencies.”

1.   Contradiction

The most important aspect of the relational dialectical theory is contradiction.

The contradiction refers to the two individuals who are dependent on each other and due to interdependent tendency they contradict with each other to some extent and later on the contradiction extend.

There is an example of contraction:

Mr. X and Ms. Y desires to stay close to each other and their need to maintain distance simultaneously are contradictions.

2.   Totality

The second assumption of relational dialectic theory is that differences and contradictions in any relationship is a unified process and we can understand the difference when we are committed or any relationship, cannot be understood in isolation.

Thus the contradictions, differences are natural with each other and cannot be separated when two individuals are committed in a relationship. To understand this concept more detail consider the example;

Mr. X and Ms. Y desire to stay close to each other will not be called a contradiction if their need to maintain distance does not exist at all.

It takes both opposing tendencies to form an inconsistency.

3.   Motion

The relationship is a dynamic process and it does not remain consistent.

The ups and down in any relationship make it stronger and it is not about to manage a single event.

Different social pressures also exist in any relationship.

The two individuals when come in a relationship with different backgrounds become the cause of stimulating the different aspects in a recurring manner.

For example: We see Mr. X and Ms. Y do not feel the same with each other all the time.

They move between the times when they want to spend more time with each other and when they want to be their own person.

This movement between contrary phases can be understood as motion. Which we also know as personal space.

4.   Praxis

The praxis in relational dialectics theory is to focus on the practical approach.

The human attracts towards each other due to the opposing nature and that is the reason they also have different needs.

It is also recognized that humans make their own choices and their selection of things or any object is the result of their own actions. 

For example: Between the competing states of Mr. X and Ms. Y needs, they behave as per the situation demands, backed by their logical reasoning.

How to manage Relational Dialectics?

The founder of this theory proposed the eight methods by following them so individuals can manage the conflicts in any relationship.

The brief description of these methods are:

1.      Denial

In any relationship the denial refers to the response to any distressing situation from only one side and avoids or ignores the other side of the tension or distress.

2.      Disorientation

The Individuals can manage relational dialectics by confusing the relationship.

This means the partners in a relationship can escape the tension by ending the relationship.

To avoid the stress they choose the escape behavior.

3.      Alternation

Alternation is an important way of managing relational dialectics. It is used by mutually and both partners involved equally.

In this both individuals pay attention to the partner’s tensions and make an effort to resolve them.

4.      Segmentation

In any theory or practically, the segmentation can be hectic to deal with all the tensions at once.

They decide to deal with one side of the tension at a time.

This approach is opposite from the denial, such as this approach refers to either all of the stress or tensions in one area of life or with one kind of tension in all areas of life.

5.      Balance

In this approach, couples compromise between two opposite forces.

Thus, they maintain a balance between the situations while partially responding to different stressors.

6.      Integration

The Integration approach is not easy but a useful method of managing relational dialectics where an individual can integrate different tensions in his life to produce solutions that solve all tensions at once.

They deal with all the stressors at once and start the new aspect of life.

7.      Recalibration

It is a process by which an individual reframes the whole tension in a way that it no longer stays in the form of a tension.

It might be they can adapt to the environment and adjust with the problematic issues.

8.      Reaffirmation

Reaffirmation states about the process of accepting the tension as a normal and healthy part of a relationship is also a way of managing relational dialectics.

The most common relational dialectics in a relationship are:

1. Openness and closeness

The both partners are referred to or to be prepared as a partner and pen for the communication by following the aspects that are dependent on each other to some extent and maintain a healthy relationship.

Through this implication of this approach the individual might desire privacy.

2. Certainty and uncertainty

In any relationship, Certainty is one factor that pledges the relationship. It is the promise which is done by one of the partners and makes both of the individuals comfortable.

But in the contrast the relationship might become boring and needs the element of surprise or ambiguity which can spur up the relationship.

3. Connectedness and separateness

In a relationship to continue, individuals have to be bonded physically and mentally.

But on the contrary too much connectedness can blur the individuality of the person.

Limitations of Relational Dialectics Theory

Leslie Baxter believes that this theory has certain limitations. She has mentioned the following points as the major limitations of this theory.

  1. It was claimed that the relational dialectics theory is too distanced from the obviously occurring talk between related parties and that the theory needs a firmer empirical base when applied to talk between related parties.
  2. There is more work that needs to be done in the relational dialectics theory in the future to include multiple perspectives instead of concentrating on the dialectics between two voices.
  3. It was stated that future research should focus on discourse through time, such as studying dialogue and how it transforms over a long period of time.


The implication of the relational dialectics theory is mainly in interpersonal relationships.

The problems and the conflicts can be managed through using the different techniques.

The behavioral changes in the partners can be understood by applying the differences which help to maintain the relationship.

The maintenance of the relationship is important to understand the core concepts of relational dialectics.

Example of relational Dialectics theory

Sam and Susan started dating for almost a year and once perfect relationships are confronted with problems from both sides.

As a good couple they started a relationship being open to each other which was comfortable in the very initial stage and with the passage of time progressed they both started longing for privacy.

Susan began to get bored of sitting inside the house rather than going out and longed for a romantic date with Sam like before.

Their life became dull. Sam started to miss his friends when every time he was reminded of Susan waiting in the house for him.

The tension between these couples can be managed by understanding that the relationships are unpredictable by communicating effectively and accepting the conflicting behaviors of the partners in a relationship.

 FAQ about relational dialectics theory

1.      What is the main purpose of relational dialectics theory?

 Relational dialectics theory is an interpersonal communication theory for couples, which emphasize on the communication skills that arise between individuals when they maintain a relationship.

The theory focuses to resolve the tensions and struggles in a relationship

2.      What are the three main tensions in relational dialectics theory?

There are three main dialectical tensions within relationships. They are:

·         Integration/separation

·         stability/change,

·         Expression/privacy.

3. How does it purpose to think dialectically?

Dialectical thinking refers to the ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most inexpensive and sensible reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.


Relational dialectics theory by Palistha Maharjan (2018) 

 Relational Dialectics Theory in  Interpersonal Communication 

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