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Relational Dialectics Theory


Relational dialectics is a concept within communication theories which is introduced by professors Leslie Baxter and Barbera M.Matgomery in 1988, the concept focuses on the contradictions in relationships.

relational dialectics theory

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The relational dialectics has its roots from the concept of the extreme will sustain the sources of the contrary. This philosophical concept reflects the tensions that exist being in a relationship. The concept as mentioned comes from the contradictions that arises when two people of varying differences maintain a relationship.

Relational Dialectics Theory

A relationship is a union where two individuals from different background compromise in many ways. People experience internal tensions inconsistently while being in a relationship. Over time the pressures will be recurring in nature and from this extreme tendencies, the relationship sustains.

For instance consider the point between harmony and separation. Communication patterns causing constant state of instability acts as a contrary in sustaining a relationship.


  • Contradictions– in relational dialectics, the concept is that the extreme contrary has the characteristics of its opposite.
  • Totality– in relational dialectics, the totality comes when the opposites unite. Thus the relationship is balanced with contradictions and only then it reaches totality.
  • Process– relational dialectics can be comprehended through various social processes. These processes simultaneously continue within a relationship in a recurring manner.
  • Praxis– the relationship progresses with experience and both people interact and communicate effectively to realise their needs. Praxis is a concept of practicability in making decisions being in a relationship despite of opposing wants and needs.

The most common dialectics in a relationship are

1. Openness and closeness

In a relationship, both partners expect openness in their communication as to be dependable and also to maintain an healthy relationship. But on the contrary, the individual desires privacy.

2. Certainty and uncertainty

Certainty is one factor that bonds the relationship. It is the promise that one keeps and makes both the parties comfortable. But on the contrary, being so predictable makes the relationship dreary thus an element of surprise or ambiguity spur up the relationship.

3. Connectedness and separateness

A relationship to continue, people has to be bonded physically and mentally. But on the contrary too much of connectedness can blur the individuality of the person.

Managing Relational Dialectics

  • Alternation- prioritising the problems alternatively.
  • Denial- being one sided while confronting a problem while ignoring the other.
  • Segmentation- dealing with the problem one-sidedly. Unlike denial, the problem is being faced in a different circumstance.
  • Disorientation- avoiding the problem by terminating the relationship.
  • Balance- keeping a balance between the situation while solving a problem.
  • Reaffirmation- accepting the problem to maintain the relationship.
  • Integration- both the parties are made satisfied by developing methods to solve problems.


The relational dialectics can be applied in studying interpersonal relationships. The behavioral changes in the partners can be comprehended by applying the contradictions that balances the relationship. To maintain a relationship it is important to understand the core concepts of relational dialects.


Sam and Susan started dating for almost a year and once perfect relationship are confronted with problems from both sides. As every couple they started a relationship being open to each other which was comfortable in the beginning and as 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 monotonous. Sam started to miss his friends when every time he reminded of Susan waiting in the house for him.

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

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • the expalanation is explicit November 10, 2017, 8:46 pm

    pls the explanation should be more practical specifically to social work students

  • Sungeni December 15, 2018, 2:39 pm

    I feel like this explaination was more directed to people studying Communication and less for social sork students. Its mostly based on interpersonal communication.

  • Njomi A.D June 4, 2019, 4:10 am

    Sorry i am looking for the answer on the Theology perspective: The question said ‘ Give your own motivated view on the openness/ closeness of the cannon by inter alia also referring to the notae cononicitatis’

  • Half Wit October 22, 2019, 5:55 am

    What are the known criticisms of the theory?

  • Yes Or No Spinner December 31, 2022, 7:35 pm

    I found this blog post to be very informative. I learned a lot about relational dialectics theory and I am now more knowledgeable about the subject.

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