Basic Relationship Dynamics

Relationships can be very confusing. When problems emerge, people often get so caught up and focus on the specifics at hand that they fail to realize the larger issues at play.

And this failure to understand the dynamics underlying our relationships often makes it more difficult for people to resolve conflict and move beyond their current problems.

Relationships involved three basic dynamics (see Millar & Rogers).

These dynamics are always present and they constantly influence our behavior. By focusing on these larger issues, rather than the specific problem at hand, it is typically easier to see what is going on. And often it is easier resolve a specific problem when the larger, underlying issue is addressed.

Power – all relationships involve issues of power and control. Typically, people like to influence their partner’s behavior while at the same time they do not like being unduly controlled or influenced by a partner. In other words, people would like to be able to control what a partner does, but they do not like to be told what to do.

When you look very closely, most conflict often has little to do with the actual issue being discussed, but more often than not, it has to do with a fight over power and control. It’s a fight over who is in charge. We have watched couples time-and-time again, fight and argue over specific issues (e.g., household tasks, weekend plans, type of toothpaste to buy, etc.) rather than address the real problem—a struggle for control.

Affect – all relationships involve issues of liking and disliking. When communicating with another person, we constantly signal how we feel about the person we are talking to. And we convey this type of information through our nonverbal behavior—our posture, facial expressions, touch, eye contact, use of space, and so on. In short, we constantly signal warmth, acceptance, coldness, indifference, hostility, etc.

Again, most problems in relationships are related to how we feel about each other, and not necessarily the problem at hand. For instance, is a fight over where to eat dinner really a fight about food, or does it involve a larger issue? Such a fight is often a means of saying: “I am upset with you, or I don’t really like you right now.” When problems are viewed in terms of affect (do we like or dislike each other?), it is usually easier to see what the is really going on.

Respect –all relationships involve issues of respect. People either demonstrate respect or disrespect for another person, their ideas, values, and differences...

For instance, when couples argue about spending time with the relatives, is the conflict really about this issue, or does it involve something more fundamental: People not feeling like their opinions and thoughts are being listened to. Am I being dismissed, or does my opinion matter at all?

couple upsetMain Point

Taken together, many couples fight about specific issues including money, sex, other people, how to raise children, how to spend their free time... but, more often than not the real issue involves one or more of the following: power, affect, and respect.

When fighting, sometimes it helps to realize what the real issue might be and address it directly in a non-confrontational manner (see talk about problems).

With this in mind, most arguments can be summed up by the following sentence: “I am not feeling loved, respected, or like I have much say and control.”

Related Information - common relationship issues – articles, links and resources

Truth About Deception – back to our home page.