Communication is a process through which livings things exchange understanding of the world around them. In the context of human beings, communication refers to exchange of information, ideas and emotions from one person to another (West & Turner, 164). For communication to take place there must be a sender of information, a receiver and a medium through which the information will be transmitted through (Miller, 48). Communication is one of the most complex process that human beings engage in every time of their life. Communication has become a very important discipline especially in the 21st century (Ibid, 54). How a person communicates determines how one relates with other people, and thus a personal success not only in social spheres but also in other areas. Effective communication gives person happiness.
There are various theories that seek to explain this process of exchanging information. These theories explain nature of communication and what drives communicators to engage in this human behavior. Early communication theories developed took humanistic and rhetoric perspectives (Littlejohn & Foss, 124). Example of early theories is Aristotle’s rhetoric theory that was focused on the art of persuasion. From the twentieth century, communication theories were influenced by social science view points like psychology, sociology and linguistics (Cragan & Shields, 216). Generally, communication theories can be divided into the context levels or realm of communication to which a theory falls under (Littlejohn & Foss, 132). Communication theory can be under school of journalism and rhetoric, like psychological theories, anthropological and sociological theories. However some theories cut across different ‘levels” or fail to tow in any of the “contexts”. Human communication theories can be classified under realms of communication to which they fall under. Some theories fall under culture, medical, organization, society, message processing or human relationship classes (Cragan & Shields, 217).
Communication theories can also be classified on basis of how they view communication process. On this basis theories are classified as mechanistic, psychological, social construction, systematic and critical. Critical theories of communication view communication on the basis of evaluating and criticizing behaviors and literature works (Griffin, 163). One of critical theories of communication is Baxter and Montgomery’s theory of relational dialectics. This theory evaluates literature humanistically, and it is based on observation and interviews of couples in a romantic relationship (Baxter & Montgomery, 15).Relational dialectics theory is an emotional and value based dialect approach that was developed in 1998. Though it was developed in late 20th century, the theory is based on philosophical theories that were developed before 20th century (Miller, 59). Relation dialectics theory has its basis on Yin and Yang’s theory of dynamism. Yin and Yang classic theory observed that world is in constant change as relationship between individuals and groups are constantly in motion (West & Turner, 172). Greek philosopher Heractlitus also observed that the world was constantly in a flux. Later, Mikhail Bakhim developed the human dialect theory. He illustrated the tensions that exist in the deep structure of all human experiences, as two emotional forces (one force tending toward unity and other towards divergence).
Baxter developed Relational Dialectics theory based on Bakhim’s theory. The central concepts of Relationship Dialectics are contradictions, totality, process and praxis (Baxter, 257). The basic concepts of Relational Dialectics theory are contradictions. Contradictions occur when two forces are interdependent and mutually move against each other e.g. in a romantic relationship, a partner can simultaneously desire intimacy and personal space. Totality concepts suggest that contractions are part of unified whole and can not be understand in isolation. Dialectics in human relationship have to be understood in terms of social process (Baxter & Montgomery, 44). Praxis means practical behavior. The dialect tensions are created through interaction and active participation. Baxter and Montgomery defined communication pattern as result of dialectical tensions. The tensions arise from conflicting emotional needs by people in any relationship. The conflicting forces, makes relationship to be constantly in a state of flux (Ibid, 80). Baxter and Montgomery proposed that to maintain a relationship, each member of a relationship must strive to reach an acceptable balance between their desires and need of others (Baxter, 260).
Relational Dialectics theory is based on empirical truth on what goes on in the relationships and communication patterns. According to the theory, there are three primary relational dialectics: connectedness and separateness, certainly and uncertainly and openness and closeness (Baxter & Montgomery, 78). Connectedness and separateness dialectics occurs as even though partners in a relationship always have a natural desire to have close and permanent bond in their interpersonal relationship, relationship cannot endure unless individuals spend time alone. Relations tensions occur over balance between connection and personal space (Baxter, 272). This is a fact, as in interpersonal relationship, there is always the urge in individuals to spend time together and do things together. At the same time individuals in a relationship need their own space to safeguard there individual identity and do their own things. This results to relational dialectics (Baxter & Montgomery, 89). People in a relationship need natural sense of assurance in their relationship. People desire some level of stability and predictability in their relationship. However, if everything in a relationship is certain, the parties lose interest. Individual’s desire thrills and spice of variety that comes with uncertainness as this reduce monotony and boredom in a relationship (Miller, 60). This certainty and uncertainty dialectics occurs as individuals in a relationship fight to balance between certainty and uncertainty (Baxter & Montgomery, 91). This is true as in real life, people in relationships always have the need to feel stable and secure of events in their relationship. Nevertheless at the same time, individuals need excitement to keep the relationship afloat. In fulfilling relationship there have to be surprises that spice up the relationship (Littlejohn & Foss, 147).
In an interpersonal relationship, individual partners feel the need to be open and reveal personal information. This is because they feel the relationship will grow closer and stronger as share information on one another. Also the need for self-disclosure is driven by individual urge to have as little uncertainties as possible (Baxter, 273). However, this need is in conflict with natural desire for one’s privacy. A relationship tension is created on how much an individual is in a relationship has to disclose to maintain the relationship (Baxter & Montgomery, 123). The relationship tension is evident in real life as individuals in the relationship have the need to feel involved and make partners comfortable with each other. At the same time, disclosure of much information makes a person feel that he/she may run a risk of scaring the other away or smothering them (Griffin, 173). Relational Dialectics theory has some limitations. Relationship Dialectics theory explains the opposing forces that are believed to be inherent in any intimate relationship. The theory was developed through qualities description and observation of couples in a close relationship (West & Turner, 173). Therefore, the theory is humanistic theory as it seeks to create a new understanding of people’s behaviors. The theory explains the forces behind intimate interpersonal communication. Though the theory effectively helps to explain and give understanding of people, the theory does not give way to establish value judgments (Cragan & Shields, 218).
In the theory, Baxter and Montgomery give various characteristics of interpersonal communication but fail to acknowledge their ethnical stands on forms of communication process (Littlejohn & Foss, 176). Both theorists do not provide basis upon which one can evaluate messages. There are relational tensions that are as a result of differences in gender between two people in different relationships. In heterosexual relationships men and women have different ways of communicating. Empirical research has shown that men and women communicate themselves differently, therefore, the structure of Relational Dialectic theory is lacking. The theory does not effective analyze the nature of close heterosexual relationships (Miller, 68). The theory has limitations as it is based on the following metatheoritical assumptions. Ontological limitation: the theory in explaining nature of close interpersonal communication, examine the ‘pull’ and ‘tug’ that play out in communication interaction assuming that individual nature of every relationship communication depends on three opposing relational forces (Griffin, 174).
The theory is limited to the theorists’ perspective views of nature of close relationship. Epistemological limitation: the research is conducted in a manner that makes the observation being influenced by opinion of the observers (Griffin, 174). The presumption that the relational dialectics exists is based on Baxter and Montgomery’s interviews with, and observation of, couples in a romantic relationship. Being a subjective theory, there is bound to have a strong influence between the researchers opinion and views and the research finding (West & Turner, 174). Axlogical limitation: in investigating the nature of intimate interpersonal communication, Relational Dialectics theory failed to consider potential biases that result from values of the observer/research on nature of human relationships. The value of researcher in a subjective research can skew the findings. The finding of existence and strength of dialectics is based on value and opinion that is made by individual researchers (Baxter, 273).
The theory has different implication in life, from a biblical perspective, the theory clicks with biblical teachings on need to work together, connect and help one another.
Bible teachers that for people to prosper they have to unite, bond and share in life. Bible also teaches that partners united in marriage should remain so and no one should separate them. Relational dialectics theory can help in maintaining Christian marriages from breaking as a result of lack of balance between the relational opposing forces (Griffin, 172). Marriages have been breaking down because of lack of communication and understanding of nature of communication (Littlejohn & Foss, 154). Bible also teachers that people should be honest and frank with each other. Self –disclosure is valued in biblical perspective as the bible advocate for confession of our own deeds, whether evil or good. The theory helps to understand the opposing pressures on how much to reveal to people. It also helps Christian to understand how to strike balance between privacy and self-disclosure (Cragan & Shields, 217).
Relational dialects created a new understanding of people by analyzing forces at play behind close interpersonal communication. Understanding of relational forces can help couples in relationships to get along smoothly and also reduce marriage breakages (Miller, 152). Currently many people who are dating, experience an ‘on and off’ relationship as they fall out often. Relational Dialectics theory, recognize contradicting forces in a close relationship communication which can be essential in building stable relationship. Since the theory has some limitation and faults, new approaches and theories can be build on this theory in the future, to come up with a theory with complete and wholistic view of interpersonal communication. Example, Deborah Tannen developed Genderlect theory based on the Relational Dialects, to address issues of gender differences (Baxter & Montgomery, 142). Relational Dialectics formed a strong basis to build on human communication theory that can help bring social reforms and have a stable society. Future researchers on interpersonal communication can simplify the three dialects forces into a single direction that can be easily understood by all people (Baxter & Montgomery, 145). In the future, theories on human communication that will be based on this theory, may also include value judgment of information and be structured in more appealing way.
In conclusion, the study of Relational Dialectics theory influenced my thoughts and view regarding factors that affects interpersonal communication. The theory has made me to focus on needs and urges that cyclically opposed each other in relations partners. It has shaped my view on the three dialectics tensions that are at play in relationship. Consequently, the theory has change my opinion on the way i should behave in a relationship and made me to be keen in striving to get balance between the three opposing pressure. The theory has made me to be more conscious of how i take decision on spending time with close friends and personal space, self dis-closure and privacy and extent of reducing uncertainty.
Baxter, L. A. & Montgomery, B. M. Relating: Dialogues and Dialecticts. Guilford Press, New York.1996. Pp 3-145
Baxter, L. A. A dialectical perspective of communication strategies in relationship development. In S. Duck. (Ed.) Handbook of personal relationships 1988. (pp. 257-273). New York: Wiley
Cragan, J. F, & Shields, D.C. Understanding communication theory: The communicative forces for human action. Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon. 1998. Pp 215-218.
Griffin, E. A first look at communication theory(4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. 2000. Pp163-174.
Littlejohn, S.W. and Foss, K.A. Theories of human communication, 9th edition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth. 2008. Pp 124-176
Miller, K. Communication Theories: Perspectives, processes, and contexts. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Pp 47-68
West, R., & Turner, L. H. Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield. 2000. Pp164-177.