Relational Dialectics Theory on Adultery


Relational dialectics may be regarded as a specific concept within the theories of communication. Introduced in 1996 by professors Barbara Montgomery and Leslie Baxter, Rational Dialectics Theory (RDT) focuses on ongoing tensions between contradictory impulses people constantly experience being in close relationships (West & Turner, 2021). In general, the theory pictures people’s relational life as an ongoing process and constant motion when partners are continually affected by conflicting discourses. Thus, these discourses’ pushes and pulls cause tension called relational dialectics.

As a matter of fact, the theory explains how people deal with opposing goals that inevitably present in relationships (West & Turner, 2021). It is based on five main assumptions, including a non-linear character of relationships, constant changes in relational life, contradiction as the relationships’ fundamental fact, communication for contradictions’ organization and negotiation, and choice-making only by human beings. RDT addresses three basic interpersonal dialectics – autonomy and connection, openness and protection, novelty and predictability – and several contextual dialectics beyond basic ones, for instance, the public and the private or the real and the ideal (West & Turner, 2021). In this paper, a personal example of my friends Jessie and Michael will be analyzed with the use of RDT.

Jessie and Michael

Jessie is one of my best friends, and her relationship with her husband, Michael, may be explained by applying RDT. Jessie and Michael got married two years ago, and their relational life looked perfect as they were a very close couple. They nurture mutual respect, openness, honesty, and understanding in their relationships. Both partners realized the significance of the private space and occasionally spent time separately. However, everything had changed when Michael cheated on Jessie after intense alcohol consumption celebrating his friend’s birthday in the nightclub without his wife. When this incident was revealed, Michael did not start to lie and told Jessie everything honestly. He not only apologized many times but began proving his repentance with actions in order to save the family. First of all, he stopped drinking at all and do not visit celebrations and other events in public places without his spouse. He does all that Jessie asks him to do without objections feeling she did not forgive him.

At the same time, Jessie decided to keep the family, taking into consideration the circumstances of adultery and her husband’s sincere regret. However, their relationships have changed as Jessie cannot be as open and connected with Michael as before, regardless of her feelings. She cannot express her love in the same way even in the most ordinary everyday situations:

Michael: Ok, I have to go. See you in the evening. Love you so much, babe.

Jessie: Have a nice day.

In addition, Jessie stopped to share her thoughts, ideas, and actions with Michael as she did before, pretending that everything is always fine. At the same time, although not expressing it, she cannot trust her husband anymore as before expecting him to cheat her again. In general, Jessie worries a lot about her current relationships, and she has never expected these changes before.

Application of RDT

The example of Jessie and Michael shows that due to an external factor, people experience strong and ongoing tensions in their relationships with contradictory elements that cannot be resolved. Their relationships are not linear and may be characterized by changes – the partners had another attitude to each other two years ago in comparison with the current situation. In the present day, their relationships are full of contradictions and tensions that never go away or cease (West & Turner, 2021). Although all decisions concerning their union were made by spouses, honest communication helps them keep their relationships. On the basis of dialectics, the relational life of Jessie and Michael may be regarded in the following way:

Autonomy and Connection. This dialectic refers to people’s simultaneous desire to find intimacy with significant others and be independent of them (West & Turner, 2021). It is easily observed in the case of Jessie and Michael. Jessie still loves her husband as she decided to give him a second chance. She notices his efforts and wants their relationships to be as before. However, she cannot forget adultery, and this fact restricts her from being too close with Michael and express her love through words and actions.

Openness and Protection. It refers to conflicting desires to be open and at the same time protective in the communication (West & Turner, 2021). Jessie would like to be open with her husband again but prefer to hide information concerning her life as she remembers how open and trustful she was before – and was betrayed behind her back.

Novelty and Predictability. This dialectic focuses on “the interplay of certainty and uncertainty in relationships” (West & Turner, 2021, p. 408). Jessie keeps living with Michael as a couple in the same way as before, however, she is always uncertain concerning his fidelity and expects new adultery.

The Real and the Ideal. Being a girl and a young adult, Jessie imagined her ideal family in the future, as this image is frequently promoted by mass media and visual art. However, in real life, she faced betrayal in her relationships, and this conflict of an ideal vision and reality has a highly negative impact on her emotional wellbeing.


In general, RDT adequately explains the majority of aspects in relationships of a couple that is passing through a challenging period connected with adultery. All main assumptions of the theory and both basic and contextual dialectics are reflected. At the same time, this analysis may be extended as it has great potential for future work. For instance, it is possible to apply RDT in relation to Michael to examine what tensions and contradictions he experiences in the context of the current situation.


West, R. L., & Turner, L. H. (2021). Introducing communication theory: Analysis and Application (7th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

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PsychologyWriting. 2022. "Relational Dialectics Theory on Adultery." August 14, 2022.

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PsychologyWriting. "Relational Dialectics Theory on Adultery." August 14, 2022.