managing tension: novelty vs. predictability

Almost every weekend, Hus and I make waffles. We love waffles! And, making them together on a regular basis is a predictable part of our life that we both highly enjoy. He knows that I'll put the waffle maker and other ingredients on the counter and I know that he'll mix the ingredients together. We are both able to predict how the morning will play out. Every once in awhile, however, we'll spice things up by making cinnamon rolls or french toast or sausage and eggs instead of waffles. This novelty tends to keep our Sunday mornings interesting. 

Not surprisingly, many couples struggle to balance the tension between their need for stability and their desire for excitement. This relational tension has been referred to by researchers as the novelty vs. predictability dialectic (Baxter, 1988, 1990; Rawlins, 1992).

When individuals are involved in a developing relationship, there's a lot of comfort that comes with being able to know what's going to happen next (e.g., how your partner will behave and how your relationship will progress). On the other hand, always knowing what's next can become extremely monotonous.

So, what can you do to spice things up? Well, you could change up your routine by going out on a unique date, surprising your partner with a small gift, making something special for your partner, or even spontaneously taking your partner on a vacation. There are a multitude of things that you can do to keep things interesting in your relationship (see the resources below).

What about those relationships that are always unpredictable? Just like highly predictable relationships, extremely exciting relationships may be in trouble as well. Having stability in your life as a couple is very important. How would you feel if you could never figure out how your partner would react to conflict? Or, what if you never knew where your relationship was headed? Being able to predict your partner's behavior and the status of your relationship is a good thing. You want to know that your partner is going to be there through thick and thin.

Whatever you decide to do, working towards having a healthy balance between novelty and predictability will help to maintain your relationship. 

  • Baxter, L. A. (1988). A dialectical perspective on communication strategies in relationship development. In S. Duck (Ed.), Handbook of personal relationships: Theory, research, and interventions (pp. 257- 273). Chichester, England: Wiley.
  • Baxter, L. A. (1990). Dialectical contradictions in relationship development. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7, 69-88.
  • Rawlins, W. K. (1992). Friendship matters: Communication, dialectics, and the life course. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.

For more information about managing this tension, see these other love lesson posts:

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