A relationship is fluid. It evolves, shifts, and changes based on the interactions of the individuals. Relationships can vacillate from strong and sound to weak and tenuous as a result of the actions of one or both individuals. Newton theorized outside factors can impact the relationship between two objects; the same applies to relationships between people.
Thinking about the bat hitting the ball, there are two factors regarding the impact (Force): specifically the size of the bat (mass) and the speed at which the bat is swung (acceleration). Hopefully the F = ma equation came to mind (thanks, Dad). Now applying that equation to a relationship, think of the F as the emotional impact, the m as the person, and the a as the content and delivery of a feeling. The Emotional Impact is the product of a Person and the Feeling Delivered by that person. Emotions are certainly much more complicated than these two variables, but for now let’s keep it simple. I’ll discuss other factors in future posts.
For an illustration of m (the person), think about how you would feel if a loved one praised you compared to someone you had just met. More than likely, the praise from the loved one will have a larger emotional impact. How strongly you feel something is linked to who is delivering the message. In many instances, two different people give the same advice, but you might listen to one and dismiss the other. Why is that? Reflect on that question. Parents are driven batty by teens who ignore a parental suggestion and then respond “Great idea!”, when a friend makes the same suggestion.
As for the delivery and content of the message, a, the analogy I always use is your birthday and receiving a present. If someone presents a nicely wrapped gift with a “happy birthday!”, your experience is going to be different than someone giving you the same gift wrapped in a plastic bag with a “here”. The difference is clear, but it’s not always clear in relationships. In therapy, especially couples and family therapy, a constant theme is how to gift wrap feelings, both negative and positive. Just because the feeling is anger, sadness, or frustration doesn't mean it has to be expressed in a hurtful way.
Newton’s first law of motion focuses on being acted upon; the second part is how the object is affected by the act. I’ll touch on the second part here, and say more in next week’s post.
In relationships, this second stage is largely ignored in everyday life and consequently is a significant part of therapy. How do you respond after an emotionally-charged experience? People are more focused on what happened than on what happened after. Part of a relationship is increasing your emotional awareness.
A complexity arises as an experience in one relationship can impact (positively or negatively) how you perceive and engage in other relationships. This is very evident in couples and family therapy where you have multiple individuals acting upon one another. I’ll write more about this later, but for now think about the solar system and what would happen if one planet suddenly shifted.
This is what makes relationships fluid and why laws and principles can’t completely capture relationships like it can with the sciences and math. Maybe it was serendipity, but Newton was on to something in regards to interpersonal relationships. Ironically, some psychologists argue that Newton would have been diagnosed with Asperger’s disorder in present day.
As usual, feel free to share. Part II, next week!