22. Relationship Dynamics

22. Relationship Dynamics

Thermostats and Thermometers. In every personal and professional relationship, there is a thermostat and a thermometer. The thermostat regulates the temperature, and the thermometer reads the temperature. The thermostat is that member of the relationship whose natural abilities set or change the emotional temperature of the environment, determining calm or urgency, joy or distress.

The thermometer is that individual who responds to the temperature set and any changes in temperature. The thermometer asks, “Do I wear a sweater or a tee shirt in this relationship today?”

In any relationship…business partners, father and daughter, husband and wife…the one who is the thermostat and the other who is the thermometer remain constant. Exceptions to this are rare. The designated roles are not gender-specific. This is an area of relationship that can be misread easily.

Husbands and wives are good examples. An easy way to distinguish the thermostat from the thermometer is to observe what happens when a husband or wife enters the house for the evening. The first five minutes of interplay, conversation or the lack thereof literally sets the tone for the entire evening. One sets it; the other reads it and responds.

A proper question is: Who sets the tone in the relationship? Additional questions are: What is the one major area that triggers a temperature change? Is it impatience? Frustration? Anger? Hurt? Feeling overwhelmed? What is the pattern? What is the chief cause of change?

My wife and I are excellent examples. Joan is bright, educated, cerebral, and spends a lot of time in her head. I’m hotheaded and emotional, a sparkplug. But things are not what they seem. My wife is the thermostat, and I am the thermometer. Because I’m verbal, the mouthpiece in the family, most people would assume I’m the thermostat. In reality, my wife is. She has some intense attributes and her mind-set determines the tone for the day.

Thermometers unconsciously have their feelers out all the time to determine the temperature. Is it hot or cold? Is the light yellow, red or green? Are we moving quickly today? Are we feeling overwhelmed? Are we mad? Are we happy?  Are we stable? How are we today?

Thermometers lean toward their partners to determine the temperature and tone of the day. They get used to checking, not so much from co-dependency, but in a natural rhythm. The couple’s interplay, exchange and conversation take on the natural rhythm of a three-legged race. In a sense, they’re tied to each other. On a short-term basis, you can find the thermostat-and-thermometer relationship between business people and clients. And you all know colleagues who can enter a room and by their mood cause an emotional wave to sweep through the office.

The thermostat in a relationship is not necessarily the one who is moody. It is usually the person who has the strongest alpha quality, a natural dominance somehow. Barbara, who is an Organizer and Nurturer, regularly came home and found it a mess. She routinely lost her temper and scolded her family, making their evenings miserable. She learned to walk in the door with her Nurturer ability turned on. By saying and doing things to build up her family, she found the positive environment that prompted everyone to cooperate and clean up their house.

In a family, several members can be thermostats and set the tone, but there is a natural order. One family member might set the tone for entertainment, humor and play. Another will regulate serious growth, setting goals, and achievement. It’s subtle, but it’s something we trip over and need to recognize with those closest to us.

Someone in the relationship always fills the neutral void. That’s the thermometer’s role. The thermometer always looks to stabilize the environment, seeking a comfortable temperature. Thermometer members of relationships need to recognize what factors trigger change! There is usually one major causal factor. Here are three examples: for Barbara, it’s inefficiency; for Tony, lack of momentum; for Jody, it is a sense of being overwhelmed. And what is the converse of each? Efficiency, movement and peace of mind. Each person is declaring a specific need when he or she changes the environmental temperature.

I tell people with problems to look past the problem to find the source. That’s the true answer for response and healing. See the bigger picture. Jody must continually have a conversation with herself on how to keep from feeling overwhelmed, on what to do when she is overwhelmed, and how to effectively communicate that she feels overwhelmed.  The same applies for Barbara in coping with inefficiency and Tony for inertia. Awareness and conversation with self are means and methods to share underlying needs and frustrations.

Once you’ve determined which of your attributes are likely to change the temperature of your environment, you can learn to draw on your other attributes for perspective and balance. For example, after Barbara determined that her Rapid, Structural and Aesthetic attributes were affecting her family adversely, she learned to withhold them when needed and rely on her Global perspective and her Relational and Learn attributes to gain perspective.

Thermometer attributes can be Temperate or Spectrum Focus, Support, or any of the Relational attributes. The thermometer’s usual first reaction is to duck and cover, to run for the hills. But sometimes, if provoked, thermometers go on the attack. If you are a thermometer, you must have a conversation with yourself regarding changes in the environment. Ask yourself: What is going on? What has changed? Then identify the change, the moment and the cause. Thermostats tend to create pressure points, so try to determine the pressure point and the reason behind it. Remember, as a thermometer, you’re looking for harmony, peace of mind and stability. You don’t want hurt feelings or to be bogged down in chaos or logistical mires. Therefore, you must be aware of your own needs. If your thermostat registers upset, you feel unstable. Before you can articulate that, you must zero in on the thermostat’s need. What’s going on with them?

Thermometers usually end up reacting, but they can react with perspective by being proactive. Instead of saying, “I’m not in the mood to deal with you” or lashing out, you can learn to ask: “How and why are you frustrated?”

Learn to start thinking in terms of action and solutions. What can we do about it? What’s the way to clear this up? You can restabilize your environment. Take action; don’t merely react. Overall, it’s much better to come up with a solution than to continually face the emotional turmoil.

The needs of the thermometer are not as provoking or immediate as the needs of the thermostat. The thermostat person has more hot buttons, pressure points, and immediate needs. The thermometer person’s needs…safety, efficiency, momentum and peace of mind…are not as pressing. Therefore, the conversation between a thermometer and a thermostat will be consistent and ongoing. For example, it is rare for me to confront my wife with feeling overwhelmed, overloaded or hurt. By the same token, my wife initiates a lot of what we do. She’s the one who suggests, “Let’s get up and go jogging at 6:00 am.”

This is an area of major importance when it comes to interplay in relationships. It is the fundamental principle behind interactions with a spouse, child, friend, parent or client.

I have created a chart to help clarify which attributes are most powerful in setting the temperature.  (Chart 2 in the Appendix.) The foremost characteristic is Specific Focus. The next most influential is Rapid rhythm. Them come Aesthetic, Refiner, Free Spirit, Justice and Create. The characteristics are each weighted: the higher the weight, the more powerful the attribute in setting the temperature or tone of the environment.

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