Why Do We Argue?

Why do two people in a relationship have the same quarrels over and over again? For example, why does a partner who enjoys physical exercise constantly complain about the other partner’s sedentary lifestyle? Why do two colleagues frequently disagree about work-life balance issues?

Based on decades of research that established the RMP as The Science of Motivation®, Professor Steven Reiss maintained that motivation is the assertion of values. In other words, what we strive for is what we value. An individual who strives for self-reliance values personal freedom, while a person who strives for social justice values fairness.

Professor Reiss’s theory includes three principles that explain how our motives affect our relationships.

  • Principle of Relationship Compatibility: People bond to those with similar values and separate from those with opposite values.
  • Principle of Self-Hugging: We have a natural tendency to assume our values are best, not just for us, but potentially for everyone.
  • Principle of Everyday Tyranny: We have a natural tendency to try to impose our values on others, believing it is for their own good.

Consider the example of a parent and child who have opposite desires for the RMP Power motive. The parent has a strong need for Power, which means the parent values achievement. He seeks challenges, works hard to accomplish his goals, and may assume leadership roles. The child, however, has a weak need for Power, indicating he values work-life balance. He is non-directive, may avoid positions of leadership, and pursues less challenging goals so as to have time to enjoy leisurely activities. Believing that his values are best, the parent attempts to convince the child to work harder, but the child resists the parent’s pressure to achieve because this is not what the child values. The conflict does not resolve with time because it is based on a difference in values.

The Reiss Motivation Profile® helps an individual gain awareness of the opposite values that underlie his chronic conflicts with others. It was Professor Reiss’s hope that this knowledge would foster greater understanding and acceptance of individual differences.

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