Relationship Fitness

S16: Assess E4: How Much Drama is Too Much?

In “Relationship Workout for Men,” Season 16 Episode 4 titled “How Much Drama is Too Much?”, Vince explores the threshold of conflict and drama within relationships, questioning when it might be time to reassess the future of a partnership. He acknowledges that while no relationship is devoid of drama due to inevitable human imperfections, understanding one’s personal threshold for conflict is vital. Vince introduces the concept of the Level of Relationship Drama and the Level of Issue Resolution as tools for individuals to evaluate the amount of conflict they can comfortably handle and whether issues within the relationship are being effectively resolved. This episode encourages listeners to reflect on their comfort with the current dynamics of their relationship, offering a framework to decide whether to work on improving the relationship or consider moving on, aiming to guide men towards healthier and more satisfying partnerships.

Welcome to Relationship Workout for Men, a podcast dedicated to helping men be intentional in choosing a better partner, and being a better partner for the person they choose.

Season 16 Episode 4: How Much Drama is Too Much?

This is the third of three episodes where we explore answering the fundamental question: “How good do you think your relationship is?” by exploring your comfort level with the amount of drama in the relationship. 

After all, given no matter how strong our relationship skills become, we will all play it weak at times. None of us can be a saint 24/7. And none of us can be expected to have forever eliminated all our Demons; we’re all to some extent an emotional work-in-progress. 

What this means is that you will likely always have some level of conflict and drama in your relationship. You will always have issues in need of resolving. Nothing and nobody are perfect. So now what? 

Is your relationship so weak that you two might be better served packing it up, giving each other one last respectful hug? Time to close the door behind you without regret and without second-guessing your decision — no looking back? This horse is beyond dead. Time to move on and get to an emotional place where you’re open to finding yourself a stronger match.

Or is your relationship strong enough that it’s worth fighting for, with an unbending commitment to figuring out how to make things even stronger? You appreciate what you have together and don’t want to lose sight of all the great stuff going on here. Stay the course, identify remaining weaknesses on both your parts, and put your newfound strengths to work.

How do you know if what you have together is strong enough to keep fighting the good fight? How much is too much conflict and drama? How many unresolved issues is too many? 

To get the answer, you need to ask yourself these two fundamental questions:

  1. How comfortable are you with the level of conflict and drama in your relationship? In other words, is the quantity of issues in your relationship too much for your long-term comfort level? I call the quantity of issues the Level of Relationship Drama
  2. Are your issues always getting resolved, or are you two becoming buried in unresolved, accumulating problems? I call this the Level of Issue Resolution

By answering these two questions uniquely for the two of you, you’ll both be in a much better position to answer the fundamental question of how good you think your relationship is. This is because you’ll be able to answer if there’s too much conflict and drama in your relationship and/or too many unresolved issues for your long-term tastes.

Let’s first discuss in more detail the Level of Relationship Drama before turning our attention to the Level of Issue Resolution.

Okay, Level of Relationship Drama.

Again, those inevitable weaknesses we all have can lead to us to create issues that can turn into conflict and drama. Not to mention, when our partner creates issues through her relationship weaknesses, our own weaknesses can kick in and just make things worse. Indeed, it can be difficult to keep your cool when the person you love has lost hers. 

So how much relationship drama are you comfortable with in the long-term?

Said another way, we all have a certain level of conflict (and resulting drama) that we can comfortably live with in the long run. In other words, what is your drama pain threshold? 

For some, they just don’t like conflict, so they need a relatively low level of drama. For others, they may feel that a day without conflict is like a day without passion, so they may be quite content with a relatively higher level of drama than what others might be able to bear.

Sometimes, one’s comfort level is a bit fluid. If you’re in the first few months of new love’s honeymoon bliss, for example, then you might tolerate a bunch more conflict than you might once the relationship has settled into a more realistic day-to-day routine. 

There are societal averages around an individual’s anger. For example, if you get angry one or two times a week, then you’re considered about average according to one source. If your anger lasts some time less than two hours, then you’re also about average.

However, no one is an average. Indeed, each person has his or her own unique set of needs when it comes to conflict comfort level. Put another way, just because your comfort level might be different from someone else’s, or some national average, doesn’t make your comfort level good, bad or ugly. It just makes it unique to you.

In any case, what’s important is for you to be very clear about what your conflict comfort level needs are, and then honor this level when choosing a long-term relationship. After all, if you’re with someone where the amount of conflict is above your drama pain threshold, then you might be seriously challenged trying to sustain years of this much conflict.

To represent this visually, there is the Conflict Comfort Level diagram that you can find on RelationshipWorkout.com/resources

At one end of the spectrum, there is a low Level of Relationship Drama. This a strong place for your relationship to be because it represents a level of conflict that you’re comfortable experiencing week in and week out.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s a high level of Relationship Drama that is painful for you, because it’s above your comfort level. Unless you’re into pain, this is a weak place to be and hard to sustain month after month.

Finally, there’s a level of drama that represents living on the edge. If you have this level of conflict with your partner, you’re at risk. This is because if the drama gets any worse you could venture into a painful place. 

So, what is your conflict comfort level?

To help us answer this question, let’s break down what is conflict a bit more.

To objectively measure your comfort with the level of conflict in your relationship, it helps to create a model. You can then gauge the level of drama in your relationship against this model.

In W. Doyle Gentry’s book Anger Free: Ten Basic Steps to Managing your Anger, he defines “Toxic Anger Syndrome.” Toxic Anger Syndrome is used to describe how much anger an individual has. It consists of the following three components:

  • Frequency: On average, how often do you get angry?
  • Duration: On average, how long do you stay angry?
  • Intensity: On average, how intense is your anger?

Gentry then defines one’s Toxic Anger by the following equation:

Toxic Anger = Frequency x Duration x Intensity 

Certainly, frequency, duration and intensity can be applied to conflict in a relationship as well. After all, fights between couples happen at a certain frequency for a certain length of time and at a certain intensity.

However, what about negative thoughts? As Gottman describes, even negative thoughts can reflect conflict (albeit unspoken conflict, at least at the time). Therefore, if one is thinking negative thoughts about the other person, then this can fuel and/or reflect conflict in the relationship, even if it’s only happening in one person’s mind.

Furthermore, I make the connection that each bout with conflict is also a bout with drama. 

Therefore, taking Doyle and Gottman’s lead, I define Relationship Drama as:

Relationship Drama = Frequency x Duration x Intensity x Negativity

The four contributing components to this model are defined as follows:

  1. Frequency: On average, how often do you two have conflict with each other?
  2. Duration: On average, when you two have conflict, how long are the arguments?
  3. Intensity: On average, when you two have conflict, how intense are the arguments? 
  4. Negativity: On average, how often do you have negative thoughts towards her?

We now have a model for objectively measuring a relationship’s level of conflict. Next, we need a way to objectively measure your comfort level in each of these four areas, along with a way to score the relationship’s actual conflict level. However, before we do that, we need to discuss the Level of Issue Resolution.

Most to all of the self-created and externally generated issues that fuel drama need to get resolved (for instance through action or letting go); otherwise, they risk accumulating into relationship baggage, feeding negative thoughts about each other. For simplicity, I define five fundamental issue resolution levels: Never, Occasionally, Frequently, Usually and Always.

As you can probably guess, occasionally implies you two only occasionally resolve the underlying issues. Frequently implies frequently. Usually implies usually. Always implies always. 

Now it’s time to tie Level of Relationship Drama and Issue Resolution back to Relationship Quality.

Earlier in this season and in season 1, I defined the Relationship Gauge of Quality or RGQ with three basic relationship quality states: Strong, Average and Weak. Now we can map these three states onto the RGQ matrix, with Level of Relationship Drama on the Y-Axis and the Level of Issue Resolution on the X-Axis. 

Go to RelationshipWorkout.com/resources to download the image, but in words: 

A STRONG QUALITY relationship occurs when you have a comfortably low level of drama and issues are always getting resolved, which appears on the top right corner of the RGQ matrix. When this happens, you give each other time and energy to maximize the amount of fun you have together. 

On the other hand, the relationship with WEAKEST QUALITY is when you two have a high level of relationship drama and issues are rarely getting resolved. This is shown on the lower left of the RGQ. In this environment, it’s extremely difficult to want to spend time together as far too often it results in a fight. Also, chemistry typically dies, as sexual fun dies with it.

Finally, an AVERAGE QUALITY relationship happens when you’re living on the edge, barely comfortable with the level of drama you’re experiencing. You’re picking your difficult conversation battles, which often turn into arguments around issues where it’s likely hit or miss whether the issues get resolved. When you have an average quality relationship, you run the risk of finding yourselves just tolerating each other, as slowly there will be less interest in trying to have fun together. When this happens, you start to look at each other as roommates, not passionate lovers.

So, with that as background to find out how good your relationship is, spend 10 minutes completing the Relationship Workout program Stage 1: Assess Overall Fitness, available on RelationshipWorkout.com. You’ll not only receive a baseline grade for how good your relationship is, but you’ll see where your relationship falls on the RGQ matrix.

So that completes our discussion on how to evaluate how good your relationship is from an analytical perspective. In the next episode, we explore understanding how good your relationship is from an emotional perspective.

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