Are You The Maximizer Or Minimizer In Your Relationships?

Why Everyone Loves Raymond…

It seems as though everyone in North America has seen at least one episode of the 1996 hit sitcom Everyone Loves Raymond.  We love these shows because they get us laughing at some very painful and confusing family dynamics that are common to us all.  Like most sitcoms, the show is sexist and stereotypical. The women are the ones seeking deeper relationship and doing so with mostly emotional attempts and demands (maximizer role) and the men are seeking to avoid conflict (minimizer role), so they can pursue their interests like golf, TV, and hanging out with friends.

Television shows like Everyone Loves Raymond are extremely popular because they hit upon a tender spot in the reality and culture of our family dynamics. Truth is stranger than fiction for sure and sometimes the Barone family problems pale in comparison to what we ourselves and our friends and neighbors are struggling with. One thing is for certain, the writers have tapped into something very authentic in the hearts and souls of many American families.

So what is really going on beneath the humor of this popular sitcom?

The Maximizer/Minimizer Dynamic Is An Approach To Conflict Resolution  

When conflict arises in relationships and things become tense or dicey, many of us default to either the role of maximizer or minimizer.  Maximizers tend to be the extroverted, higher energy spouses with lots of enthusiasm and verbal skills. The minimizer can be the quieter member of the couple or someone who likes solving problems on their own; they may step back into their thoughts to work on a problem. The maximizer wants to join with someone to work the problem out. Therein lies the dilemma!  One spouse finds comfort in connecting and the other wants to back up or withdraw to think things through. Each spouse begins to think the other spouse is uninformed and becoming irritating...depending on the significance of the problem some very serious sparks may start to fly.

The minimizer accuses the maximizer of making a megillah out of everything and tells them to calm down or even shut up. Worse yet, the minimizer may become silent. The maximizer accuses the minimizer of being clueless, emotionally absent, or even superior. And the fight is on!!  As I've said in other articles, if you respond to an accusation with an accusation, you're doing the work of the enemy of our souls. Rev. 12:10 identifies our enemy as the accuser of the brethren.

The interesting part of this dynamic is that the maximizer is the one who may feel out of control because they cannot enlist their spouse's support or compassion in solving a problem. However, the maximizer in fact does have most of the control.

I challenge our maximizer friends to step back just a little and pray before you speak.

Remember if your goal is to connect and elicit help, you must practice some connecting behaviors. Try to state the problem in a few sentences and then ask your spouse what he/she thinks. Be patient...the minimizer is thinking...not feeling their way through this. The minimizing behaviors can be a defense against chaos or a defense against feeling pulled into an emotionally out-of-control situation.

Here's a suggestion for our minimizer counterparts…

If your spouse is becoming upset or emotional, step in closer. Make eye contact or reach out to connect physically. The power of soft but meaningful touch cannot be overestimated! Let them know you're in this with them. Just those two behavior changes can be very reassuring to your spouse.  Sometimes all they need is a connection with you or to feel your support.  

Minimizers need to own that they can be very dismissive and even condescending when they go off to think about things without acknowledging their spouse's feelings. Maximizers need to own that their burst of emotion is causative in their spouse's retreating from them. The maximizers emotional outburst may feel like an assault to the minimizer. We can each take some responsibility to shift this dynamic by being honest about our contribution to the dilemma.

There is no innocent party and it isn't always the other guy.

Here's a very important piece of information to know about the maximizer-minimizer dynamic:  it reverses around 20% of the time.  So that means there are topics that the maximizer minimizes and vice versa. Another compelling piece of information about this dynamic is that if you stop minimizing your spouse will stop maximizing and of course the opposite is true, too!  Try it sometime. It will save you several sessions at the marriage counselor's office.

It's not the roles we play in our marriages that get us in's the rigidity of the roles. <<Click to Tweet

So whether you're the maximizer or the minimizer or even if you can see yourself being both at different times, there is hope to confront these issues. Once you and your spouse can see the dynamic, it truly takes much of the sting out of it.  Next we need to recognize that neither role is superior or more well-informed. It's just relationship reactivity and it can be greatly detoxified by each member of the couple owning their contribution to the conflict.  

BTW Marie Barone, Raymond’s mother in Everybody Loves Raymond, is both a maximizer and minimizer, which explains her infuriating tendency to stir up a fight and then retreat blaming others for their inability to get along with each other. She's one of America's favorite narcissists and a matriarch everyone loves to hate. People like Marie never go to therapy because, after IS always the other guy creating the problem, she does make a fascinating case study!

Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website. 

EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith.Click here to contact us.

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