An interpersonal relationship is a strong, deep, or close association or acquaintance between two or more people that may range in duration from brief to enduring. This association may be based on inference, love, solidarity, support, regular business interactions, or some other type of social connection or commitment. Interpersonal relationships thrive through equitable and reciprocal compromise, they are formed in the context of social, cultural and other influences. The context can vary from family or kinship relations, friendship, marriage, relations with associates, work, clubs, neighborhoods, and places of worship. They may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and are the basis of social groups and society as a whole.
As a field of study
The study of interpersonal relationships involves several branches of the social sciences, including such disciplines as sociology, communication studies, psychology, anthropology, and social work. The scientific study of relationships evolved during the 1990s and came to be referred to as ‘relationship science’, which distinguishes itself from anecdotal evidence or pseudo-experts by basing conclusions on data and objective analysis. Interpersonal ties are also a subject in mathematical sociology.
Main article: Outline of relationships § Types of relationships
Romantic relationships generally
Romantic relationships have been defined in countless ways, by writers, philosophers, religions, scientists, and in the modern day, relationship counselors. Two popular definitions of love are Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love and Fisher’s theory of love. Sternberg defines love in terms of intimacy, passion, and commitment, which he claims exist in varying levels in different romantic relationships. Fisher defines love as composed of three stages: attraction, romantic love, and attachment. Romantic relationships may exist between two people of any gender, or among a group of people (see polyamory).
The single defining quality of a romantic relationship is the presence of love. Love is therefore equally difficult to define. Hazan and Shaver define love, using Ainsworth’s attachment theory, as comprising proximity, emotional support, self-exploration, and separation distress when parted from the loved one. Other components commonly agreed to be necessary for love are physical attraction, similarity, reciprocity, and self-disclosure.
Main Article: Platonic Love
An intimate but non-romantic relationship is known as a platonic relationship.
Early adolescent relationships are characterized by companionship, reciprocity, and sexual experiences. As emerging adults mature, they begin to develop attachment and caring qualities in their relationships, including love, bonding, security, and support for partners. Earlier relationships also tend to be shorter and exhibit greater involvement with social networks. Later relationships are often marked by shrinking social networks, as the couple dedicates more time to each other than to associates. Later relationships also tend to exhibit higher levels of commitment. Most psychologists and relationship counselors predict a decline of intimacy and passion over time, replaced by a greater emphasis on companionate love (differing from adolescent companionate love in the caring, committed, and partner-focused qualities). However, couple studies have found no decline in intimacy nor in the importance of sex, intimacy, and passionate love to those in longer or later-life relationships. Older people tend to be more satisfied in their relationships, but face greater barriers to entering new relationships than do younger or middle-aged people. Older women in particular face social, demographic, and personal barriers; men aged 65 and older are nearly twice as likely as women to be married, and widowers are nearly three times as likely to be dating 18 months following their partner’s loss compared to widows.
The term significant other gained popularity during the 1990s, reflecting the growing acceptance of ‘non-heteronormative’ relationships. It can be used to avoid making an assumption about the gender or relational status (e.g. married, cohabitating, civil union) of a person’s intimate partner. Cohabiting relationships continue to rise, with many partners considering cohabitation to be nearly as serious as, or a substitute for, marriage. LGBT, on the other hand, face unique challenges in establishing and maintaining intimate relationships. The strain of ‘internalized homo-negativity’ and of presenting themselves in line with socially acceptable gender norms can reduce the satisfaction and emotional and health benefits they experience in their relationships. LGBT youth also lack the social support and peer connections enjoyed by hetero-normative young people. Nonetheless, comparative studies of homosexual and heterosexual couples have found few differences in relationship intensity, quality, satisfaction, or commitment.
Although nontraditional relationships continue to rise, marriage still makes up the majority of relationships except among emerging adults. It is also still considered by many to occupy a place of greater importance among family and social structures.
Parent-child relationships have always concerned people. In ancient times they were often marked by fear, either of rebellion or abandonment, resulting in the strict filial roles in, for example, ancient Rome and China. Freud conceived of the Oedipal complex, the supposed obsession of young boys their mother and the accompanying fear and rivalry with their father, and the less well-known Electra complex, in which the young girl feels that her mother has castrated her and therefore becomes obsessed with her father. Freud’s ideas influenced thought on parent-child relationships for decades. Another early conception of parent-child relationships was that love only existed as a biological drive for survival and comfort on the child’s part. In 1958, however, Harry Harlow’s landmark study comparing rhesus’ reactions to wire “mothers” and cloth “mothers” demonstrated the depth of emotion felt by infants. The study also laid the groundwork for Mary Ainsworth’s attachment theory, showing how the infants used their cloth “mothers” as a secure base from which to explore. Ainsworth defined three styles of parent-child relationships in a series of studies using the strange situation, a scenario in which an infant is separated from, then reunited with the parent. Securely attached infants miss the parent, greet them happily upon return, and show normal exploration and lack of fear when the parent is present. Insecure avoidant infants show little distress upon separation and ignore the caregiver when they return; they explore little when the parent is present. Insecure ambivalent infants are highly distressed by separation, but continue to be distressed upon the parent’s return; these infants also explore little and display fear even when the parent is present. Some psychologists have suggested a fourth attachment style, disorganized, so called because the infants’ behavior appeared disorganized or disoriented. Secure attachments styles are linked to better social and academic outcomes, greater moral internalization, and less delinquency for children, and have been found to predict later relationship success. For most of the late nineteenth through the twentieth century, the perception of adolescent-parent relationships was that of a time of upheaval. Stanley Hall popularized the “Sturm und drang”, or storm and stress, model of adolescence. Psychological research, however, has painted a much tamer picture. Although adolescents are more risk-seeking, and emerging adults have higher suicide rates, they are largely less volatile and have much better relationships with their parents than this model would suggestEarly adolescence often marks a decline in parent-child relationship quality, which then re-stabilizes through adolescence, and relationships are sometimes better in late adolescence than prior to its onset. With the increasing average age at marriage and more youths attending college and living with parents past their teens, the concept of a new period called emerging adulthood gained popularity. This is considered a period of uncertainty and experimentation between adolescence and adulthood. During this stage, interpersonal relationships are considered to be more self-focused, and relationships with parents may still be influential.
Sibling relationships have a profound effect on social, psychological, emotional, and academic outcomes. Although proximity and contact usually decreases over time, sibling bonds continue to affect people throughout their lives. Sibling relationships are affected by parent-child relationships, such that sibling relationships in childhood often reflect the positive or negative aspects of children’s relationships with their parents.
Other examples of interpersonal relationship
- Egalitarian and Platonic friendship
- Frenemy started as a slang term, has made its way into the Oxford dictionary. It describes a person that an individual is friendly with despite underlying conflict between the two. This conflict can include rivalries, mistrust, or competition. Frenemies who come about through a conflict of rivalries tend to want to be the center of attention or are individuals who would be described as “Drama Queens.” Frenemies who come about through a conflict of competition often feel the need to be better than the individual in some or many aspects of life, and in some cases feel the need to point out flaws in others. Conflicts of trust tend to involve individuals who gossip or say negative things about others. While ambivalent interpersonal relationships (like frenemies) are common, they have been found to contribute to stress related cardiovascular issues and depressive symptoms
- Business relationships
- Employer and employee
- Landlord and tenant
Human beings are innately social and are shaped by their experiences with others. There are multiple perspectives to understand this inherent motivation to interact with others.
Need to belong
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, humans need to feel love (sexual/nonsexual) and acceptance from social groups (family, peer groups). In fact, the need to belong is so innately ingrained that it may be strong enough to overcome physiological and safety needs, such as children’s attachment to abusive parents or staying in abusive romantic relationships. Such examples illustrate the extent to which the psychobiological drive to belong is entrenched.
Another way to appreciate the importance of relationships is in terms of a reward framework. This perspective suggests that individuals engage in relations that are rewarding in both tangible and intangible ways. The concept fits into a larger theory of social exchange. This theory is based on the idea that relationships develop as a result of cost-benefit analysis. Individuals seek out rewards in interactions with others and are willing to pay a cost for said rewards. In the best-case scenario, rewards will exceed costs, producing a net gain. This can lead to “shopping around” or constantly comparing alternatives to maximize the benefits or rewards while minimizing costs.
Relationships are also important for their ability to help individuals develop a sense of self. The relational self is the part of an individual’s self-concept that consists of the feelings and beliefs that one has regarding oneself that develops based on interactions with others. In other words, one’s emotions and behaviors are shaped by prior relationships. Thus, relational self theory posits that prior and existing relationships influence one’s emotions and behaviors in interactions with new individuals, particularly those individuals that remind him or her of others in his or her life. Studies have shown that exposure to someone who resembles a significant other activates specific self-beliefs, changing how one thinks about oneself in the moment more so than exposure to someone who does not resemble one’s significant other.
Power and dominance
Power is the ability to influence the behavior of other people. When two parties have or assert unequal levels of power, one is termed “dominant” and the other “submissive”. Expressions of dominance can communicate intention to assert or maintain dominance in a relationship. Being submissive can be beneficial because it saves time, emotional stress, and may avoid hostile actions such as withholding of resources, cessation of cooperation, termination of the relationship, maintaining a grudge, or even physical violence. Submission occurs in different degrees; for example, some employees may follow orders without question, whereas others might express disagreement but concede when pressed.
Groups of people can form a dominance hierarchy. For example, a hierarchical organization uses a command hierarchy for top-down management. This can reduce time wasted in conflict over unimportant decisions, prevents inconsistent decisions from harming the operations of the organization, maintain alignment of a large population of workers with the goals of the owners (which the workers might not personally share) and if promotion is based on merit, help ensure that the people with the best expertise make important decisions. This contrasts with group decision-making and systems which encourage decision-making and self-organization by front-line employees, who in some cases may have better information about customer needs or how to work efficiently. Dominance is only one aspect of organizational structure.
A power structure describes power and dominance relationships in a larger society. For example, a feudal society under a monarchy exhibits a strong dominance hierarchy in both economics and physical power, whereas dominance relationships in a society with democracy and capitalism are more complicated.
In business relationships, dominance is often associated with economic power. For example, a business may adopt a submissive attitude to customer preferences (stocking what customers want to buy) and complaints (“the customer is always right”) in order to earn more money. A firm with monopoly power may be less responsive to customer complaints because it can afford to adopt a dominant position. In a business partnership a “silent partner” is one who adopts a submissive position in all aspects, but retains financial ownership and a share of the profits.
Two parties can be dominant in different areas. For example, in a friendship or romantic relationship, one person may have strong opinions about where to eat dinner, whereas the other has strong opinions about how to decorate a shared space. It could be beneficial for the party with weak preferences to be submissive in that area, because it will not make them unhappy and avoids conflict with the party that would be unhappy.
The breadwinner model is associated with gender role assignments where the male in a heterosexual marriage would be dominant in all areas.
Abusive relationships involve either maltreatment or violence from one individual to another and include physical abuse, physical neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional maltreatment. Abusive relationships within the family are very prevalent in the United States and usually involve women or children as victims. Common individual factors for abusers include low self-esteem, poor impulse control, external locus of control, drug use, alcohol abuse, and negative affectivity. There are also external factors such as stress, poverty, and loss which contribute to likelihood of abuse.
Codependency initially focused on a codependent partner enabling substance abuse, but has become more broadly defined to describe a dysfunctional relationship with extreme dependence on or preoccupation with another person. There are some who even refer to codependency as an addiction to the relationship. The focus of a codependent individual tends to be on the emotional state, behavioral choices, thoughts, and beliefs of another person. Often those who are codependent neglect themselves in favor of taking care of others and have difficulty fully developing their identity on their own.
Narcissists’ focus on themselves and often distance themselves from intimate relationships; the focus of narcissistic interpersonal relationships is to promote one’s self-concept. Generally narcissists show less empathy in relationships and view love pragmatically or as a game involving others’ emotions.
Interpersonal relationships are dynamic systems that change continuously during their existence. Like living organisms, relationships have a beginning, a lifespan, and an end. They tend to grow and improve gradually, as people get to know each other and become closer emotionally, or they gradually deteriorate as people drift apart, move on with their lives and form new relationships with others. One of the most influential models of relationship development was proposed by psychologist George Levinger. This model was formulated to describe heterosexual, adult romantic relationships, but it has been applied to other kinds of interpersonal relations as well. According to the model, the natural development of a relationship follows five stages:
- Acquaintance and acquaintanceship – Becoming acquainted depends on previous relationships, physical proximity, first impressions, and a variety of other factors. If two people begin to like each other, continued interactions may lead to the next stage, but acquaintance can continue indefinitely. Another example is association.
- Buildup – During this stage, people begin to trust and care about each other. The need for intimacy, compatibility and such filtering agents as common background and goals will influence whether or not interaction continues.
- Continuation – This stage follows a mutual commitment to quite a strong and close long-term friendship, romantic relationship, or even marriage. It is generally a long, relatively stable period. Nevertheless, continued growth and development will occur during this time. Mutual trust is important for sustaining the relationship.
- Deterioration – Not all relationships deteriorate, but those that do tend to show signs of trouble. Boredom, resentment, and dissatisfaction may occur, and individuals may communicate less and avoid self-disclosure. Loss of trust and betrayals may take place as the downward spiral continues, eventually ending the relationship. (Alternately, the participants may find some way to resolve the problems and reestablish trust and belief in others.)
- Ending – The final stage marks the end of the relationship, either by breakups, death, or by spatial separation for quite some time and severing all existing ties of either friendship or romantic love.
Terminating a relationship
According to the latest Systematic Review of the Economic Literature on the Factors associated with Life Satisfaction (dating from 2007), stable and secure relationships are beneficial, and correspondingly, relationship dissolution is harmful.
The American Psychological Association has summarised the evidence on breakups. Breaking up can actually be a positive experience when the relationship did not expand the self and when the breakup leads to personal growth. They also recommend some ways to cope with the experience:
- Purposefully focussing on the positive aspects of the breakup (“factors leading up to the break-up, the actual break-up, and the time right after the break-up”)
- Minimising the negative emotions
- Journaling the positive aspects of the breakup (e.g. “comfort, confidence, empowerment, energy, happiness, optimism, relief, satisfaction, thankfulness, and wisdom”). This exercise works best, although not exclusively, when the breakup is mutual.
Less time between a breakup and a subsequent relationship predicts higher self-esteem, attachment security, emotional stability, respect for your new partner, and greater well-being. Furthermore, rebound relationships don’t last any shorter than regular relationships. 60% of people are friends with one or more ex. 60% of people have had an off-and-on relationship. 37% of cohabiting couples, and 23% of the married, have broken up and gotten back together with their existing partner.
Terminating a marital relationship implies a divorce. One reason cited for divorce is infidelity. The determinants of unfaithfulness are debated by dating service providers, feminists, academics and science communicators. According to Psychology Today, women’s, rather than men’s, level of commitment more strongly determines if a relationship will continue.
Social exchange theory and Rusbult’s investment model shows that relationship satisfaction is based on three factors: rewards, costs, and comparison levels (Miller, 2012). Rewards refer to any aspects of the partner or relationship that are positive. Conversely, costs are the negative or unpleasant aspects of the partner or their relationship. Comparison level includes what each partner expects of the relationship. The comparison level is influenced by past relationships, and general relationship expectations they are taught by family and friends.
Individuals in long-distance relationships, LDRs, rated their relationships as more satisfying than individuals in proximal relationship, PRs. Alternatively, Holt and Stone (1988) found that long-distance couples who were able to meet with their partner at least once a month had similar satisfaction levels to unmarried couples who cohabitated. Also, the relationship satisfaction was lower for members of LDRs who saw their partner less frequently than once a month. LDR couples reported the same level of relationship satisfaction as couples in PRs, despite only seeing each other on average once every 23 days.
Social exchange theory and the investment model both theorize that relationships that are high in costs would be less satisfying than relationships that are low in costs. LDRs have a higher level of costs than PRs, therefore, one would assume that LDRs are less satisfying than PRs. Individuals in LDRs are more satisfied with their relationships compared to individuals in PRs. This can be explained by unique aspects of the LDRs, how the individuals use relationship maintenance behaviors, and the attachment styles of the individuals in the relationships. Therefore, the costs and benefits of the relationship are subjective to the individual, and people in LDRs tend to report lower costs and higher rewards in their relationship compared to PRs.
Flourishing, budding, blooming, blossoming relationships
Positive psychologists use the various terms “flourishing, budding, blooming, blossoming relationships” to describe interpersonal relationships that are not merely happy, but instead characterized by intimacy, growth, and resilience. Flourishing relationships also allow a dynamic balance between focus on the intimate relationships and focus on other social relationships.
While traditional psychologists specializing in close relationships have focused on relationship dysfunction, positive psychology argues that relationship health is not merely the absence of relationship dysfunction. Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of secure attachment and are maintained with love and purposeful positive relationship behaviors. Additionally, healthy relationships can be made to “flourish.” Positive psychologists are exploring what makes existing relationships flourish and what skills can be taught to partners to enhance their existing and future personal relationships. A social skills approach posits that individuals differ in their degree of communication skill, which has implications for their relationships. Relationships in which partners possess and enact relevant communication skills are more satisfying and stable than relationships in which partners lack appropriate communication skills.
Adult attachment and attachment theory
Healthy relationships are built on a foundation of secure attachments. Adult attachment models represent an internal set of expectations and preferences regarding relationship intimacy that guide behavior. Secure adult attachment, characterized by low attachment-related avoidance and anxiety, has numerous benefits. Within the context of safe, secure attachments, people can pursue optimal human functioning and flourishing. This is because social acts that reinforce feelings of attachment also stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as oxytocin and endorphin, which alleviate stress and create feelings of contentment. Attachment theory can also be used as a means of explaining adult relationships.
Secure attachment styles are characterized by low avoidance of intimacy and low anxiety over abandonment. Secure individuals are comfortable with intimacy and interdependence and are usually optimistic and social in everyday life. Securely attached individuals usually use their partners for emotion regulation so they prefer to have their partners in close proximity. Preoccupied individuals tend to be low on avoidance of intimacy and high on anxiety about abandonment. Preoccupied people are normally uneasy and vigilant towards any threat to the relationship and tend to be needy and jealous. Dismissing individuals are low on anxiety over abandonment and high in avoidance of intimacy. Dismissing people are usually self-reliant and uninterested in intimacy and are independent and indifferent towards acquiring romantic partners. Fearful attachment styled individuals are high in avoidance of intimacy and high in anxiety over abandonment, which means they rarely allow themselves to be in relationships, and if they do get into one, are very anxious about losing the partner. They are very fearful of rejection, mistrustful of others, and tend to be suspicious and shy in everyday life. Attachment styles are created during childhood but can adapt and evolve to become a different attachment style based on individual experiences. A bad breakup or a bad romantic situation can change someone from being in a secure attachment to insecure. On the contrary, a good romantic relationship can take a person from an avoidant attachment style to more of a secure attachment style.
Main article: Romantic love
The capacity for love gives depth to human relationships, brings people closer to each other physically and emotionally, and makes people think expansively about themselves and the world.
Stages of romantic interpersonal relationships can also be characterized more generally by the following: attraction; initiation; development; sustaining vs. terminating.
- Attraction – Premeditated or automatic, attraction can occur between acquaintances, coworkers, lovers, etc., be based on sexual arousal, intellectual stimulation, or respect. Studies have shown that attraction can be susceptible to influence based on context and externally induced arousal, with the caveat that participants be unaware of the source of their arousal. A study by Cantor, J. R., Bryant, J., & Zillmann, D. (1975), induced arousal through physical exercise and found that participants rated erotic pictures highly 4 minutes post-exercise (when no longer realized aroused by exercise) than either immediately after (when arousal and awareness were greater) or 10 minutes later (when exercise-induced arousal had dissipated). As supported by a series of studies, Zillman and colleagues showed that a preexisting state of arousal can heighten reactions to affective stimuli. A classic study by Dutton & Aron (1974) showed that fear arousal from suspension bridges leads to higher attraction ratings by males of a female confederate.
- Initiation – There are several catalysts in the initiation of a new relationship. One commonly studied factor is physical proximity (also known as propinquity). The MIT Westgate studies famously showed that greater physical proximity between incoming students in a university residential hall led to greater relationship initiation. More specifically, only 10% of those living on opposite ends of Westgate West considered each other friends while more than 40% of those living in adjacent apartments considered each other friends.The theory behind this effect is that proximity facilitates chance encounters, which lead to initiation of new relationships. This is closely related to the mere exposure effect, which states that the more an individual is exposed to a person or object, the more s/he likes it. Another important factor in the initiation of new relationships is similarity. Put simply, individuals tend to be attracted to and start new relationships with those who are similar to them. These similarities can include beliefs, rules, interests, culture, education, etc. Individuals seek relationships with like others because like others are most likely to validate shared beliefs and perspectives, thus facilitating interactions that are positive, rewarding and without conflict.
- Development – Development of interpersonal relationships can be further split into committed versus non-committed romantic relationships, which have different behavioral characteristics. In a study by Miguel & Buss (2011), men and women were found to differ in a variety of mate-retention strategies depending on whether their romantic relationships were committed or not. More committed relationships by both genders were characterized by greater resource display, appearance enhancement, love and care, and verbal signs of possession. In contrast, less committed relationships by both genders were characterized by greater jealousy induction. In terms of gender differences, men used greater resource display than women, who used more appearance enhancement as a mate-retention strategy than men.
- Sustaining vs. terminating – After a relationship has had time to develop, it enters into a phase where it will be sustained if it is not otherwise terminated. Some important qualities of strong, enduring relationships include emotional understanding and effective communication between partners. Idealization of one’s partner is linked to stronger interpersonal bonds. Idealization is the pattern of overestimating a romantic partner’s positive virtues or underestimating a partner’s negative faults in comparison to the partner’s own self-evaluation. In general, individuals who idealize their romantic partners tend to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction. Romantic partners that engage in a novel and exciting physical activity together are more likely to report higher levels of relationship satisfaction than partners that complete a mundane activity.
In his triangular theory of love, psychologist Robert Sternberg theorizes that love is a mix of three components: some (1) passion, or physical attraction; (2) intimacy, or feelings of closeness; and (3) commitment, involving the decision to initiate and sustain a relationship. The presence of all three components characterizes consummate love, the most durable type of love. In addition, the presence of intimacy and passion in marital relationships predicts marital satisfaction. Also, commitment is the best predictor of relationship satisfaction, especially in long-term relationships. Positive consequences of being in love include increased self-esteem and self-efficacy.
Referring to the emotion of love, Psychiatrist Daniel Casriel defined the “logic of love” as “the logic of pleasure and pain” in the concept of a “Relationship Road Map” that became the foundation of PAIRS’ relationship education classes.
“We are drawn to what we anticipate will be a source of pleasure and will look to avoid what we anticipate will be a source of pain. The emotion of love comes from the anticipation of pleasure.”
Based on Casriel’s theory, sustaining feelings of love in an interpersonal relationship requires “effective communication, emotional understanding and healthy conflict resolution skills.”
Theories and empirical research
Confucianism is a study and theory of relationships especially within hierarchies. Social harmony—the central goal of Confucianism—results in part from every individual knowing his or her place in the social order, and playing his or her part well. Particular duties arise from each person’s particular situation in relation to others. The individual stands simultaneously in several different relationships with different people: as a junior in relation to parents and elders, and as a senior in relation to younger siblings, students, and others. Juniors are considered in Confucianism to owe their seniors reverence and seniors have duties of benevolence and concern toward juniors. A focus on mutuality is prevalent in East Asian cultures to this day.
The mindfulness theory of relationships shows how closeness in relationships may be enhanced. Minding is the “reciprocal knowing process involving the nonstop, interrelated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of persons in a relationship.” Five components of “minding” include:
- Knowing and being known: seeking to understand the partner
- Making relationship-enhancing attributions for behaviors: giving the benefit of the doubt
- Accepting and respecting: empathy and social skills
- Maintaining reciprocity: active participation in relationship enhancement
- Continuity in minding: persisting in mindfulness
Theory of intertype relationships
Socionics has proposed a theory of intertype relationships between psychological types based on a modified version of C.G. Jung’s theory of psychological types. Communication between types is described using the concept of information metabolism proposed by Antoni Kępiński. Socionics allocates 16 types of the relations — from most attractive and comfortable up to disputed. The understanding of a nature of these relations helps to solve a number of problems of the interpersonal relations, including aspects of psychological and sexual compatibility. The researches of married couples by Aleksandr Bukalov et al., have shown that the family relations submit to the laws, which are opened by socionics. The study of socionic type allocation in casually selected married couples confirmed the main rules of the theory of intertype relations in socionics. So, the dual relations (full addition) make 45% and the intraquadral relations make 64% of investigated couples.
Culture of appreciation
After studying married couples for many years, psychologist John Gottman has proposed the theory of the “magic ratio” for successful marriages. The theory says that for a marriage to be successful, couples must average a ratio of five positive interactions to one negative interaction. As the ratio moves to 1:1, divorce becomes more likely. Interpersonal interactions associated with negative relationships include criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Over time, therapy aims to turn these interpersonal strategies into more positive ones, which include complaint, appreciation, acceptance of responsibility, and self-soothing. Similarly, partners in interpersonal relationships can incorporate positive components into difficult subjects in order to avoid emotional disconnection.
In addition, Martin Seligman proposes the concept of Active-Constructive Responding, which stresses the importance of practicing conscious attentive listening and feedback skills. In essence, practicing this technique aims to improve the quality of communication between members of the relationship, and in turn the gratitude expressed between said members.
Capitalizing on positive events
People can capitalize on positive events in an interpersonal context to work toward flourishing relationships. People often turn to others to share their good news (termed “capitalization”). Studies show that both the act of telling others about good events and the response of the person with whom the event was shared have personal and interpersonal consequences, including increased positive emotions, subjective well-being, and self-esteem, and relationship benefits including intimacy, commitment, trust, liking, closeness, and stability. Studies show that the act of communicating positive events was associated with increased positive effect and well-being (beyond the impact of the positive event itself). Other studies have found that relationships in which partners responded to “good news” communication enthusiastically were associated with higher relationship well-being.
The Vulnerability Stress Adaptation (VSA) Model
The VSA is a framework for conceptualizing the dynamic processes of intimate relationships, which emphasizes the consideration of multiple dimensions of functioning, including couple members’ enduring vulnerabilities, experiences of stressful events, and adaptive processes, to account for variations in marital quality and stability over time. According to the VSA model, in order to achieve a complete understanding of relationship functioning, research must consider all functional dimensions, including enduring vulnerabilities, stress, and adaptive processes simultaneously.
Neurobiology of interpersonal connections
Humans are social creatures, and there is no other behavioral process that is more important than attachment. Attachment requires sensory and cognitive processing that lead to intricate motor responses. As humans, the end goal of attachment is the motivation to acquire love, which is different from other animals who just seek proximity. There is an emerging body of research across multiple disciplines investigating the neurological basis of attachment and the prosocial emotions and behaviors that are the prerequisites for healthy adult relationships. The social environment, mediated by attachment, influences the maturation of structures in a child’s brain. This might explain how infant attachment affects adult emotional health. This continues on throughout childbearing. A link between positive caregiver–child relationships and the development of hormone systems, such as the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA axis) and oxytocinergic system has been observed.
- The mother–infant attachment – Key biological factors have emerged that can explain the motivation behind maternal caregiving behavior in humans and mammals. However, it does differ from species to species, due to that some species only exhibit maternal care postpartum, others exhibit it only slightly and some are very maternal. Two main neuroendocrine systems that revolved around oxytocin and dopamine, and another neuropeptide, prolactin are directly involved as mediators of maternal care. The mother–infant bond is so complex and strong due to these biological systems, that a response to maternal separation exists. The response to separation is due to the withdrawal of several different components from behavioral and biological systems. Separation anxiety, the psychological term that describes the response that occurs when an infant is separated from the mother, causes loss of those components, as seen in studies done with rats.
- Oxytocinergic system – Oxytocin is a peptide hormone produced in the hypothalamus that is passed through the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream. Oxytocin acts on the mammary glands and uterine muscles to stimulate the secretion of milk and uterine contractions during childbirth. However, it is a crucial factor in many aspects of social bonding, specifically the onset of the mother–infant attachment bond. It acts on the medial preoptic area (MPOA) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) in the brain which are critical for integration of sensory information in maternal care. Oxytocin plays a key role in physical proximity and nurturing care and leads (as shown in studies with rats) the mother to go from avoiding behavior to caring for their young. Oxytocin knockout rats or injection of an oxytocin receptor antagonist will lead to neglect of the infant or pup. In mammals, the development of the Oxytocinergic system has led to the basis of the mother–infant attachment.
- Dopaminergic system – Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects behavior in not just the mother but in the offspring as well. Dopamine is essential in for reinforcing behavior that gives us pleasure because it is part of the limbic system that deals with emotion. Therefore, it is able to stimulate responsive maternal care and reinforce attachment. Understanding the dopaminergic system is important because it could make the difference between maternal neglect and nurture.
- Prolactin – As seen in lesion studies of rats prolactin, which is also involved in lactation, is important in encouraging maternal behavior. Decreasing the levels of prolactin or lack of the receptor of prolactin leads to inhibition of maternal care in rats.
- Adult–adult pair bond formation – Oxytocin and vasopressin play a crucial part in the process of bond formation of mates. Vasopressin is a peptide hormone whose main function is to retain water in the body, and is also known as antidiuretic hormone (ADH). Pair bonding is studied using voles and it has been found that injection of both hormones stimulates the behavioral responses needed in pair bond formation, even when mating hasn’t occurred. These results are also proven when injection of receptor antagonists of this hormones inhibits mating and necessary behaviors.
The ability to study the biological processes behind attachment allows scientists to be able to understand the fundamental levels to makeup a psychological construct. It provides a link between a psychological concept and its physiological foundation.
Researchers are developing an approach to couples therapy that moves partners from patterns of repeated conflict to patterns of more positive, comfortable exchanges. Goals of therapy include development of social and interpersonal skills. Expressing gratitude and sharing appreciation for a partner is the primary means for creating a positive relationship. Positive marital counseling also emphasizes mindfulness. The further study of “flourishing relationships could shape the future of premarital and marital counseling as well.”
Some researchers criticize positive psychology for studying positive processes in isolation from negative processes. Positive psychologists argue that positive and negative processes in relationships may be better understood as functionally independent, not as opposites of each other.
In popular culture
Popular perceptions of intimate relationships are strongly influenced by movies and television. Common messages are that love is predestined, love at first sight is possible, and that love with the right person always succeeds. Those who consume the most romance-related media tend to believe in predestined romance and that those who are destined to be together implicitly understand each other. These beliefs, however, can lead to less communication and problem-solving as well as giving up on relationships more easily when conflict is encountered.
Social media has changed the face of interpersonal relationships. Romantic interpersonal relationships are no less impacted. For example, in the United States, Facebook has become an integral part of the dating process for emerging adults. Social media can have both positive and negative impacts on romantic relationships. For example, supportive social networks have been linked to more stable relationships. However, social media usage can also facilitate conflict, jealousy, and passive aggressive behaviors such as spying on a partner. Aside from direct effects on the development, maintenance, and perception of romantic relationships, excessive social network usage is linked to jealousy and dissatisfaction in relationships. A growing segment of the population is engaging in purely online dating, sometimes but not always moving towards traditional face-to-face interactions. These online relationships differ from face-to-face relationships; for example, self-disclosure may be of primary importance in developing an online relationship. Conflict management differs, since avoidance is easier and conflict resolution skills may not develop in the same way. Additionally, the definition of infidelity is both broadened and narrowed, since physical infidelity becomes easier to conceal but emotional infidelity (e.g. chatting with more than one online partner) becomes a more serious offense.
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