Types of relationships
An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring. This association may be based on limerence, love, solidarity, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships 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.
A relationship is normally viewed as a connection between two individuals, such as a romantic or intimate relationship, or a parent-child relationship. Individuals can also have relationships with groups of people, such as the relation between a pastor and his congregation, an uncle and a family, or a mayor and a town. Finally, groups or even nations may have relations with each other, though this is a much broader domain than that covered under the topic of interpersonal relationships. See such articles as international relations for more information on associations between groups. Most scholarly work on relationships focuses on romantic partners in pairs or dyads. These intimate relationships are, however, only a small subset of interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships also can include friendships, such as relationships involving individuals providing relational care to marginalized persons.
These relationships usually involve some level of interdependence. People in a relationship tend to influence each other, share their thoughts and feelings, and engage in activities together. Because of this interdependence, most things that change or impact one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member. The study of interpersonal relationships involves several branches of the social sciences, including such disciplines as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and social work.
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:
Friendships may involve some degree of transitivity. In other words, a person may become a friend of an existing friend's friend. However, if two people have a sexual relationship with the same person, they may become competitors rather than friends. Accordingly, sexual behavior with the sexual partner of a friend may damage the friendship (see love triangle). Sexual activities between two friends tend to alter that relationship, either by "taking it to the next level" or by severing it. Sexual partners may also be classified as friends and the sexual relationship may either enhance or depreciate the friendship.
Legal sanction reinforces and regularizes marriages and civil unions as perceived "respectable" building-blocks of society. In the United States of America, for example, the de-criminalization of homosexual sexual relations in the Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas (2003) facilitated the mainstreaming of gay long-term relationships, and broached the possibility of the legalization of same-sex marriages in that country.
Positive psychologists use the term "flourishing 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.
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 (Lopez & Brennan, 2000)
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. In his triangular theory of love, psychologist Robert Sternberg theorizes that love is a mix of three components: (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 or relationship satisfaction, especially in long-term relationships. Positive consequences of being in love include increased self-esteem and self-efficacy.
The mindfullness 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:
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.
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 affect and wellbeing (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.
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. Researchers are currently investigating the link between positive caregiver-child relationships and the development of hormone systems, such as the HPA axis.
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. On the contrary, some argue that positive and negative processes in relationships may be better understood as functionally independent, not as opposites of each other.