Interpersonal Relationships

Close relationships are sometimes called interpersonal relationships. The closest relationships are most often found with family and a small circle of best friends. Interpersonal relationships require the most effort to nurture and maintain. These are also the relationships that give you the most joy and satisfaction. An interpersonal relationship is an association between two or more people that may range from fleeting to enduring. This association may be based on inference, 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 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. When in a healthy relationship, happiness is shown and the relationship is now a priority.

Interpersonal relationships are dynamic systems that change continuously during their existence. Like living organisms, relationships have a beginning, a lifespan, and an end. They 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.

A number of theories have been formed to understand interpersonal relationships. There is merit to looking at relationships from the perspective of each of these theories. To believe exclusively in one theory and disregard the other theories would limit our understanding of social relationships.

Why Do We Establish Relationships?

From the moment of birth, human beings depend on others to satisfy their basic needs. Through this, children come to associate close personal contact with the satisfaction of basic needs. Later in life, we continue to seek personal contact for the same reason, even though we know we are capable of flling our own needs without relying on others for survival. Also, being around others becomes a habit and the basic physical needs of infancy expand to include emotional and social needs aswell. These can include the needs for praise, respect, affection, love, achievement, and so on. It is these needs which are acquired through social learning that motivate us as humans to seek relationships with people who can satisfy our needs throughout our lives.

Benefits of Satisfying Relationships

Good relationships require management, effort, and attention, but the investment pays off in many ways. Special bonds with other people are important for both mental and physical health. Research supports the idea that if we have strong, caring relationships with others, we are more likely to be healthy and live longer. Satisfying relationships with family and friends promote career success and we feel more protected as well as happy. Poor relations, on the other hand, may promote depression, drug abuse, weight problems, and other mental health problems.

Qualities of Good & Bad Relationships

Some qualities of a good relationship may be evident from the moment we meet a person. Other traits develop along with the relationship, giving the relationship strength and stability.

These are some of the common characteristics of a good relationship:

  • Rapport: where you feel comfortable or at ease with the other person. This can be automatic or it could take time to develop.
  • Empathy: refers to the ability to see the world through another person's eyes, understanding his/her feelings and actions.
  • Trust: means that you can depend on the other person. When you trust another person you expect acceptance and support from him/her.
  • Respect: involves accepting and appreciating the other person for who he/she is.
  • Mental Expectations: are seen as relationships grow; partners should have the same mutual expectations for it. The relationship should be headed toward the same purpose or goals for both people.
  • Flexibility: good relationships are flexible and can adapt to change. Circumstances change and you can't always carry through on plans you have made together. You sometimes have to make compromises and reassess your goals.
  • Uniqueness: the relationship stands out or is in some way special or different.
  • Irreplaceability: each interpersonal relationship is as unique as the people in them and can never be recreated.
  • Interdependence: the other person's life concerns effects you.
  • Self Disclosure: in an interpersonal relationship people share and entrust private information about themselves
  • Honesty & Accountability: communicating openly and truthfully, admitting mistakes or being wrong, and accepting responsibility for one's self.

Qualities of bad relationships

  • Avoidance: People in unhealthy relationships simply avoids facing reality. They become distant and will miss several occasions because they don’t feel the need to be there.
  • Burnout: A relationship is at a low point or “burnout”, it might make one of them feel trapped, tired, helpless, depressed or let down.
  • Compatibility issues: Incompatibility will make the relationship unhealthy, because you’re not compatible, constant negativity will hinder intimacy. This will lead to sad relationships in constant conflict.
  • Devotional void: A lack of commitment can make for unhealthy relationships. Ex: when you treat your spouse as a roommate or friend, this doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be in love 24/7.
  • Enthusiasm Dwindles: if a relationship isn’t spontaneous and becomes predictable it itself wil not be as exciting as it used to be.
  • Forgiveness Void: Those unwilling or unable to forgive are expected to have unhealthy relationships in the future
  • Just Say Yes: Those that feel that they can’t say no to drawing boundaries and sustain limits will make their spouse less of a priority

Types of Interpersonal Relationships

We define types of interpersonal relationships in terms of relational contexts of interaction and the types of expectations that communicators have of one another.

Friendship Theories of friendship emphasize the concept of friendship as a freely chosen association
Family Family communication patterns establish roles, identities and enable the growth of individuals. Family dysfunction may also be exhibited by communication patterns.
Romantic Romantic relationships are defined in terms of the concepts of passion, intimacy and commitment.
Professional Professional communication encompasses small group communication and interviewing.
In an attempt to understand why people form relationships a number of theories have been formed. These include:

  • Attachment/Affiliation Theory
  • Confirming and Valuing Relationship Theory
  • Social Exchange Theory
  • Equity Theory
  • Minding Relationships Theory
  • Systems Thoery

Phases of Interpersonal Relationships

Identified four sequential phases in the interpersonal relationship:

  • 1. Orientation 2. Identification 3. Exploitation 4. Resolution

Systems Theory

The holistic behind the General System Theory (Von Bertallanfy, 1968)

created a stir in thesciences because they challenged conventional, linear cause and effect thinking and replaced it with process thinking, which acknowledges life's interconnections and cycles. Von Bertalanffy's idea had a immense impact on the natural sciences through the concept of ecosystems, challenging scientists to look at the balance of interactions between all of the elements of an area, soil, water, air, plants, animals, and humans to see what works for optimum survival and health.

Systems Theory Levels:

Attachment/Affiliation Theory

People are generally social animals, they seek the company of others. People are meant to feel secure when a certain person is present, and to feel anxious when that person is absent. This desire for human contact can be thought of as a two-pronged need; the need for attachment and the need for affiliation. These are two distinct, yet interrelated needs.

  • Attachment: the need to form special close relationships
  • Affiliation: the need to be with other people in general - a sense of belonging to a larger group.

Attachment of children to caregivers:Children develop different styles of attachment based on their past experiences and interactions with their caregivers. Four different attachment styles have been identified in children: secure, anxious-ambivalent, anxious-avoidant, and disorganized. This theory has become the dominant theory today when studying infant and toddler behavior. Attachments with caregivers early in life are crucial for healthy development since they act as templates for later relationships.

Attachment in adult romantic relationships:This theory was extended to adult romantic relationships in the late 1980's. Four attachment styles have been identified in adults: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, and fearful-avoidant. Investigators have explored the organization and stability of mental working models that underlie these attachment styles.

Confirming and Valuing Relationship Theory

Research indicates that human beings need company most when they are afraid, anxious, or unsure of themselves and want to compare their feelings with those of others. Relationships help people to confirm and validate their ideas and feelings as well as to value themselves. Social science research indicates that confirming and valuing happens in three stages. The confirming and valuing theory happens in three stages:

  • Recognition: the physical presence of the other person is recognized.
  • Acknowledgment: interest is shown in the ideas and feelings of the other person.
  • Endorsement: both people agree to the relationship and encourages ideas

Can you think of a relationship with another person who consistently recognizes you, acknowledges you and endorses your feelings and ideas? How important is this relationship to you?

Ex) the brothers off of Stepbrothers realize that they will be brothers which is recognition, when they start talking about things they both enjoy that is acknowledgment, when they decide that they have just become BEST FRIENDS that is the endorsement stage.

Social Exchange Theory

The rewards of a relationship (or outcomes a person derives) must be greater than, or at least equal to, the investment costs of the relationship. Rewards can be love, status, information, money, goods, services and so on. The following formula captures the essence of the social exchange theory.

According to the social exchange theory, a person seeks to form and maintain those relationships that give the most rewards for the least costs.

Ex) the pay a prostitute gets minus the emotional cost could equal a good outcome for he/she if the pay is great enough and/or the emotions are not there. But on the other hand, it could also equal a bad outcome if he/she doesn’t get paid what was agreed upon, and/or there is a bunch of emotional baggage after the session is over.

Equity Theory

The equity theory is basically a more complex version of the social exchange theory. Some social science researchers believe that people are not solely motivated by the need to achieve a positive balance sheet in their relationships. Equity theory explains that people are also concerned about equity in their relationships. In other words, they believe that the rewards and costs they experience in a relationship should be roughly equal to the rewards and costs experienced by their relationship partner. While the rewards and costs may vary in kind, they are roughly equivalent in their value to the individuals involved. The essence of the equity theory may be illustrated by the following formula:

Ex) when in a relationship and all the work, time, money and feelings are equal to what your partner is putting into a relationship that is the equity theory.

Ex) if you are always the one buying everything and making sure everything is working and running smoothly in your relationship when your partner does nothing for you ever, then you two are not equal because on one side you add so much cost and get very little rewards and your partner gets lots of rewards and submits no cost.

Minding Relationships Theory

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 and be understood
  • 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

Ex) you are out one night with your significant other, and just by the look on their face and their body language, you can tell that they want to go home and so do you.

Stage's of Relationship Formation

Many psychologists believe that relationships are formed, maintained, and end in a series of observable and definable stages. The number of stages, the names given to various stages, and the descriptions of stages vary from researcher to researcher. Murstein, for example, has a three-stage model, Levenger proposes a five-stage model and Knapp breaks down the rise and fall of relationships into ten stages. The currently most widely accepted model was developed by Mark Knapp in 1998. The stages can broadly apply to all relationships. They are especially descriptive of intimate, romantic relationships, and of close friendships.

Knapp's Model of Relational Stages

1. Initiating: expressing interest in making contact and showing that you are the kind of person worth getting to know.

2. Experimenting: the process of getting to know others and gaining more information about them.

3. Intensifying: an interpersonal relationship is now beginning to emerge. Feelings about the other person are now openly expressed, forms of address become more familiar, commitment is now openly expressed, and the parties begin to see themselves as "we" instead of separate individuals.

4. Integrating: identification as a social unit. Social circles merge. Partners develop unique, ritualistic ways of behaving. Obligation to the other person increases. Some personal characteristics are replaced and we become different people.

5. Bonding: the two people make symbolic public gestures to show society that their relationship exists (rings, friendship bracelets, gifts, commitment).

6. Differentiating: the need to re-establish separate identities begins to emerge. The key to successful differentiation is maintaining a commitment to the relationship while creating the space for autonomy and individuality.

7. Circumscribing: communication between the partners decreases in quantity and quality. It involves a certain amount of shrinking of interest and commitment.

8. Stagnating: no growth occurs. Partners behave toward each other in old, familiar ways without much feeling.

9. Avoiding: the creation of physical, mental, and emotional distance between the partners.

10. Termination: in romantic relationships the best predictor of whether the two people will now become friends is whether they were friends before their emotional involvement.

The illustration below shows how the ten stages can be grouped into three overlapping and integrated phases: the Coming Together phase, the Relational Maintenance phase, and the Coming Apart phase.

Process Models of Relationship Development

Psychologists who agree with the process models of relationship development point out that people grapple with the same kinds of challenges, whether a relationship is relatively new or already well established. Process Models suggest that the key to successful relationships lies in finding a balance between opposing or incompatible forces that function simultaneously in our lives. Theorists call these conflicting forces dialectical tensions. Three powerful dialectal tensions that are inherent in the majority of relationships include the following:

• Connection versus Autonomy - the conflicting desires for connection with another person and independence

• Predictability versus Novelty - stability is an important need in relationships, but too much of it can lead to feelings of staleness

• Openness versus Privacy - along with the drive for intimacy, we have an equally important need to maintain some space from others

Rules help to establish a balance between dialectical forces. Rules here can be defined as shared opinions or beliefs about what should or should not be done in the relationship. Rules vary with the particular types of relationships. Because relationships are unique, they may have a set of common rules and a set of unique rules that guide behaviour. Examples of common rules that apply in all or most relationships are: respect for privacy, honesty, confidences, and emotional support. These rules can change in severity depending on the morals, beliefs and views of the people in the relationship. Particular types of relationships such as a lawyer/client relationship require additional rules like making appointments for consultation, payment for services, and so on. Rules provide checks and balances that help maintain satisfying relationships. Violating the rules may put the relationship in jeopardy.

7 Essential Skills to Building Strong Relationships

1. Relax Optimistically

If you are comfortable around others, they will feel comfortable around you. If you appear nervous, others will sense it and withdraw. If you are meeting someone for the first time, brighten up as if you've rediscovered a long-lost friend. A smile will always be the most powerful builder of rapport. Communicating with relaxed optimism, energy and enthusiasm will provide a strong foundation for lasting relationships.

2. Listen Deeply

Powerful listening goes beyond hearing words and messages; it connects us emotionally with our communication partner. Listen to what the person is not saying as well as to what he or she is saying. Focus intently and listen to the messages conveyed behind and between words.

Listen also with your eyes and heart. Notice facial expressions and body postures, but see beneath the surface of visible behaviors. Feel the range of emotions conveyed by tone of voice and rhythm of speech. Discern what the person wants you to hear and also what they want you to feel.

3. Feel Empathetically

Empathy is the foundation of good two-way communication. Being empathetic is seeing from another person's perspective regardless of your opinion or belief. Treat their mistakes as you would want them to treat your mistakes. Let the individual know that you are concerned with the mistake, and that you still respect them as a person. Share their excitement in times of victory, and offer encouragement in times of difficulty. Genuine feelings of empathy will strengthen the bond of trust.

4. Respond Carefully

Choose emotions and words wisely. Measure your emotions according to the person's moods and needs. Words can build or destroy trust. They differ in shades of meaning, intensity, and impact. What did you learn when listening deeply to the other individual? Reflect your interpretation of the person's message back to them. Validate your understanding of their message.

Compliment the person for the wisdom and insights they've shared with you. This shows appreciation and encourages further dialogs with the individual. A response can be encouraging or discouraging. If you consider in advance the impact of your emotions and words, you will create a positive impact on your relationships.

5. Synchronize Cooperatively

When people synchronize their watches, they insure that their individual actions will occur on time to produce an intended outcome. Relationships require ongoing cooperative action to survive and thrive.

As relationships mature, the needs and values of the individuals and relationship will change. Career relationships will require the flexibility to meet changing schedules and new project goals. Cooperative actions provide synchrony and build trusting alliances. They are part of the give and take that empowers strong, enduring relationships.

6. Act Authentically

Acting authentically means acting with integrity. It means living in harmony with your values. Be yourself when you are with someone else. Drop acts that create false appearances and false security.

When you act authentically, you are honest with yourself and others. You say what you will do, and do what you say. Ask for what you want in all areas of your relationships. Be clear about what you will tolerate. Find out what your relationship partners want also. Being authentic creates mutual trust and respect.

7. Acknowledge Generously

Look for and accentuate the positive qualities in others. Humbly acknowledge the difference that people make to your life. Validate them by expressing your appreciation for their life and their contributions. If you let someone know that they are valuable and special, they will not forget you. Showing gratitude and encouragement by words and actions will strengthen the bonds of any relationship.

Don't forget to acknowledge your most important relationship: the relationship with yourself. Acknowledge your own qualities, and put those qualities into action. You cannot form a stronger relationship with others than you have with yourself. You will attract the qualities in others that are already within you.

Ask yourself: What thoughts and behaviors will attract the kind of relationships I desire? What is one action I could take today that would empower my current relationships?

Write down all the qualities or behaviors that you desire for your relationships. Select the power skills that will attract those qualities. Keep a journal of the actions you take and the progress you make. By turning these skills into lifelong habits, you will build relationships that are healthy, strong and mutually rewarding.

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