Psychology Behind Relationships

Psychology Behind Relationships


Imagine a world where you don’t have your kith, kin, friends, colleagues and every other person that you count on! A life without these relationships would lack support, connections, shared experiences and so much more, making you feel empty and taking away the humaneness that makes you who you are. In such cases, solitude becomes a huge part of life. Human beings are a social species, and without relationships, they lose almost every reason to thrive. This article drives its readers through certain aspects of relationships, providing a larger idea of their true essence and importance. It further encourages the readers to build new relationships and actively work on the existing ones.

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How can you define a Relationship?

‘Relationship’ is a commonly used word in everyday conversations, irrespective of its context. However, it is most commonly used to refer to a romantic relationship. Although that is one kind of relationship, note that this word is much broader. Humans are social animals dependent on others for their well-being. All of us prefer having some kind of relationship with people around, us rather than being alone. In general, relationships refer to the connections that exist between people who have meaningful or recurring interactions. This meaning is inclusive of the relationships among close affinity family members, co-workers and neighbours, but not necessarily limited to them. A relationship can simply be defined as the connection between two or more people that can either be positive or negative.

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Types of Relationships:

You are likely to have some kind of relationship with everyone whom you interact with. A relationship might be one that you share with your parents, or it might be that which exists between you and your rival. While the nature of both are complete opposites, there’s no denying that both are relationships. The term ‘Relationship’ is an umbrella term for a broad spectrum of categories. While each relationship plays an important role in shaping your personality, the ones most craved are those of an intimate or interpersonal nature. Let’s look at some of its many different types.

  • Social Relationship: This kind of relationship consists of your acquaintances and ties within the community. While not in proximity, these relationships still dictate how you act and behave as a part of a broader society.
  • Professional/ Work-front Relationship: Interactions within an organization or work front, including those with colleagues, clients, supervisors or managers come under this category.
  • Romantic Relationship: This intimate relationship between two individuals develops a physical, as well as an emotional connection, in most cases, with a single person.
  • Familial Relationship: This kind of relationship encompasses your parents, siblings and relatives. These are blood relations that you are tied to from birth.
  • Friendship: Also known as your chosen family, this relationship strengthens with mutual connection and support.
Theories as a part of Relationship:

Several psychological theories explore the different aspects of relationships. Let’s have a look at some of the prominent ones.

1. Social Exchange Theory:

This theory, proposed by Thibault and Kelley (1959), is an economic theory of relationships. It assumes that people hold on to relationships for mutual benefit. It further stipulates that people assess the cost and benefit of a relationship and strive for maximum benefit with minimal cost (effort). In the case of relationships, benefits include monetary gains, as well as that of love and attention. While referring to minimal costs, the theory talks about the efforts that a person is required to put into maintaining certain relationships.

2. Attachment Theory:

This theory by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth focuses on relationships and bonds. It analyses the emotional bonds formed in a relationship, especially those that are formed in early childhood and influence relationships later in life. This theory is divided into four distinct stages depending on the phase of life, namely, the pre-attachment stage (birth to 3 months of age), indiscriminate attachment (6 weeks to 7 months from birth), discriminate attachment (7 to 11 months of age), and multiple attachments (approximately after 9 months from birth).

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3. Social Identity Theory:

Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s theory highlights the role of social categorization in terms of relationships, especially those that are interpersonal. It takes into account one’s social behaviour as a result of their motivation, whether intrinsic or extrinsic.

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4. Theory of Interdependence:

This theory is a composite of the social exchange theory discussed above. It stands out from the other theories since it states that the interdependence between two individuals is the determining factor in relationships.

5. Triangular Theory of Love:

Developed by Robert Sternberg, this theory suggests that love has three main components. These are intimacy or emotional closeness, passion or attraction, and commitment, which is the decision of being legally bound to a relationship for the long run. These three fundamental aspects interact in different ways to create various kinds of relationships.

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The Gottmanns’ take on Relationship:

Dr. John M. Gottmann and his wife, Dr. Julie Schwartz Gottmann, are known for their vast contribution to the research on relationships, especially those of an intimate nature. Together, the couple focused on understanding the dynamics of a relationship and predicting its longevity. Their research on the importance of emotional intelligence in relationships. They also identified four communication patterns that can predict relationship distress. These are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling or withdrawing from interaction. These four patterns are referred to as the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’.

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Their proposed essence of Sound Relationship House involves developing love maps, sharing admiration and fondness, turning towards each other, and creating shared meaning, trust and commitment. Another famous contribution is the Gottman Repair Checklist, which emphasizes the importance of repair attempts in relationships. Results have shown that the efforts of both partners in incorporating behaviours such as compromising or apologizing reflect positively on the relationship. Dr. Gottman also stresses the significance of cultivating friendships. He further underlines the value of a holistic approach in all kinds of relationships.

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Key Factors in Relationship Dynamics:

Understanding the factors that shape relationship dynamics plays an important role in enhancing the quality of pre-existing relationships and forming new ones. Let’s look at some of the factors that promote healthy relationships.

  • Communication: To be successful in any kind of relationship, effective communication is essential. The verbal and non-verbal cues, the ability to convey things, experiences and emotions are taken into account while building connections.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Emotions play a huge role in determining the nature of a relationship. It is a lot deeper than being empathetic. Understanding each other’s emotions and being vulnerable promotes positive relations.
  • Conflicts: Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, and also necessary in many ways. How you deal with small arguments or bigger conflicts, ultimately decides the fate of your relationship. Acknowledging personal differences, apologizing, and taking turns in compromising are some ways to manage disagreements in a relationship.
  • Attachment style: Exploring the attachment style of both individuals helps in comprehending each other’s actions, encouraging closeness in the relationship.
  • Trust: The foundation of any relationship is trust. It creates a balance between vulnerability and reliability in relationships.
Summing Up

Any relationship or any individual is not perfect. Two or more individuals unlock the potential of understanding and cultivating strong and healthy relationships. It’s a two-way street. Relationships are essential for the growth of people, enabling them to live healthy lifestyles. It’s inevitable to have negative relationships alongside positive ones. However, they are also to be embraced since they let you grow and learn. Ultimately, it is your efforts that count in building relationships. Now that you have understood some factors and theories that influence relationships, it’s up to you to focus on each area to foster deep, meaningful relationships.

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