Maintenance of Relationships Term Paper

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RELATIONSHIP MAINTENANCE THEORIES have been many and they have made significant contribution to the field. In this paper, we shall focus on some relational maintenance theories that focus on such things as attractiveness, communication, friends and social networks etc.

Communication is the key to any healthy relationship. It is felt that as long as two people are communicating, relationship exists. Breakdown of communication can negative affect a relationship. Sigman (1991) says that relationships are continuous even if there are discontinuous period of interaction. This is to say that relationships would exist even with on and off communication pattern but it is when communication breaks down completely that relationships cease to function. Communication and the quality of it can determine the quality of a relationship and can act as an important health indicator of the relationship. There are other important ways in which relational maintenance has been studied such as costs and rewards, attraction, commitment, etc. But communication is a significantly powerful factor that brings two people closer and also helps them bridge gaps and minimize differences. Hence communication is one of the ways in which maintenance of relationships is studied.

Relational maintenance processes and strategies lie at the very core of all discourse on relationships and their health. According to Duck (1988) even though there exist strategies for terminating relationships as well but people spend more valuable time on building and strengthening relationships than on termination. Hence we have more maintenance strategies and theories than exit theories. Some of the key factors affecting relationship building are attractiveness, similarity, reciprocal likeness and complementary component. In Hayes edition (1998) many important studies were cited that explained how relationships built and maintained. It was found that, "Attraction enhanced by a pleasant environment may also prove fruitful, such as when on holiday, providing 'positive reinforcement' for the friendship." When relationships are new, there is considerable anxiety about the other person's willingness to continue. However once that stage is crossed, a comfort zone is reached which can be both safe as well as dangerous. In this comfortable position, people might not choose to question the health of their relationship and may ignore certain things. But these must never be ignored and this is where communication comes in and plays a significant role.

There are many studies that shed light on relational stability and satisfaction, and each of these has something to offer on the subject of relational maintenance processes and strategies even though not all authors have used the term relational maintenance. Gottman's (1979, 1994) research is an important research on the subject, though the author doesn't use the term relationship maintenance.

There are four important definitions of relationship maintenance as found from literature. The first definition says that maintenance meanings keeping a relationship in existence. A relationship that is maintained is a relationship that has not yet been terminated. A couple that is married and hasn't sought divorce is a good example of keeping the relationship in existence.

The second definition of relational maintenance is to keep a relationship in a particular state so that there is no change in it, neither positive nor negative. (Knapp & Vangelisti, 2000). In other words, to maintain a relationship is to keep the relationship in a certain stage. A girlfriend/boyfriend relationship may not be progressing to the next stage but as long as it exists in the present stage, the relationship is said to be maintained.

The third definition of relational maintenance is to keep a relationship in a stage where it has certain degree of satisfaction. Sometimes relational maintenance is conceptually and operationally defined as maintaining relational satisfaction.

The fourth use of the term relational maintenance is to keep a relationship in a repair mode. Repair is done when signs of wear and tear appear. Davis (1973) defined relational maintenance as "Integrations that have a tendency to become loose can be tightened by preventive maintenance before they become loose, or by corrective maintenance afterward" (p. 2-10).

A number of theoretical perspectives on relationships implicitly or explicitly pertain to relational maintenance. Social exchange theories including Interdependence Theory, Equity Theory, and the Investment Model, have made explicit theoretical propositions about relational maintenance (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993). Relational Dialectics, another theoretical perspective, has major implications for relational maintenance in terms of the dynamic process of relational maintenance (Montgomery, 1993) and the strategies for maintaining relationships (i.e., the concept of praxis, Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). Gottman's (1979, 1994) interactional approach focuses on how communicative patterns predict relational continuity.

Kaplan (1975; 1976) divides relationship maintenance into three fundamental functions: emotional expression, definition of reality and preservation of order. Emotional expression is based on the assumption that when two people live together, some feelings are generated that must be adequately communicated. This is more true for negative emotions than positive because former can hurt a relationship as Kaplan explained, "no relationship is immune to negative emotion... And no relationship escapes the need to deal with these antisocial sentiments" (p. 106).

A second function of maintenance is to give a definition to the relationship. It is where partners seek to understand their own feelings as well that of their partners. (Kaplan, 1975/l 965).

The third function of maintenance is to maintain order in the relationship. In their attempt to maintain order, partners try to achieve coordination of activities so they are more in sync.

Kaplan (1975/l 976) found two global and polar-opposite types of behaviors connected with maintenance that are relevant to the functions mentioned above. Maintenance-by-expression is the kind of behavior where partners voice their feelings. They discuss their views, express how they feel in a relationship, and try to regulate their connection with each other. Maintenance-by-expression is also called meta-communication or relationship talk. It contains some straight forward strategies for maintenance of relationships. Maintenance-by-suppression occurs when instead of openly expressing, partners suppress their mutual feelings and views of the relationship. Maintenance-by-suppression included expressing emotions indirectly through nonverbal and verbal communication (joking and laughter). Maintenance-by-suppression also includes direct expression to third parties in the absence of the partner. Indeed, Oliker (1989) showed that married women's friendships promote marital stability. They do this, in part, by diffusing anger or other volatile emotions and managing these emotions so as to sustain married women's commitment to their marriage. Maintenance-by-suppression encompasses indirect strategies.

Kaplan;s arguments have not been tested directly but there are other studies on meta communication and they highlight the effectiveness or lack of Kaplan research. Ayres 1983 is considered one of the gurus in the field and he is of the view that meta communication is not frequently used for maintaining relationships. Dindia and Baxter (1987) argue that meta-communication was more frequently used to repair a relationship. In particular, several studies using Stafford and Canary's (I 99 I) measure of openness have found mixed results about the merits of disclosure in maintaining relationships

Another common approach to relational maintenance says that we must work on the forces that either hold a relationship together (centripetal forces) or pull it apart (centrifugal force). Lewin (1951) called these forces 'driving forces' and 'restraining forces'. Levinger labeled them attractions and barriers. According to this perspective, relationship maintenance strategies should work on any of the forces that might affect a relationship. Levinger (1979) argues that one of the best and time tested strategy is to keep the barriers to break-up in sight and to maintain the barriers that exist between marriage and divorce. By doing so a person lets go of all the alternatives available. A more contemporary strategy would be to revive the "spark" in relationships. Davis (1973) observed:

like any human construction, intimate relations are subject to deterioration.... As these minor breakdowns accumulate, they will both weaken the centripetal forces that hold intimates together and strengthen the centrifugal forces that drive them apart. When the centrifugal forces become stronger than the centripetal, the intimates will break up." (p. 209)

According to Davis, individuals who want to maintain a relationship must sustain certain social forces that fasten themselves together. Davis (1973) observed three global types of preventative and corrective maintenance designed to sustain the social forces that fasten intimates together. First, is manipulation of the external environment, both social and physical, surrounding the relationship. Second, intimates can "work-it-out" or "have-it-out. " Intimates can work it out through explicit communication about the relationship or the problems in the relationship (i.e., "a serious talk"). Davis (1973) labeled this "meta-intimate conversation, " but it is similar to the term metacommunication. Davis also referred to this as a "State of the Union Address, " which Baxter and Wilmot (1984) labeled a state-of -- the relationship talk. Davis argued that metacommunication functions to reintegrate the relationship.

Third, couples can intentionally renew their relationship through periodic ceremonies that Davis (1973) ca e reintegration ceremonies. Reintegration ceremonies include formal reintegration ceremonies such as celebrating anniversaries and less formal reintegration ceremonies such as when couples recall times during which they were especially close (play "our song, " etc.). Davis discussed two other kinds of reintegration… [END OF PREVIEW]

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