In the contexts of sociology and of popular culture, the concept of interpersonal relationships involves social associations, connections, or affiliations between two or more people. Such persons may interact overtly, covertly, face-to-face; or may remain effectively unknown to each other (as in a virtual community whose members maintain anonymity and do not socialize outside of a chat-room).
Analyzing interpersonal relationships
Sometimes an observer can detect explicit interactions that define an interpersonal relationship — such as body-language or dialogue. Erving Goffman and his followers see any public appearance as a ritual built from a "ceremonial idiom".
Human interactions often mix the explicit and implicit interaction modes.
An interpersonal interaction can constitute a social transaction of the form "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Some transactions facilitate further interaction between the participants and some act as Interpersonal violence consists of action, interaction and transaction — without necessarily terminating the relationship.
Context has great importance in meaningfully describing any particular interaction between people. Meaning itself can result from interpersonal interactions, most significantly in the developmental stage of life when one interacts with peers, parents and teachers. Socialization transmits culture. Culture — in the light of social constructionism — forms how people construct their world and the relationships in it.
Analysts of interpersonal relationships (namely, any functioning humans) may view a relationship as focused (such as the sales-oriented relationship between a sales assistant and a customer) or as unfocused (as between passengers on a bus). People traveling to a football-match share a relationship — whether they support the same team or opposing teams. The significance of the relationship may not become apparent until they cheer or boo. In each case culture will tend to define the forms of both accepted and unacceptable interactions.
Interpersonal relationships vary in their degree of self-disclosure, feedback, power and respect — to name but a few aspects. They vary in the extent to which culture and language define or construct them. They vary in the degree to which people can question, challenge or change relationships of relevance to themselves; and that degree of changeability itself can demonstrate power-differentials in a variety of interpersonal relationships and settings.
Relationships vary in the degree to which both intimacy and sharing occur — implying the discovery or establishment of common ground over time. They may or may not center around things shared in common.
The concept of relationship
Interpersonal relationships as a category may have escaped public attention until the late 20th century:
The term "relationship", as applied to personal life, came into general use only twenty or thirty years ago, as did the idea that there is a need for "intimacy" or "commitment" in personal life."
If valid, this view raises questions as to what has changed — and how — to bring about the result where interpersonal relationships receive so much attention — both in academia and in popular lore.
Teens and parents go through a stage where relationships are lost or broken up by the changes kids go through as they mature into adults.
Over 90% of all failed relationships result from a lack of honest communication and awareness.
Interpersonal relationships and other fields of study
The study of relationships beyond the merely personal involves fields such as mathematics, sociology, psychology and anthropology, to name but a few. Every branch of science — to some extent — studies relationship and occurs in the context of interpersonal relationships. (Interpersonal relationships form and maintain the culture of science and its paradigms, and often prove more influential than evidence which may contradict a theory.)
Game theory, a branch of applied mathematics and economics, studies two-person interactions in decision-making. Game theory can stand distinct from the "games people play" of transactional analysis, which may relate to relationship therapy.
The meaning of a particular relationship depends on the definition of the situation. The work of the sociologist Erving Goffman — particularly in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life — suggests the degree to which one manages presentation of the self in every interaction.
This points to the ultimate source of interpersonal relationship in intrapersonal communication. What lies within each person and how each person communicates internally provides the source of meaning, of self-definition and of self-presentation in interpersonal relationships.
Possible stages in the course of interpersonal relationships
- a) Perceptual: noticing how parties look at each other and their body-language.
- b) Interactional cues: nodding, maintaining eye-contact, etc.
- c) Invitational: encouraging the potential relationship (for example, suggesting a later meeting involving some social lubricant such as coffee)
- d) Avoidance strategies: if one person discloses and the other does not: minimal response, lack of eye-contact, etc.
- a) Feelers: hints or questions (for example: asking about family)
- b) Intensifying strategies: furthering the relationship (for example meeting an old friend, bringing the other to meet family, becoming more affectionate, etc.)
- c) Public: parties seen in public together often (if in a romantic relationship, may involve holding hands)
3) Intimacy: parties very close; may have exchanged some sort of personal belonging or something that represents further commitment. (For example, a promise ring in a romantic relationship or a friendship-necklace identifying two people as best friends)
4) Deterioration: things start to fall apart. In a romantic relationship, typically after approximately six months, people move out of the so-called "honeymoon stage", NRE, or limerence and start to notice flaws. The way they address this determines the fate of the relationship (see relationship counseling).
Types of interpersonal relationships
Examples of categories of personal relationships may include:
- kinship relationships (including family relationships) involve relating to someone else:
- formalized intimate relationships or long-term relationships recognized by law and formalized through public ceremony (for example, the relationships of marriage and of civil union)
- non-formalized intimate relationships or long-term relationships such as loving relationships or romantic relationships with or without living together; with the "other person" often called lover, boyfriend or girlfriend (as distinct from just a male or female friend), or "significant other". If the partners live together, the relationship may resemble marriage, with the parties possibly called "husband" and "wife". (Scottish common law can regard such couples as such after a time. Long-term relationships in other countries can become known as common-law marriages, although they may have no special status in law. The term mistress may refer in a somewhat old-fashioned way to a female lover of an already married or unmarried man. A mistress may have the status of an "official mistress" (in French maîtresse en titre); as exemplified by the career of Madame de Pompadour.
- soulmates, individuals intimately drawn to one another through a favorable "meeting of minds" and who find mutual acceptance and/or understanding with one another. Soulmates may feel themselves bonded together for a lifetime; and hence may become sexual partners — but not necessarily.
- casual relationships, sexual relationships extending beyond "one-night stands" that exclusively consist of sexual behavior; one can label the participants as "friends with benefits" when limited to considering sexual intercourse, or regard them as sexual partners in a wider sense.
- Platonic love, an affectionate relationship into which the sexual element does not enter, especially in cases where one might easily assume otherwise.
- friendship, which consists of mutual love, trust, respect, and (often unconditional) acceptance; and usually implies the discovery or establishment of common ground between the individuals involved; see also internet friendship and pen-pal.
- brotherhood and sisterhood: individuals united in a common cause or having a common interest, which may involve formal membership in a club, organization, association, society, lodge, fraternity or sorority. This type of interpersonal relationship relates to the comradeship/camaraderie of fellow soldiers in peace or war.
- partners or co-workers in a profession, business, or a common workplace. Compare team.
- participation in a community, for example, a community of interest or practice.
- association, simply knowing someone by introduction or knowing someone by interaction.
Factors in establishing and maintaining relationships
The discovery or establishment of common ground between individuals provides a fundamental component for enduring interpersonal relationships. Loss of common ground, which may happen over time, may tend to end interpersonal relationships.
An observer of relationships can consider the motivation of each participant in the relationship. Does X love Y — or simply love what Y does for X? And vice versa.
In a longitudinal research study, psychotherapist Emily Kensington asked one hundred couples, “What do you love most about one another?" Answers indicating little depth generally correlated with the relationship experiencing "negative" outcomes. According to hearts-and-kisses.com, replies such "Because she's pretty" or "he's fun" emerge as negative predictors, indicating surface attraction. Relationships can evolve from the meeting of facile needs to a stable, committed companionship, and couples that can identify their attraction to positive partner-qualities such as compassion, intelligence, and an ability and willingness to communicate effectively have "better" outcomes. Self-aware couples have a greater ability to recognize areas for potential growth, and to develop a plan to work on their relationship jointly.
Each relationship-type demands essential skills, and without these skills more "advanced" relationships cannot develop. Systemic coaching advocates a hierarchy of relationships, from friendship to global order. Expertise in each relationship-type (in this hierarchy) requires the skills of all previous relationship-types. (For example partnership requires friendship and teamwork skills).
Interpersonal relationships through consanguinity and affinity can persist despite the absence of love, affection, or common ground. With such relationships within prohibited degrees, sexual intimacy becomes the taboo of incest.
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.
Intimate relationships often (but not always) involve an implicit or explicit agreement on monogamy — an agreement that the partners will not have sex with any third party. The extent to which society and partners may accept physical intimacy with other people varies. For example, a husband may react more favorably to his wife demonstrating physical affection with a female friend than to a similar demonstration with a male friend (see also jealousy).
Friendship may involves some degree of transitivity: one 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 relations between two friends may alter that relationship: either by "taking it to the next level" or by severing it. Sexual partners may also class as friends: the sexual relationship may either enhance or depreciate the friendship.
The rise of popular psychology has led to an explosion of concern about one's interpersonal relationships (often simply called: "relationships"). Intimate relationships receive particular attention in this context, but sociology recognises many other interpersonal links of greater or less duration and/or significance.
Theories concerning interpersonal relationships
Social psychology and related spheres propose several approaches to the study and fostering of interpersonal relationships, among them:
- social exchange theory, which interprets relationships in terms of exchanged benefits. People will regard relationships in the light of the rewards of the relationship, as well as rewards they may potentially receive in alternate relationships.
- systemic coaching, which analyzes relationships as expressions of a perceived human need to give and receive love. Transferences, entanglements and substitution can complicate relationships. Systemic coaching claims to offer solutions for many difficulties in relationships.
- equity theory, which stems from a criticism of social exchange theory. Proponents argue that people care about more than just maximizing rewards: they also allegedly want fairness and equity in their relationships.
- relational dialectics, which regards relationships not as static entities, but as continuing processes, forever changing. This approach sees constant tension in the negotiation of three main issues: autonomy vs. connection, novelty vs. predictability, and openness vs. closedness.
- attachment styles, which analyze relationships in yet another way. Proponents of attachment styles argue that styles developed in childhood continue influential throughout adulthood, influencing the roles people adopt in relationships.
- socionics and some other theories of psychological compatibility consider interpersonal relationships as at least partly dependent on the psychological types of partners.
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- Main list: List of basic relationship topics
- Relational disorder (proposed DSM-V new diagnosis)
- Alternatives to marriage project
- Courtship (Dating)
- Forms of activity and interpersonal relations
- Historical pederastic couples
- Human bonding
- Interpersonal communication
- Monogamy, polyamory, polyandry, polygamy, endogamy, exogamy
- Single (relationship)
- Social interaction
- Social rejection
- Terms of endearment
- Anthony Lauria: "Respeto, Relajo and Inter-Personal Relations in Puerto Rico". Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 2 (Apr., 1964), pp. 53-67 doi:10.2307/3316848
- Christian Bromberger, « Paraître en public », (" To appear in public") Terrain, Numéro 15 - Paraître en public (October 1990). URL : http://terrain.revues.org/document2978.html. Retrieved 2007-06-17.
- Erving Goffman, (1967) Interaction Ritual p.56
- Anthony Giddens, Sociology. Cambridge: Polity, 2001, page 173. ISBN 0-7456-2311-5
- Relationship Advice: Understanding Your Motivation
- "What are friends for?" - three-part article in UK Guardian newspaper
- One Plus One
- [My Many breakups]