Personal Relationships (3)

Here are my first two post about the book. In this post I’ll continue my coverage of chapters from the book which I thought were interesting. The first of these chapters is the chapter on ‘Loneliness and Social Isolation’. I’ve written about this kind of stuff before (see e.g. these posts) and though I have not checked, it seems likely that some of my previous coverage of this topic on the blog will overlap with studies/results/distinctions mentioned here – I don’t mind that. I’m reasonably sure I’ve made the distinction between loneliness and social isolation clear before here, but it’s important and a useful starting point for any discussion of these matters:

“loneliness is a subjective and negative experience, and the outcome of a cognitive evaluation of the match between the quantity and quality of existing relationships and relationship standards. The opposite of loneliness is belongingness or embeddedness. […] Social isolation concerns the objective characteristics of a situation and refers to the absence of relationships with other people. The central question is this: To what extent is he or she alone? […] Persons with a very small number of meaningful ties are, by definition, socially isolated. Loneliness is not directly connected to objective social isolation; the association is of a more complex nature. […] Socially isolated persons are not necessarily lonely, and lonely persons are not necessarily socially isolated”

“Using the [De Jong Gierveld loneliness scale (related link)] in self-administered questionnaires results in higher scale means than if the scale is used in face-to-face or telephone interviews […]. This finding is in line with Sudman and Bradburn’s (1974) observation that, compared with interviews, the more anonymous the setting in which self-administered surveys are completed, the more the results show self-disclosure and reduce the tendency of respondents to present themselves in a favorable light”

“A partner does not always provide protection against loneliness. Persons with a partner who is not their most supportive network member tend to be very lonely […]. Generally speaking, however, persons with a partner bond tend to be better protected from loneliness than persons without a partner bond […] Adult children are an important source of companionship, closeness, and sharing, particularly for those who live alone. […] Divorce often impairs the relationship between parents and children, especially in the case of fathers […] The low level of contact with adult children is the reason divorced fathers tend to be lonelier than divorced mothers [I’d probably at most have concluded that it is a reason, rather than being the reason]. […] Siblings serve a particularly important function in alleviating the loneliness of those who lack the intimate attachment of a partner and have no children […] best friends can step in and function as confidants and in doing so help alleviate emotional loneliness, in particular, for never partnered or childless adults […] Generally speaking, as the number of relationships in the social network increases and as the amount of emotional and social support exchanged increases, the intensity of loneliness decreases […]. The four closest ties in a person’s network provide the greatest degree of protection against loneliness. The protection provided by additional relationships is marginal […]. Diversity across relationship types also serves to protect against loneliness. People with networks composed of both strong and weak ties are less prone to loneliness than people with strong ties only […]. Moreover, research […] has shown that people with networks that consist primarily or entirely of kin ties are more vulnerable to loneliness than people with more heterogeneous networks. Those who are dependent on family members for social contacts because they lack alternatives tend to have the highest levels of loneliness.”

“Research has shown that over the course of time, men and women who have lost their partner by death start downplaying the advantages of having a partner and start upgrading the advantages of being single […]. In doing so, they free the way for other relationships. The less importance attached to having a partner, the less lonely the widowed were found to be. […] Feeling socially uncomfortable, fear of intimacy, being easily intimidated by others, being unable to communicate adequately to others and developmental deficits such as childhood neglect and abandonment are reported by lonely people as the main causes of their feelings of loneliness […]. Characteristics such as low self-esteem, shyness and low assertiveness can predispose people to loneliness and might also make it more difficult to recover from loneliness […] Loneliness is associated with a variety of measures of physical health. Those who are in poor health, whether this is measured objectively or subjectively, tend to report higher levels of loneliness […] The causal mechanisms underlying the association between loneliness and health are not well understood”

The next chapter deals with ‘Stress in Couples: The Process of Dyadic Coping’. Some observations from the chapter:

“Research has shown […] that couples are more likely to have fights at home when the husband has had a difficult day at work” (In other news, water is wet. But do romantic partners take this kind of stuff sufficiently into account when trying to figure out why they’re arguing with their partner?) A related observation is this: “Dyadic coping suffers when the demands of the stressor reduce the amount of time and attention that spouses devote to one another. Perceived neglect may lead to resentment.” (Note again: Perceived neglect. Attributions and cognitions matter a lot).

In the dyadic coping context, there are good ways and bad ways to deal with problems. Positive relationship-focused coping strategies mentioned in the coverage include empathy, support provision and compromise, whereas negative strategies include confronting, ignoring, blaming, and withdrawal. Some things may make it harder to handle problems the right way: “It is easier to cope constructively, in ways that foster a positive relationship climate, when the individual is not overwhelmed by situational demands and a lack of material and interpersonal resources.” This observation lends support to the notion that it may be significantly harder to implement changes in coping strategies than e.g. just pointing out that the coping strategy employed is not optimal and that a different approach might be better; suboptimal coping may be employed at least partially for reasons outside the control of the individual.

“there may be two critical components to relationship maintenance in the context of severe stress. The first is preventing hurtful or counterproductive interaction patterns, such as pressuring one’s spouse to stop coping in a way that makes one uncomfortable (e.g., crying or expressing fear) or taking out one’s frustrations on the spouse. Some negative coping is probably inevitable, given the context of high stress. Thus, the second critical component may be forgiveness. Individuals who are facing the potential loss of physical functions, valued achievements, or the presence of pain or suffering in a loved one cannot always be empathic or even reasonable. An intervention model that combines awareness of appraisal processes, the implications of conflicting primary and secondary appraisals, and instruction on how to cope together rather than at cross-purposes may work best if it is tempered with the expectation that people will fail. Such failures can be normalized, rather than construed as major betrayals […] The most important contribution of interventions may be to educate people about the effects of stress on communication, the ability to express affection, and the capacity to process and react to information in a rational manner. It may be that our goal should not be “perfect dyadic coping” but multiple opportunities for redemption.” (“But do romantic partners take this kind of stuff sufficiently into account when trying to figure out why they’re arguing with their partner?” I asked above. It seems the authors believe that at least individuals in troubled relationships don’t.)

People in relationships lie to each other. In the previous coverage of the self-disclosure chapter I dealt briefly with some similar/related themes, but I didn’t go into much detail about lying – I’ll do this here, as the chapter ‘Lying and Deception in Close Relationships’ had some interesting stuff on the topic:

“the closeness of a relationship will affect the frequency of lying, the motivation for lying, the things lied about, the interactive manifestations of the lying process, the awareness of and desire to detect deception, the accuracy of that detection, the methods used to detect deception, and the consequences of the deception” (In other words, this stuff is complicated…)

“Rowatt, Cunningham, and Druen (1998) found both men and women saying they would be willing to lie about their intelligence, personal appearance, personality traits, income, past relationship outcomes, and career skills to a prospective date who was high in facial attractiveness. Even in get-acquainted conversations, participants are not averse to lying when they are asked to appear likable and/or competent […] it seems that lies are common, even expected, in the interactions that serve as a launching pad for close relationships [my bold, US]. […] In one survey of college students, 92% admitted to lying to a romantic partner about sexual issues […] Lies don’t cease when relationships are designated as “close,” however; they just decrease in frequency. DePaulo and Kashy (1998) found both community leaders and students reporting that they told fewer lies (relative to the total number of interactions) to those with whom they had closer relationships. Lies occurred about once in every 10 interactions in a broad range of close relationships that included spouses, best friends, family, children, nonspouse romantic partners, and mothers. However, it is worth noting that lying in close relationships does not seem to be equally low for all types of relationships. The closeness of the relationship is only one factor governing the frequency of lying. More lies, for instance, were reportedly told to mothers and nonspouse romantic partners. One in every three transactions with nonspouse romantic partners were reported to involve lying. Emotional closeness can be a powerful deterrent to lying in close relationships, and when lies do occur, they are often troubling for the liar. […] close relationships create an environment in which any given lie can take a huge toll on the degree of closeness felt.”

“Lies attributed to people in close relationships are not always lies. The dialogue associated with these attributions, however, may profoundly affect relationship closeness. […] People in close relationships are familiar with their partner’s communication style and do not expect their partner to lie to them. Nevertheless, one’s motives for not saying something a partner thought should have been said, forgetting something a partner thought should have been reported, or misunderstanding something a partner thought should have been understood are all subject to attributions of deception. Accusing close relationship partners of lying when they don’t believe they have can generate relationship-altering dialogue.”

“Close relationships […] are especially fertile ground for studying what Werth and Flaherty (1986) called collusion and Barnes (1994) called connivance. Connivance occurs when individuals in close relationships know they are being deceived by their partner, but deceptively act as if they didn’t know. […] Research typically focuses on lies of commission – false accounts, information, and stories that are invented by the liar. However, distinctions between lies of commission that invent a new reality for the target versus lies that involve secrets or simply allow the target to continue believing something false may be of special interest in close relationships […] Levenger and Senn (1967) found that concealing negative feelings, particularly about their mates, was far more characteristic of satisfied spouses than dissatisfied ones. Metts (1989) found spouses more likely to conceal information than to make deliberately false statements. […] One common reason for lying is to support and sustain our partners – to avoid hurting them, to tell them what they want to hear, to build and maintain their self-esteem, to help them accomplish their goals, and to show concern for their physical and mental states. Indeed, DePaulo and Kashy (1998) found what they called “altruistic” lies to be the most common type of lie told to friends and best friends. Lies told to close relationship partners are usually viewed by the lie teller as altruistically motivated, guilt inducing, spontaneous, justified by the situation, and/or provoked by the lie receiver […] More satisfied couples may […] tend to create a new partner reality through what Murray and Holmes (1996) called “positive illusions” – seeing virtues in their partner that aren’t there, turning faults into virtues, constructing excuses for misdeeds, and so on. What may begin as lies of support or as positive illusions may later, with the effects of self-persuasion and/or the self-fulfilling prophecy, be viewed as fact”

“Liars often view their own behavior as far less harmful, offensive, and consequential than the target of the lie. Liars often describe extenuating circumstances that they view as justification for their lie(s), but targets often do not share those views […] Liars feel especially good about lies that make their partner feel better […] Sometimes lies are not uncovered, but suspicion has been aroused to such an extent that trust in one’s partner is negatively affected. To the extent that the lie or lies told have powerful effects on the liar (e.g., guilt, anger, fear, embarrassment), these effects may manifest themselves in almost any dialogue with the liar’s partner. The target of the lie may wonder why, for no apparent reason, his or her partner seems so irritable over the slightest things. […] liars will sometimes denigrate and distrust the target, trying to make themselves feel better by believing that their partner is just like they are – that they lie too, that they invited the lie by being such an easy dupe, that they created a situation where they were going to get just as much punishment for telling the truth as for lying, and so on. […] Serious lies are often told to cover major transgressions of the relationship such as infidelity.”

“when Metts (1989) asked people to describe a time when they didn’t tell their relationship partner the whole truth, over a third of them mentioned deceptions involving emotional information – for example, feelings of love and commitment.”

“Several studies portray the consequences of deception to be more substantial for women than men. […] Women […] seem to view deception as more unacceptable than men, see it as a more significant relational event, and react more strongly to its discovery. They report being more distressed and anxious than men on the discovery that their partner in a close relationship has lied to them […] and more tearful and apologetic than men for the serious lies they tell. They may also maintain their bitterness about the transgression for a longer period of time than men”

“we know relatively little about any kind of lie that has positive effects and any kind of truth that has negative effects in close relationships. Most surveys find that truth telling is considered a necessary feature in establishing and maintaining a close relationship [On the other hand “it seems that lies are common, even expected, in the interactions that serve as a launching pad for close relationships” […] “92 % admitted to lying to romantic partners about sexual issues.” This stuff is obviously complicated], but most people in those same surveys are willing to admit that lying may play a worthwhile role in close relationships [so this makes sense]. It is possible, of course, that lies that provide the bonding elements for close relationships in everyday dialogue may not even be thought of as lies by the relationship partners.”

Finally, a few observations from the chapter on ‘Temptation and Threat: Extradyadic Relations and Jealousy’:

“whereas about 30% of Asian Americans feel that violence is justified in case of a wife’s sexual infidelity […], among Arab American immigrants 48% of the women and 23% of the men approve of a man slapping a sexually unfaithful wife, with 18% of the women even approving a man killing his wife if she were to have an affair (Kulwicki & Miller, 1999). In general, attitudes toward infidelity are more permissive among younger individuals, among the better educated and those from the upper middle class, among persons who are less religious, among those living in urban areas, and among those holding liberal political orientations” [semi-related and more recent data here and here – I post these links partly because they’re ‘semi-relevant’ in this context, but also partly because I haven’t commented on the Charlie Hebdo attack here on the blog and I thought this was a good place to add a little bit of data to that discussion in case people reading along here want it. Another ‘Hebdo-related observation’ is that Statistics Denmark concluded a few years back, on the basis of a (very large) survey (the sample size was much larger than what is usually required for a Danish sample to be considered ‘representative’; n = 2.792), that half of the Danish immigrants and descendants from muslim countries (Danish link) were in favour of making it illegal for movies and books to ‘attack islam’ (and no, the support for such a legal restriction on freedom of speech was not lower for descendants).]

“There is some evidence that individuals who engage in extradyadic sex are relatively often characterized by lower levels of wellbeing and mental health […], and this seems to apply in particular to women […] Especially wives low in conscientiousness, high in narcissism, and high in psychoticism […] or suffering from a histrionic personality disorder […] seem to be inclined to be unfaithful. They may do so because, in part, these personality characteristics reflect insecure attachment styles […]. Indeed, some studies have found that especially among women, an anxious–ambivalent attachment style is associated with a tendency to be unfaithful. […] extradyadic sex is more prevalent among individuals with a positive attitude toward sexuality. […] Several studies have found that, particularly among men, adultery often stems from feelings of sexual deprivation in the primary relationship. In contrast, among women emotional dissatisfaction with the relationship has been found to be related to adultery [I did not find this surprising, but it’s probably worth keeping in mind] […] lowered satisfaction, as well as lowered commitment have also been found to be important determinants of extradyadic sexual involvement or of the willingness to be involved in an extradyadic relationship […] In addition, there is evidence that […] extradyadic sex may be particularly likely to occur in relationships characterized by low dependency.”

“Most extradyadic relationships are kept secret from the primary partner, and even when this partner gets obvious clues that the other partner may be having an affair, such clues are often denied because the offended partners may not want to know they are being cheated on. […] In general, it seems that extradyadic sexual relationships will particularly likely lead to a divorce when they stem primarily from dissatisfaction with the primary relationship with the affair being a consequence rather than a cause of relational problems […]. There is evidence that even when the spouse accepts the extradyadic sexual involvement such as in sexually open marriages, relational and sexual satisfaction decreases substantially over time”

“several studies have found lowered self-esteem and increased jealousy to be related […] a substantial number of studies [have] found that, particularly among women, jealousy is related to low self-esteem […] for jealousy to occur, a rival is a necessary and defining condition. Overall, a rival who possesses qualities that are believed to be important to the opposite sex or to one’s partner tends to evoke more feelings of jealousy than a rival who does not possess those qualities […] individuals tend to report more jealousy as their rivals possess more self-relevant attributes, such as intelligence, popularity, athleticism, and certain professional skills […] Because jealousy is evoked by those characteristics that contribute most to the rival’s value as a partner, one would, from an evolutionary–psychological perspective, expect women to feel more jealous than men when their rival is physically attractive and men to feel more jealous than women when their rival possesses status-related characteristics. Several studies have found support for this hypothesis […] there is increasing evidence that, rather than evoking merely upset, sexual and emotional jealousy evoke different emotional responses. In general, emotional infidelity is more likely to evoke feelings of insecurity and threat whereas sexual infidelity is more likely to evoke feelings of betrayal, anger, and repulsion […] A recurrent finding is that, in response to a jealousy-evoking event, women in particular have the tendency to think that they are “not good enough.” […] many more men than women commit homicides out of jealousy […]. However, studies that have asked participants what they would do if a jealousy-evoking event would occur consistently show that women in particular are inclined to endorse aggressive action against their rival […] Possible explanations for this discrepancy are that women are more likely than men to admit intentions of violence toward their rival, women are less likely than men to convert their violent intentions into actual behavior, and, although women may physically injure their rivals, they do not kill them, whereas men do.”


January 20, 2015 - Posted by | Books, Psychology

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