Personal Relationships (6)

Here’s a link to a previous post in the series about the book. Before proceeding to the coverage of the textbook, I thought I should mention that I yesterday read another novel by Wodehouse, and started on a third one. His stuff is awesome – if you’re having trouble finding fiction which is fun and enjoyable to read, you should definitely check out Wodehouse if you haven’t already.

Okay, back to the textbook. When I started out writing this post I thought it would be my last post about the book, but in the end I decided that the post would get too long if I covered all the remaining chapters in this post. So I may or may not cover the rest of the book later. The first topic I’ll cover in this post is intimacy. Some observations from the chapter on that topic:

“Individuals can influence the evolution of an emerging relationship by adjusting the breadth (the number of topics disclosed) and the depth of their self-disclosure (the degree of personal relevance). In addition, nonverbal behaviors (e.g., gaze, touch, body orientation) are expressions that can augment and interact with verbal self-disclosures to influence intimacy in a relationship […] Self-disclosure has been found to account for just below half of the variance in ratings of couples’ level of intimacy […] To contribute to the development of intimacy in a relationship, an individual’s responses have to demonstrate concern for the discloser. A response must be sincere and immediate, capture the content of the original communication, and meet the need of the discloser […]. Responsiveness has been found to play an important role in disclosure reciprocity, liking, and closeness in relationships […]. Recently, researchers have conceptualized responsiveness as a process whereby a person communicates understanding, validation, and caring in response to a partner’s self-disclosure […] In personal relationships, receiving validation and acceptance can often take on a self-esteem maintaining or protective function, in that individuals often seek to confirm their self-concept through the responses of others […]. Reis and Shaver (1988) argued that the speaker’s perception and judgment of the listener’s response as understanding, validating, and caring are important factors in the experience of intimacy, above and beyond the listener’s actual responsiveness. […] According to Reis and Shaver (1988), intimacy is an interpersonal, transactional process with two principal components: self-disclosure and partner responsiveness. Intimacy can be initiated when one person communicates personally relevant and revealing information to another person. […] For the intimacy process to continue, the listener must emit emotions, expressions, and behaviors that are both responsive to the specific content of the disclosure and convey acceptance, validation, and caring toward the individual disclosing. For the interaction to be experienced as intimate by the discloser, he or she must perceive both the descriptive qualities (understanding of content) and evaluative qualities (validation and caring) of the response. […] a consistent finding is that individuals with an insecure attachment style are less responsive than more securely attached individuals according to both objective third-party ratings and subjective reports”.

“A notable tenet of existing models of intimacy […] is that intimacy is achieved when Partner A self-discloses and feels validated, cared for, and understood by Partner B’s attempts at responsiveness. Although we agree that this model describes the intimacy process, we believe that in many ways it is decidedly one-sided. Is the experience of intimacy only achieved when one feels that a relationship partner is responding to one’s needs? We argue that an individual may experience intimacy while providing understanding, care, and validation, as well as while receiving it. In other words, Partner B’s feelings of intimacy may match Partner A’s, even though A is the one being validated.” (I should note that I have made a similar argument during conversations with a good friend, and that I share the opinion of the authors that this aspect is important as well).

“Nonverbal cues have been thought to contribute to intimacy in two ways. First, they communicate specific emotional messages, which may stand alone or be considered along with concurrent verbal messages. Second, nonverbal cues may intensify emotions that are experienced during intimate interactions […] nonverbal cues can increase the likelihood of an intimate outcome, whereas others may decrease the possibility. Specifically, smiling, eye contact, and physical proximity tend to engross the listener, especially if the behaviors amplify the speaker’s words […] Observational studies have shown that husbands and wives use different nonverbal behaviors when delivering positive and negative messages” [I’ll again remind people reading along here that ‘observational studies’ in this context means studies where they’ve actually observed people interacting with each other, instead of e.g. relying on self-reports].

“Self-disclosures have been classified into two types: factual–descriptive (e.g., personal information, such as the number of one’s siblings) versus emotional–evaluative (e.g., feelings about those siblings […]). Emotional disclosures have been shown to be more important to intimate interactions […] Research has shown that more emotional information is transmitted nonverbally than verbally […] Nonverbal cues are often better indicators of feelings, emotions, and attitudes than are words […] when there is a discrepancy between verbal and nonverbal messages, people tend to believe the nonverbal ones […] There is evidence that nonverbal communication affects the outcomes of a wide variety of relationships. In married couples nonverbal behavior is more likely than verbal behavior to distinguish between distressed and undistressed pairs […]. Poor nonverbal skills have been shown to be associated with less satisfying relationships for married couples […], romantic partners […], roommates […], children’s peer relationships […], and adults in general […] To create intimacy in an interaction, several nonverbal processes must occur. First, the discloser must display appropriate emotional nonverbal cues. Second, the listener must be able to decode them accurately. Third, the listener must then respond with appropriate nonverbal expressiveness. Finally, the original discloser must perceive these expressive cues accurately. In any interaction, this process is repeated continuously, and thus there is substantial room for error. […] A wealth of literature supports the conclusion that nonverbal skills are essential to relationship outcomes. Few studies, however, have focused on issues related to mechanism: How do nonverbal behaviors and skills affect relationship outcomes and processes?”

The next chapter is about ‘Social Networks and Personal Communities’. A few observations from the chapter:

“Generally, there is a shortage of longitudinal material on what might be termed the routine natural history of personal communities – the ways in which different relationships unremarkably alter over time, some becoming more central in people’s lives and others becoming of lesser consequence. Importantly, too, the studies there have been have tended to be short rather than long term. […] [A few exceptions exist, and what] these studies indicate, not surprisingly, is that social change routinely occurs across the life course, affecting people’s social location and in turn the sets of relationships they sustain. Although based on a shorter term study, Morgan and his colleagues […] made the important point that although the personnel making up an individual’s network may alter over time, the properties of the network itself can be more stable. In this study of widows, a core segment of key relationships remained relatively constant over the course of the research, whereas relationships that were more peripheral waxed and waned. Thus, as Morgan, Neal, et al. (1997) expressed it, “the stability of the aggregate properties in personal networks is much greater than the stability of the membership in these networks” (p. 22).”

The next chapter, on ‘Relationships in home and community environments’, is terrible, so I won’t talk about that here. Instead I’ll end the coverage here with some observations from the chapter about ‘Relationships, Culture, and Social Change’:

“There are several theoretical reasons for studying relationships across cultures. First, there may be variation in the relative magnitude of different relationship phenomena. […] Second, culture can have a moderating impact on the association between individual-level factors (such as personality) and various relationship phenomena. […] Finally, even when there are strong universal relational phenomena consistent across cultures, the ways in which these influence actual behaviors may differ. As we note later, individuals may feel passionately for each other in some cultures, but their passion may have relatively little impact on who they end up with as partners. Instead, pragmatic considerations (family pressures, but also basic economic realities) may have a far more significant role in partner choice.”

“In the last 2 decades a number of major international studies have sought to differentiate cultures empirically on the basis of their scores on key values. The most influential of these has been the dimensions that arose from Hofstede’s (1980) seminal study of IBM employees of 50 nations and more than one hundred thousand respondents. In this study, Hofstede (1980) concluded that cultures vary along four dimensions: power distance (deference to authority), masculinity–femininity (relative emphasis on achievement or interpersonal harmony), uncertainty avoidance (stability and “planning ahead”) and individualism–collectivism (which concerns the relationship between the individual and the group). Individualism–collectivism has been the most widely researched of these dimensions”

“Most research into PR assumes that close relationships partners are chosen rather in the manner of an individual shopping in a supermarket, with individuals free to choose from a wide variety of products, in a multiplicity of shapes and sizes, from a range of different origins. […] In reality, this image is unlikely to be accurate even in the most individualistic of societies. Personal reputation, availability of social networks, and even opportunities to travel and shop around are basic limiters of choice in most cultures. However, in some cultures there is little opportunity to form any kind of romantic relationship outside of the most tightly restricted range. Indeed, we can plot a continuum ranging from those cultures in which partner choice is rarely restricted (usually those cultures where mate selection studies are conducted) to those cultures where partner choice might be prescribed as early as birth […]. Across the world, the majority of marriages are by arrangement, usually with the aid of matchmakers or relatives (Ingoldsby, 1995). [I dislike having to rely on a 20-year old study here, but I would caution people who think that just because it’s 20 years old, it’s probably obsolete and the results worthless. For example the relationship between ‘modernization’ and marriage is, complicated – see e.g. this paper (“No empirical support was found for any of our hypotheses which link the level of modernization to the risk of divorce”).] Marriage in such cultures is not regarded as a union of two individuals but of two families, with the families likely to be similar in terms of values, customs, and norms. […] Arranged relationships can be seen as invaluable in cementing family liaisons, helping build new economic ties, and maintaining the influence of the extended network on the new couple. Because such arrangements are of such significance to the wider family, opportunities for Western-style dating and partner choice outside of those approved as eligible is likely to be highly restricted”.

“Because partner choice is restricted among some cultures and cultural groups, the role of love in the choice of marital partner is also likely to vary across the world. There is strong evidence that Western beliefs in the significance of love for marriage may not be universal […]. In cultures where marriages are arranged, love is often assumed to grow out of marriage, rather than to be a motivator for the formation of a particular relationship […] because of the importance to family honor and economic success of an “appropriate” relationship match, in societies where marriage is arranged love is most likely to be sanctioned between only certain partners.”

“In those societies in which arranged marriages dominate, divorce or even separation are often difficult or impossible […]. Although marital dissatisfaction undoubtedly exists here as elsewhere, it is important not to exaggerate the unhappiness felt in many more traditional cultures. Instead, in such societies, different expectations about marriage may lead to different kinds of expectations as to what is – and is not – to be obtained from a marital relationship. […] One enduring debate has been the extent to which free-choice matches are happier than arranged marriages. This is difficult to assess because expectations for marriage differ, and in those societies in which arranged marriages predominate divorce is often difficult. To address this issue Xiaohe and Whyte (1990) tested a representative probability sample of 586 ever-married women in the Sichuan Province of mainland China. Their data suggested that women in arranged marriages were consistently less satisfied than those that had chosen their own partners. Controlling for a large number of measures (including age at marriage and family income), their study did suggest that freedom of mate choice was the strongest predictor of marital quality.”

“There are significant culture differences not only in network size and sources of support but also in network utilization. In the West, individuals are expected to solicit help from others actively […], whereas in Eastern cultures a greater sensitivity to others’ needs and feelings may make help seeking less necessary […]. In collectivists cultures where social connectedness is high, help is expected to be voluntarily provided, and asking for help may be regarded as socially demeaning”.

“Buss, Shackleford, Kirkpatrick, and Larsen (2001) reviewed partner preferences over a more than 50-year period using the same instrument (1939, 1956, 1967, 1977, 1984, and 1996). Over this time period, they found important generational shifts in mate preferences. Both men and women increasingly valued mutual attraction and love, education and intelligence, sociability and good looks, and decreased their stress on refinement, neatness, and chastity. Men increasingly valued similar educational background and good financial prospects and decreasingly valued a woman being a good cook and housekeeper, whereas women placed less value on ambition and industriousness. Partner preferences across genders became generally similar over this time period, with men’s preferences moving toward those of women.”


March 2, 2015 - Posted by | Books, marriage, Psychology

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