Social Psychology

Student Learning Program

Chapter 11: Close Relationships (pp. 404419)

Ask Yourself?

In this topic

  1. Research on Close Relationships (pp. 405406)
  2. Cognitive Interdependence: The Partner Becomes Part of the Self (pp. 406408)
    1. Insider versus outsider perspectives on relationships
  3. Behavioral Interdependence: Transformations in Exchange (pp. 408410)
    1. Changes in the distribution of rewards
    2. Attributions in close relationships: It's the thought that counts
  4. Affective Interdependence: Intimacy and Commitment (pp. 410413)
    1. Psychological intimacy
    2. Commitment
  5. Types of People, Types of Relationships (pp. 413417)
    1. Attachment styles
    2. Differing theories about relationships
    3. Gender differences in relationships
    4. Relationships in cultural perspective
  6. Effects of Relationships (pp. 417419)
    1. When things go wrong: Intimacy, social support, and health
    2. Gender and social support
    3. When things go right: Capitalizing on positive events
Research on Close Relationships

Most research on close relationships uses nonexperimental designs. As a result, no causal conclusions among variables can be drawn.

Cognitive Interdependence: The Partner Becomes Part of the Self

In a close relationship, differences between the self and the other are erased; through self-disclosure and extensive interaction, one (1) gets to know the other person's inner life, (2) gets to know every aspect of the other person's life, (3) gets to know the reasons behind the other person's behaviors and preferences (shares the other person's perspective), and (4) influences the other person's behavior. This way, mental representations of self and other are linked into a single unit, and partners become cognitively interdependent.

Insider versus outsider perspectives on relationships

Outsiders (friends) could predict better than insiders (partners themselves) whether the partner's relationship will last. This is due to disclosures about the relationship from insiders to outsiders.

Through processes of interdependence, the partner becomes linked to a person's self-concept.

Behavioral Interdependence: Transformations in Exchange
Changes in the distribution of rewards

The nature of exchange of rewards is different in close relationships; rewards are exchanged out of affection and care. Because the partner becomes part of the self, his or her needs and desires are not ignored.

As well as the reasons for rewards, the type of reward is also different in close relationships; whereas material rewards are exchanged in casual relationships, love and emotional support are exchanged in close relationships.

Attributions in close relationships: It's the thought that counts

Feelings and intentions that are conveyed by an act are more important than the act itself in close relationships.

Because the partner is part of the self, attributions of the partner's behaviors are also biased in a self-serving way; positive behaviors are inflated in significance and attributed to inner qualities, whereas negative behaviors are minimized and attributed to situational causes.

Affective Interdependence: Intimacy and Commitment

Feelings of closeness change the sense of intimacy and the level of commitment to the relationship.

Psychological intimacy

Intimacy is defined as a positive emotional bond that includes understanding and support.

Intimacy is enhanced by interactions that involve self-disclosure (step 1), which is responded to with acceptance, acknowledgment, and understanding (step 2). This response, in turn, makes the self-discloser feel understood, valued, and esteemed (step 3).

Intimate feelings are deeply linked with positive emotions of warmth, connectedness, and caring, and are so important to human needs that this is the most central reward of close relationships.

Bowlby (1969; see SP pp. 410411) even suggested this link has an evolutionary basis; an innate system binds people emotionally to specific others by leading them to feel good when having contact with those specific others, and to feel anxious or distressed when apart.


Commitment reflects the intention and desire to maintain a relationship for the long term, as well as a strong emotional bond to the partner.

When partners are committed, they feel comfortable relying on each other for intimacy, advice, and support, and this influences their actions and feelings.

Three factors are involved that create and maintain commitment. The first is satisfaction with the relationship. This is an evaluation of the rewards of a relationship compared with the rewards one believes would be available in alternative relationships (a comparison level for alternatives). The second factor is seeing the rewards of your relationship as unique, as not available in alternative relationships. The final factor is psychological and/or financial barriers, such as feelings of embarrassment, loss of investments of time, energy and self-disclosures, and financial, emotional, and legal difficulties.

For all of these reasons, relationships with stronger commitment last longer.

Types of People, Types of Relationships
Attachment styles

People have an innate tendency to form emotional attachments to others. Our experience with other people influences the ways in which we approach close relationships. Our beliefs about the self, other people, and the nature of relationships are summarized by our attachment style.

Four different attachment styles can be distinguished, with two underlying dimensions; view of others and view of self. People with secure attachment styles feel positive about the self and others, and are most likely to feel trust and happiness in close relationships. Those with a dismissing attachment style have positive views of the self, but negative views of others; they are low in expressiveness and intimacy in their relationships. Preoccupied individuals feel negative about themselves, but positive about others. They are high in emotional expressiveness and show the most reliance on other people. Finally, fearfully attached people think negatively about themselves and about others.

These different attachment styles influence the way partners give and receive support. Securely attached people seek more support when they are upset and give more support when someone else is upset, whereas people with dismissing and fearful attachment styles seek and give less support. This demonstrates how attachment styles influence the ways people attain intimacy and experience love.

Differing theories about relationships

People differ in their views about what it takes for a relationship to succeed. Research has focused on two types of beliefs (i.e., implicit theories of relationships): growth and destiny beliefs.

People who believe in growth, believe that occasional conflicts can be overcome with any partner. These people tend to have a relationship for a longer period of time. People believing in destiny, believe that a particular partner is either inherently compatible or not. Initial satisfaction influences whether the relationship will last for a long period of time or end very quickly.

Gender differences in relationships

Men and women place different emphasis on the rewards that relationships offer. Women prefer intimacy and sharing feelings, while men prefer enjoyable activities with their partner.

Sources of satisfaction also differ among men and women; men are satisfied when spending time with each other, while women are happiest when arguments and conflicts are successfully avoided.

Relationships in cultural perspective

Research in Western, independent cultures places an emphasis on voluntary "Western" relationships. However, many cultural differences can be found, for instance in the nature of the bond between mother and child. Gupta and Singh (1982; see SP p. 417) found that love grows in arranged marriages, while it decreases in voluntary marriages.

Demo: Cultural differences in relationships

Effects of Relationships

Because a partner becomes part of the self, relationships influence our feelings, behaviors, and physical and mental well-being.

When things go wrong: Intimacy, social support, and health

Social support increases physical health and psychological well-being because it offers opportunities for self-disclosure, companionship, and enjoyable interactions. These are the same factors that are present in a satisfactory, close relationship, so satisfactory close relationships improve people's well-being.

Research also demonstrated that people with cancer who participated in support groups had more effective immune systems and lived longer than people with cancer who were not in a support group, but received the same medical treatment.

The effects of social support are stronger when given to women, and when provided by family and friends.

Gender and social support

There are gender differences in the type of support that is provided; women are more likely to provide emotional support, whereas men offer problem-solving advice. This difference is responsible for miscommunication between men and women; women often feel that their feelings are belittled when a man offers problem-solving support, while men feel they are being denied the uniqueness of feelings when women provide emotional support.

When people are under stress or ill, emotional support is more helpful. Accordingly, people feel healthier after interacting with women than after interacting with men.

When things go right: Capitalizing on positive events

Sharing a positive event is an important benefit of close relationships, because it gives an opportunity for re-living and re-experiencing the positive event. When sharing positive events with others, people experience more positive emotions and increased satisfaction in life.

So what does this mean?

In a close relationship, people have a connection involving strong and frequent cognitive, behavioral, and affective interdependence. Many things change when transforming to a close relationship; the nature of exchange rewards and the type of rewards change, differences between the self and the other are erased, and feelings of closeness change the sense of intimacy and the level of commitment to the relationship. People can have different orientations in relation to the self and others in an intimate relationship: secure, dismissing, preoccupied, or fearful. The way partners give and receive support is also influenced by these attachment styles. Social support increases physical health and psychological well-being. Sharing positive events results in experiencing more positive emotions and increased life satisfaction.

Next topic

Romantic Love and Sexuality

In this chapter

  1. Chapter 11 introduction
  2. Initial Attraction
  3. From Acquaintance to Friend: Relationship Development
  4. Close Relationships
  5. Romantic Love and Sexuality
  6. When Relationships Go Wrong
  7. Chapter overview (PDF)
  8. Fill-in-the-blanks
  9. Multiple-choice questions