Relationships by sdaferv


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									Leading a positive life
Course originally designed and delivered by Alex Linley in 2002-2003. This material may be freely copied and reproduced for educational purposes. Any commercial exploitation is expressly prohibited. Content may have been superseded by more recent material.

9. Relationships: The final pathway to fulfilment?
The fundamental human need for relationships “No man is an island” – John Donne (1975) As human beings, we are relational and social creatures. We spend the vast majority of our time in groups with other people, relating to them in some way or another. In self-determination theory (e.g. Ryan & Deci, 2000), relatedness is identified as one of three fundamental human needs that are necessary if we are to grow and fulfil our human potential. [The other two fundamental human needs are competence – feeling and being able to do something, and autonomy – being able to set one’s own direction rather than being at the whim of others. This theory was developed to be consistent with the Rogerian actualizing tendency that we discussed in Session 1, and to be consistent with the facilitating conditions that Rogers’ hypothesised were necessary for natural human growth.] On this basis, we can consider that the need for positive, productive, fulfilling relationships is a fundamental need of human existence. But why might this be the case? Do we easily form relationships? Quite simply, yes. Look around the group: are you able to name the other members, and say something about each one of them? Presumably the answer to this is “yes”, an indication that we have an inherent interest in other people. Indeed, we form groups and social bonds almost effortlessly. For example, in the socalled minimal group paradigm, it has been shown consistently that people will identify as being part of a group on the most arbitrary of bases, and then will reliably discriminate between the in-group and the out-group. For examples of this, look at programs like Big Brother or The Weakest Link. How often is it that the men, or the women, or the older people, or the younger people, or the blonde-haired, or the darkhaired, join forces against “the others”? People in every society on earth form primary groups that involve face-to-face, personal interactions. It has been asserted that natural groups are a characteristic of all human beings, but we differ according to the type, number, and permanence of the groups that we belong to. How do people form social bonds?


First, familiarity breeds liking, rather than contempt. Simply being with people is sufficient for us to form social ties with them. Babies form attachment to caregivers even before they can speak or calculate the benefits that such attachments would bring them. Simply living close to someone is likely to lead us to form bonds with them, and indeed spending time with people, even when initially we don’t like them, does lead to closer relationships. Further, relationships can be – and are often – formed through shared adversities. For example, military veterans who had experienced heavier combat together, resulting in greater casualties, were more likely to maintain their attachments with fellow veterans over time after the conclusion of combat. What about the dissolution of social bonds? Given that people are so keen to form social bonds, the breaking of them is almost inevitably associated with distress. Indeed, this finding is considered to be almost universal, spanning different ages, cultures, and historical periods. Even when social bonds are inevitably limited by time (such as the duration of this course), people try to resist their dissolution through promising to keep in touch, planning for reunions, and taking other steps to ensure continued contact. Further, people are often unwilling to leave even abusive or destructive relationships, and when they do, even then tend to maintain some level of contact. For example, many people return to abusive relationships, and even though there may be many reasons for this, the reluctance to break social bonds is one of them. Likewise, people tend to stay in contact following divorce even beyond the levels that would be expected through factors such as child and financial responsibilities. What good are relationships? Class exercise: Take a moment and write down all the benefits that you think you receive from your relationships. Next, make a list of the costs of those relationships. What do you find? Generally, the formation of social bonds is associated with positive emotions. Love is a typical example of this, and when love is unrequited, distress and disappointment typically result. Likewise, the formation of new social bonds are regarded as cause for celebration and happiness – for example, new employment, religious conversion, joining a new club or group, and childbirth, are all associated with positive emotions and are celebrated as joyous occasions. Further, as we talked about in terms of happiness, people who are in happy marriages are the happiest of all, whereas people who do not have a relationship tend to be the unhappiest. Further, good social relationships have been shown to be necessary but not sufficient for happiness (Diener & Seligman, 2002), and people in good relationships tend to live longer, healthier lives due to the greater adaptive and reparative capacities of their immune systems (Taylor & Sherman, in press).


Love One of the most fundamental ways in which we try to satisfy this need for attachment is through love. It is perhaps fair to say that many poets, novelists, playwrights, and almost certainly lovers know more about what love is than do many psychologists! Current trends suggest that people tend to marry those whom they consider to be good friends as well as good lovers, and this is perhaps central to the modern idea of a relationship (Hendrick & Hendrick, 2002). Ways of trying to classify love (see Hendrick & Hendrick, 2002)  Passionate and companionate love: Passionate love is about the “phwoar” of love, while companionate love begins more slowly and is formed between two people whose lives are deeply intertwined. Early views were that relationships started with passion before moving to companionship, but the two are now recognised as more likely to co-exist throughout the relationship. Attachment: People’s childhood attachment styles (secure, anxious, avoidant) are considered to be related to their adult attachment styles in romantic relationships, but the evidence for this is not conclusive. Evolution of love: This view is that human survival depends on the co-operation of breeding pairs of partners in caring for their helpless child, and that evolution thus selected for partners who were more likely to stay together (i.e. love each other). Some research supports this view, but we must also be aware of the social forces that impact on relationships. Self-expansion: This perspective suggests that love is part of a natural human tendency to grow. Falling in love can lead to self-expansion as “me and you” becomes “us”, and the whole can be considered greater than the sum of its parts. Love styles: The research here suggests that there are six styles of love: Eros (passionate – ideal, physical characteristics); Ludus (love is a game – played for mutual enjoyment, maybe with multiple partners simultaneously); Storge (friendship love, companionate love); Pragma (practical love – “shopping” for a list of desired characteristics); Mania (manic love – often love is painful, jealousy and drama); Agape (selfless and giving love – concerned with the partner’s welfare, some degree of altruism, in extreme cases is heavenly rather than earthly). Love triangles: A very well-known theory of love was presented by Sternberg (1986) who suggested that different types of love may be formed from the triangle of intimacy, passion, and commitment. For example, romantic love is the combination of intimacy and passion, while consummate love adds commitment to this. Love stories: Sternberg’s (1998) recent work suggests that love is also about a very personal form of social construction, and that people are compatible when







they share the same form of this construction. Examples of love stories include the travelling story (it doesn’t matter so much where we are going as long as we enjoy the journey together), the cookbook story (trying to select all the right ingredients), and the sewing-and-knitting story (continuing to work at a relationship to make it right). It seems likely that we all share aspects of these stories to some greater or lesser extent. What might be the functions of close relationships? Given this universal need for love, social bonds, and affiliation, what needs might they serve? One body of research has put forward the idea that close relationships serve as a buffer against the anxiety of death (Mikulincer, Florian, & Hirschberger, 2003). One of the key worries that people have about death is that they will be forgotten, and close relationships serve to provide a way in which we can live on – either in the memories of those we leave behind, or more directly through our offspring. Further, close relationships provide succour and support, both emotionally and instrumentally. Hence, they are one of the reasons that, as a species, we are so remarkably adaptive. Think of the old adage “Two heads are better than one”: the idea here is that we all have different strengths and abilities, and finding the right complementary mix ensures that our chances of survival and fulfilment are greatest. Positive relationships and fulfilment Class exercise: What barriers do you think exist to you living a more loving life? What is love, within the context of your life? Do you express your appreciation to those you love, and let them know how much they are valued? Do people who love you make you feel valued? How do these feelings impact on the rest of your life? It seems clear – both from psychological research and even more greatly from our own experiences – that relationships are central to human well-being, and that love is certainly an important part of many relationships. Recent research has extended these findings on the importance of relationships. For example, LaGuardia, Ryan, Deci, and Couchman (2001) showed that the relationships that best satisfied one’s needs were not only those where one felt a good sense of intimacy and connection, but also those relationships that served the other two fundamental needs of competence and autonomy. The Need Satisfaction in Relationships Scale addresses these questions (see page 6). Further, relationships are so centrally important because they serve this fundamental human need: the need to belong. In this way, it can be helpful to be aware of things that serve to undermine this need to belong, and one of the things that has often featured throughout the course is the balance between intrinsic and extrinsic values and motivation. Many of the barriers that stop us from loving more fully are the same things that cause problems in so many other areas of our lives: Stress and time. We have too much


stress, and too little time. If materialistic, we spend our lives in pursuit of goals that serve to undermine what is really important to us (i.e. relationships) but without giving us any lasting satisfaction in their place. We are driven by extrinsic motivations and are not in touch with our intrinsic actualizing tendency. The increasing pursuit of success and achievement leads to ever greater stress, and ever less time. The losers in this race are almost invariably our relationships, and by definition, we ourselves. Positive relationships are intrinsically rewarding, they help us to grow, and they create far more than they ever cost. They involve gratitude, appreciation and altruism, and signify an act of bestowal (giving) that makes the world an ever better place for us all to live in. “All you need is love.” Not quite, but perhaps not so wrong either. Positive relationships and a positive life It seems entirely possible that love, and positive relationships more broadly, are central to any positive psychology. If love is genuinely about self-expansion, it is likely also to be related to many other positive attributes: self-esteem, self-confidence, hope, optimism, self-efficacy, coping ability, social support, empathy, gratitude, and altruism, to name but a few. Do you think that a world founded on these would be a better place to live? If so, what are the barriers that prevent this from becoming a reality? It is easy to dismiss this as a return to the “flower power” of the 1960s, so easily associated with a utopian escape from reality. But any society is only a reflection of the individuals that make up that society. And as much as individuals are shaped by society, they also shape society itself. If pockets of positive living can be created by each of us in our own small way, social change is not such a distant phenomenon. And indeed, do we need to change society? Perhaps we may be surprised to find that in changing ourselves, society has to follow. Reflective exercise: Imagine your life without the relationships that you now have – without partners, family, or friends. Would it be better, or worse? What is it about relationships that makes them so important? But can you ask yourself if you appreciate these relationships as much as you should, and honestly reply that you do? It is easy to take relationships for granted, but also easy to make small efforts to be more appreciative, thankful and valuing of the many good things that we have. We may be told that thanks are not necessary. Even so, thanks are rarely unwelcome or fall on deaf ears. References Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 117, 497-529. Diener, E., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Very happy people. Psychological Science,


13, 81-84. Hendrick, S., & Hendrick, C. (2002). Love. In C. R. Snyder, & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 472-484). New York: Oxford University Press. Mikulincer, M., Florian, V., & Hirschberger, G. (2003). The existential function of close relationships: Introducing death into the science of love. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7, 20-41. Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55, 68-78. Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A triangular theory of love. Psychological Bulletin, 93, 119135. Sternberg, R. J. (1998). Love is a story. New York: Oxford University Press. Taylor, S. & Sherman, D. K. (in press). Positive psychology and health psychology: A fruitful liaison. In P. A. Linley & S. Joseph (Eds.), Positive psychology in practice. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. [Forthcoming, July/August 2004] Basic Need Satisfaction in Relationships Scale The following set of questions asks about your closest relationship. This might be with your spouse or partner, or with your best friend, or with somebody else. You don’t need to tell us who this is, but just think of that person’s name as you answer each question below. Please use the following scale to respond: _____________________________________________________________________ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
not at all true somewhat true very true

_____________________________________________________________________ 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. When I am with ___, I feel free to be who I am. When I am with ___, I feel like a competent person. When I am with ___, I feel loved and cared about. When I am with ___, I often feel inadequate or incompetent. When I am with ___, I have a say in what happens, and I can voice my opinion. When I am with ___, I often feel a lot of distance in our relationship. When I am with ___, I feel very capable and effective. When I am with ___, I feel a lot of closeness and intimacy. When I am with ___, I feel controlled and pressured to be certain ways. ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___

Scoring instructions: Autonomy: Reverse score item 9, then add items 1, 5, and 9 for your Autonomy score. Competence: Reverse score item 4, then add items 2, 4, and 7 for your Competence score. Relatedness: Reverse score item 6, then add items 3, 6, and 8 for your Relatedness score. Higher scores indicate that the relationship more fully serves your needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.


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