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Maintaining Relationships

Through c ommunication

F&tional, Contextual,
an d Cultural Variations
Steve Duck. Series Editor

Bennett l Time and Intimacy: A New Science of Personal


Canary/Dainton l Maintaining Relationships Through

Communication: Relational, Contextual, and Cultural

Christopher l To Dance the Dance: A Symbolic Interaction

Exploration of Premarital Sexuality

Goodwin/Cramer l Inappropriate Relationships:

The Unconventional, The Disapproved, and The Forbidden

Hone cutt/Cantrdl l Cognition, Communication

an c? Romantic Relationships

M;IIer/AIberts/Hecht/Trost/KrizeJc l Adolescent
Relationships and Drug Use

Monsour l Men and Women as Friends: Relationships Across

the Life Span in the 2 1 st Century

www wlhnllm rnm

Maintaining Relationships
Through c omrnunication

Relational, Contextual,
an d Cultural Variations

Edited by

Daniel J. Canary
Arizona State University
Marianne Dainton
La Salle University


2003 Mahwah, New Jersey London
Copyright 0 2003 by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any
form, by photostat, microform, retrieval system, or any other means,
without prior written permission of the publisher.

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., Publishers

10 Industrial Avenue
Mahwah, NJ 07430

Cover design by Kathryn Houghtaling Lacey

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Maintaining relationships through communication : relational, contextual,

and cultural variations / edited by Daniel J. Canary and Marianne
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN O-8058-3989-5 (cloth: alk. paper)
ISBN O-8058-3990-9 (pbk.: alk. paper)
1. Interpersonal relations. 2. Interpersonal communication I. Canary,
Daniel J. II. Dainton, Marianne.
HMllO6 .M34 2002
302.24~21 2002026373

Books published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates are printed on

acid-free paper, and their bindings are chosen for strength and durability.

Printed in the United States of America

10 9 8 7 h 5 A ?
+t++ e

Series Foreword ix
About the Contributors xvii


1 Definitions and Perspectives on Relational

Maintenance Communication
Kathryn Dindia

Part I: Maintaining Different Types

of Relationships

2 M aintaining Family Relationships 31

Sally Vogl-Bauer

3 Maintaining Romantic Relationships: Summary and 51

Analysis of One Research Program
Laura Stafford
\‘I -is=+ CONTENTS

4 M aintaining Friendships Throughout the Lifespan 79

Marianne Dainton, Elaine Zelley, Emily Langan

5 Maintaining Undesired Relationships 103

Jon A. Hess

Part II: Contextual Variations

in Maintaining Relationships

6 Maintaining Long-Distance Relationships 127

Brooks Aylor

7 Computer-Mediated Communication Effects on

Relationship Formation and Maintenance

Michael K. Rabby and Joseph Walther

8 Relationship Maintenance in Organizational Settings 163

Vincent R. Waldron

9 When Partners Falter: Repair After a Transgression

Tara M. Emmers-Sommer

Part III: Cultural Variations

in Maintaining Relationships

10 Relationship Maintenance in Same-Sex Couples 209

Stephen Haas

11 Relationship Maintenance in Intercultural Couples: An 23 1

Interdependence Analysis
Stanley 0. Gaines, Jr., and Christopher R. Agnew

12 Maintaining Marriages in Russia: Managing Social 255

Influences and Communication Dynamics
Deborah Ballard-Reisch, Daniel Weigel and Marat

13 Maintaining Relationships in Korea and the United 277

States: Features of Korean Culture that Affect
Relational Maintenance Beliefs and Behaviors
Young-Ok Yum and Daniel J. Canary

Part IV: Epilogue

14 Framing the Maintenance of Relationships Through 299

Communication: An Epilogue
Marianne Dainton

Author Index 323

Subject Index 335
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Steve Duck
University of Iowa

his series from Lawrence Erlbaum is intended to review the prog-

ress in the academic work on relationships with respect of a broad array
of issues and to do so in an accessible manner that also illustrates its
practical value. The LEA series includes books intended to pass on the
accumulated scholarship to the next generation of students and to those
who deal with relationship issues in the broader world beyond the acad-
emy. The series thus not only comprises monographs and other aca-
demic resources exemplifying the multi-disciplinary nature of this area,
but also, in the future, textbooks suitable for use in the growing num-
bers of courses on relationshios.
The series has the goal of prloviding a comprehensive and current sur-
vey of theory and research in personal relationship through the careful
analysis of the problems encountered and solved in research, yet it also
considers the systematic application of that work in a practical context.
These resources not only are intended to be comprehensive assessments
of progress on particular “hot” and relevant topics, but also will be sig-
nificant influences on the future directions and development of the
study of personal relationships. Although each volume is focused and
centered: authors all attempt to place the respective topics in the
broader context of other research on relationships and within a range of
wider disciplinary traditions. The series already offers incisive and for-

ward-looking reviews and also demonstrates the broader theoretical im-

plications of relationships for the range of disciplines from which the
research originates. Present and future volumes include original studies,
reviews of relevant theory and research, and new theories oriented to-
ward the understanding of personal relationships both in themselves
and within the context of broader theories of family process, social psy-
chology, and communication.
Reflecting the diverse composition of personal relationship study, read-
ers in numerous disciplines-social psychology, communication, sociology,
family studies, developmental psychology, clinical psychology, personality,
counseling, studies, gerontology, and others-will find valuable
and insightful perspectives in the series.
Apart from the academic scholars who research the dynamics and
processes of relationships, there are many other people whose work
takes them up against the operation of relationships in the real world.
For such people as nurses, the police, teachers, therapists, lawyers, drug
and alcohol counselors, marital counselors, and those who take care of
the elderly, a number of issues routinely arise concerning the ways in
which relationships affect the people whom they serve. Examples are
the role of loneliness in illness and the ways to circumvent it, the com-
plex impact of family and peer relationships upon a
attempts to give up the drug, the role of playground unpopularity on a
learning, the issues involved in dealing with the relational side of
chronic illness, the management of conflict in marriage, the establish-
ment of good rapport between physicians and seriously-ill patients, the
support of the bereaved, and the correction of violent styles of behavior
in dating or marriage. Each of these is a problem that may confront some
of the aforementioned professionals as part of their daily concerns and
each demonstrates the far-reaching influences of relationship processes
on much else in life that is presently theorized independently of rela-
tionship considerations.
The present volume is a good example of the concerns, since it at-
tends to something rarely given, until quite recently, significant research
attention. The study of relational maintenance is one of those topics over-
looked in the literature for several years yet now beginning to be regarded
as central to the field. If we do not understand the many ways in which
people sustain and manage their relationships day-to-day then we miss
much of the way in which relationships intertwine with everyday existence
and experience. The two editors are leaders in this development whose
amplification of the topic has led to its recognition as a key part of any un-
derstanding of relating, at any age. In this single volume they have gathered
together a list of distinguished authors who have many new and exciting
thoughts about the ways to conceptualize relational maintenance and its
impact in the lives of, for example, those who must live long distances

apart for a while, those who must work with uncongenial colleagues, or
those who maintain relationships against a cultural background of
unacceptance or even strong social disapproval. The connections between
successful maintenance of relationships and their long term survival is ever
to the fore in the chapters here and the close causal connections between
failures of maintenance and breakdown of relationship are too obvious and
too important to overemphasize. For theorists, therapists, and the rest of
us, this theme is of immense significance and the present collection of
thinking on the topic represents one of the best collections to date.
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ost sane people know that relationships require work. That is, part-
ners need to spend time and effort to maintain functional, satisfying rela-
tionships. Without such efforts, relationships tend to deteriorate. Of course,
one might rely on external inducements to keep a relationship intact
(Attridge, 1994). For example, one might use structural dependencies, in-
cluding irretrievable investments, to keep a partner locked within the con-
fines of a personal involvement (Johnson, 1999). However, this book is not
about using existing structures to maintain a personal relationship. Instead,
this book focuses on the communicative processes that people engage in to
keep their relationships stable and satisfactory. As Perlman (2001) observed,
our primary assumption is that “maintenance is what we do. In other words,
it is a process rather than, as some suggested, as state” (p. 360).
In our view, the examination of relational maintenance offers a rallying
point for people interested in discovering the behaviors that people utilize
to sustain various relationships. Theoretical models, research programs,
and individual studies have examined how people in a variety of relation-
ships keep those relationships defined in ways that they want them de-
fined. More precisely, students in communication, social psychology,
family studies, sociology, and related fields now possess a variety of articles
and chapters to read on this topic.
This anthology constitutes the third book that specifically focuses on the
topic of relational maintenance. The first, by Canary and Stafford (1994)
framed the area of study as one that emphasizes communication, social psy-
chology, and dialectics. It summarized the burgeoning research to that time,
hoping to provide traction for the construct. (About the same time [ 19931, a

special issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on relational

maintenance research was edited by Dindia and Canary.) We are pleased to
note that years later the focus on relational maintenance processes has
grown both theoretically and empirically. Recent reviews of alternative ways
to look at relational maintenance processes testify to the ways that scholars
have recently explored the construct (e.g., Canary & Zelley, 2000; Dindia,
2000; Perlman, 2001). The second book, by Harvey and Wenzel(2001, also
published by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates), emphasizes psychological pro-
cesses and social psychological models used to examine relational mainte-
nance. As indicated, the present volume focuses on communicative
processes that have been found critical in the maintenance and enhance-
ment of social and personal relationships, thereby complementing the
Harvey and Wenzel project.
Previous research has shown that how people maintain their relationships
through interaction is more than a temporary whim. For instance,
(1994) research clearly shows how conflict management behaviors are linked
to eventual divorce. Importantly, the relevance of maintenance behaviors ex-
tends beyond heterosexual, romantic involvements. Despite the importance
of communication and relational maintenance across relational types, how-
ever, little effort (if any) has been made to synthesize the insights into mainte-
nance processes that might hold true regardless of relational context or change
as the result of variation in context. Accordingly, the primary goal of this vol-
ume is to summarize and integrate the research on maintaining various rela-
tional types that occur in a variety of contexts.
We divide the book into three sections. The first section focuses on varia-
tions in maintaining different types of personal relationships. These include
kin, romantic, friendship, and (even) undesired relationships. The second
section focuses on contextual constraints on relationship maintenance. Such
contexts potentially affect the manner in which people sustain their per-
sonal involvements, and these include long-distance relationships, com-
puter-mediated relationships, associations within an organization, and
relationships that have experienced a transgression. The final section focuses
on cultural variations in relational maintenance. More specifically, this sec-
tion explores how people maintain gay and lesbian relationships, cultur-
ally-mixed relationships, and two chapters on maintaining relationships in
other nations (i.e., Russia, Korea). We do not claim to exhaust the many rela-
tional, contextual, and cultural factors that might affect how people main-
tain their relationships. Instead, we aim to provide the reader a
representation of the kinds of issues that have emerged regarding how com-
munication functions to maintain various kinds of personal relationships.
Each contributor was to address five issues. Our goal here was to have
the scholars address specific issues that readers would recognize from
chapter to chapter, without constraining the authors regarding how they

went about writing about the issues. The issues include: (1) assumptions
influencing their research; (2) specific communicative strategies and pro-
cesses identified by research for maintaining this relational type; (3) spe-
cial or unique characteristics of the relationship type or context that is
examined; (4) conclusions maintaining this type or aspect of relationships;
and (5) implications/directions for future research. We are pleased at the
creative manner in which each contributor examined these issues, and we
believe the reader will find the alternative approaches thought provoking.
In lieu of summarizing each chapter, we urge the reader to consider the
implications of the present chapters. Some of the chapters are written by es-
tablished, veteran scholars; some are composed by new scholars. We think
the range of issues they discuss in part reflects on how research in personal
relationships has emerged more generally-new issues concerning relation-
ships in modern society, which are often raised by new scholars, are ex-
plained through systematic, theoretically based research, the foundation of
which was laid by established scholars. Regardless, we hope that the reader
appreciates the various levels of seasoning we wanted to represent.
Many people have earned our respect and gratitude. First, we want to
thank the chapter authors. Each contributor presented material in a timely
and responsible fashion, and they energetically revised to meet our re-
quests for revision. We are grateful to all of the authors that each chapter in
this volume represents a positive writing and editing experience.
Next, we want to thank both Arizona State University and La Salle Uni-
versity for providing us with needed support. In particular, La Salle Uni-
versity offered Marianne a research leave in order to work on this project.
Moreover, our colleagues at Arizona State and at La Salle are wonderful in
their continued enthusiasm for our work.
To the people at LEA-Linda Bathgate, Karin Wittig Bates, and
Marianna Vertullo-we are indebted for providing the publication support
and careful editing needed. We are pleased not only to have this volume
published by LEA, but also that it is part of their personal relationships se-
ries, edited by Steve Duck. It amazes us how (again) Steve has stepped to
the fore in shaping the discipline of personal relationships, and we are
grateful for his efforts on our behalf.
Finally, we thank all of those people in our respective social and personal
networks who have kept us both fascinated and challenged by the prob-
lems of relationship maintenance. Most especially, we want to thank our
very patient partners. Without their efforts at relational maintenance, this
volume would not have been possible.

-Daniel J. Canary
-Marianne Dainton
April 2002

Attridge, M. (1994). B arriers to the dissolution of romantic relationships. In D. J. Ca-

nary & L. Stafford (Eds.), Communication and relational maintenance (pp.
14 l-1 64). New York: Academic Press.
Canary, D. J., & Stafford, L. (1994). Communication and relational maintenance. New
York: Academic Press.
Canary, D. J., & Zelley, E. D. (2000). Current research programs in relational mainte-
nance behaviors. In M. E. Roloff (Ed.), C ommunicationyearbook 23 (pp. 304-339).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Dindia, K. (2000). Relational maintenance. In C. Hendrick & S. S. Hendrick (Eds.),
Close relationships: A sourcebook (pp. 287-301).
Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationships between marital pro-
cesses and marital outcomes. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Harvey, J. H., & Wenzel, A. (2001). Close romantic relationships: Maintenance and en-
hancement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Johnson, M. I? (1999). P ersonal, moral, and structural commitment to relationships:
Experiences of choice and constraint. In J. M. Adams &IV H. Jones (Eds.), Hand-
book of interpersonal commitment and relationship stability (pp. 73-87). New York:
Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.
Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (1993). Special Issue on Relational Mainte-
nance, 10, 163-304.
Perlman, D. (2001). Maintaining and enhancing relationships: Concluding commen-
tary. In J. H. Harvey &A. Wenzel (Eds.), Close romantic relationships: Maintenance
and enhancement (pp. 357-377). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Christopher R. Agnew is currently an Associate Professor in the Department
of Psychological Sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
He received his doctoral degree from the University of North Carolina at
Chapel Hill in 1994. A social psychologist, his research interests in the in-
terpersonal realm include couple decision-making, the cognitive represen-
tation of relationships, commitment processes, and social network
interactions and influence. He has published widely, including articles in
the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psy-
chology Bulletin, Personal Relationships, and the Journal of Social and Per-
sonal Relationships, as well as chapters in Advances in Population:
Psychosocial Perspectives and the Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology.
Brooks Aylor is an Assistant Professor at La Salle University, where he also
serves as Director of the Public Speaking Program. He teaches in the areas
of communication theory, interpersonal, argumentation, organizational
communication, and oral communication. His research interests include in-
terpersonal, political, and instructional communication. He has published
in Western Journal of Communication, Communication Quarterly, Commu-
nication Research Reports, Communication Teacher, and Journal of Commu-
nication Studies. He has also co-authored chapters in The I996 Presidential
Campaign: A Communication Perspective (Praeger, 1998) and The 2000
Presidential Campaign (Praeger, in press). Brooks received his doctorate in
Communication Studies from the University of Arizona and his MA in
Speech and Theater Arts from Arkansas State University.
Deborah Ballard-Reisch is a Professor in the Health Ecology Department at
the University of Nevada. Her research is international in focus, emphasiz-
ing the U.S., Russia, and Zimbabwe. Areas of interest include marital com-
mitment, relationship maintenance, and marital satisfaction; perceptions of
femininity and masculinity; the impact of feminism on culture;
status; health concerns; families coping with cancer; client/pro-
vider communication in health settings, and narrative theory and the social
sciences. In her spare time, she likes to travel with her children Stefan, age

13, and Alyssa, age 8, take pictures, go to movies and the theatre, eat at good
restaurants, hike, listen to music, and read.
Daniel Canary (PhD, USC, 1983) is a Professor in the Hugh Downs School of
Human Communication, Arizona State University. research focuses
on conflict management, relational maintenance, conversational argument,
and sex differences in communication. A member on several editorial
boards, Dan is also Editor, Western Journal of Communication. Dan enjoys
traveling, golfing, and writing songs.
Marianne Dainton is an Associate Professor of Communication at La Salle
University in Philadelphia. She received her PhD from The Ohio State Uni-
versity in 1994. research focuses on the symbolic exchanges
that facilitate relationship maintenance. Of particular interest are routine
and strategic maintenance efforts, and the maintenance of long-distance re-
lationships. She has published in Communication Monographs, the Journal
of Social and Personal Relationships, Family Relations, Western Journal of
Communication, Communication Quarterly, Communication Reports, and
Communication Research Reports. She has also published numerous book
chapters, and is the co-editor of this volume.
Kathryn Dindia (PhD, Speech Communication, University of Washington,
198 1) is a Professor in the Department of Communication at the Univer-
sity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. research interests include sex dif-
ferences and similarities in communication behavior; self-disclosure,
including, reciprocity of self-disclosure, self-disclosure and relationship de-
velopment, and sex differences in self-disclosure; and relational mainte-
nance strategies. Kathryn has published approximately 30 articles and book
chapters including articles in Psychological Bulletin, Human Communica-
tion Research, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Personal Rela-
tionships, and chapters in the Handbook of Personal Relationships and The
Handbook of Communication Skills. She co-edited Sex Differences and
Similarities in Communication, Communication in Personal Relationships,
and a special issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships on Re-
lational Maintenance.
Tara M. Emmers-Sommer (PhD, 1995, Ohio U niversity) is Associate Profes-
sor, Department of Communication, University of Arizona.
research interests include problematic communication
in close relationships. work is published in the Journal
of Communication, Human Communication Research, Communication
Yearbook, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Personal Relation-
ships, Communication Quarterly, and Communication Studies.
Emmers-Sommer is also the co-author, along with Dan Canary, of the 1997
Guilford book, Sex and gender differences in personal relationships.
Stanley 0. Gaines, Jr. received his PhD in social psychology from the Univer-
sity of Texas at Austin in 199 1. Gaines currently is a Lecturer in Psychology,
Department of Human Sciences, Brunel University, in London.
book, Culture, Ethnicity, and Personal Relationship Processes, was pub-

lished by Routledge in 1997. In addition, Gaines has authored or

co-authored more than 50 journal articles and book chapters.
Stephen M. Haas (PhD, Ohio State University) is an Assistant Professor in
the Department of Communication at the University of Cincinnati. His re-
search is in the areas of relational and health communication. Much of his
work has explored communication dimensions of persons living with
chronic illness including relationship maintenance in couples coping with
HIV or AIDS; the communicative management of uncertainty in illness;
and patient self-advocacy in physician-patient interactions. re-
search has been published in journals such as Human Communication Re-
search, Communication Monographs, the Journal of Social and Personal
Relationships, and Health Communication.
Jon A. Hess (PhD, University of Minnesota, 1996) is an assistant professor in
the Department of Communication at the University of Missouri-Colum-
bia. His research interests focus on how people can successfully maintain
relationships under difficult circumstances. He has presented papers and
published articles on getting along with people we dislike, ways people reg-
ulate distance, and foundations of civility in personal relationships.
Emily Jane Langan (PhD, Arizona State University, 2001) is an Assistant Pro-
fessor in the Department of Communication at the University of Texas, San
Antonio. Her dissertation investigated attachment theory in young adult
friendships and associations with perceived friendship functions, friend-
ship quality, maintenance strategies, and relational perceptions. re-
search focuses on the development and maintenance of friendships,
compliance gaining and resistance, attachment theory, and nonverbal com-
Michael K. Rabby currently serves as an Assistant Professor of Communica-
tion at the University of Central Florida. He received his degree
from the Pennsylvania State University, and his PhD from Arizona State
University. His research interests include the impact of technology on a va-
riety of contexts, including organizations and personal relationships.
Laura Stafford is an Associate Professor in the Department of Journalism and
Communication at The Ohio State University. Her research interests lie
broadly in the domain of communication within personal relationships. She
received her PhD in Communication from the University of Texas at Aus-
tin, 1985. In addition to numerous journal articles, Laura has published two
books: with Dan Canary she coedited Communication and Relational
Maintenance (Academic) and she wrote interaction Between Parents and
Children (Sage) with Cherie Bayer.
Sally Vogl-Bauer (PhD 1994, University of Kentucky) is an Associate Profes-
sor in the Department of Communication at the University of Wiscon-
sin-Whitewater. Her research interests in family communication focus
primarily on parent-child relationships and family maintenance patterns.
She has been published in communication and family relations journals.

Vincent R. Waldron (PhD, Ohio State University) is Associate Professor of

Communication Studies at Arizona State University West, where he cur-
rently serves as Dean of the Division of Collaborative Programs. He special-
izes in the use of quantitative research methods to study interpersonal
communication in personal and work relationships. Vince has published a
series of articles and book chapters on such topics as the communication of
emotion at work, upward influence processes, and relationship mainte-
nance in supervisory relationships. Among his current projects are a longitu-
dinal study of social support processes in a retirement community, and an
examination of relationship maintenance patterns in a large data processing
organization. His work has been funded by such entities as the State of Ari-
zona, the Del Webb Corporation, and the Templeton Foundation.
Joseph B. Walther (PhD, U niversity of Arizona, 1990) is an associate profes-
sor of communication at Cornell University. His research focuses on the in-
terpersonal dynamics of communication via computers in personal
relationships, work groups, and educational settings. He is the creator of
original theories in this area and the author of numerous empirically based
research articles. Walther also serves on the editorial boards of a number of
international journals in communication, management, and other fields.
Dan Weigel is an Associate Professor and Human Development Specialist for
the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. His research interests in-
clude marital relationships-especially communication, commitment, and
change-as well as parent-child interaction. His teaching areas include par-
ent education, child development, and family communication. When not
working, he likes golfing, skiing, backpacking, and spending time with fam-
ily and friends.
Young Ok Yum (PhD, 2000, Th e Pennsylvania State University) is an Assis-
tant Professor in the Department of Speech Communication, Theatre, and
Dance at Kansas State University, Manhattan. Her research interests in-
clude cultural and individual variations in relational maintenance communi-
cation; communication patterns and quality in intercultural interactions;
and individual, relational, and environmental factors that contribute to stu-
success in higher education institutions. She enjoys working, talking,
dining, cooking, traveling, watching sitcoms and CNN, repairing, garden-
ing, and fishing.
Marat Zaguidoulline is a graduate student in the Interdisciplinary PhD pro-
gram in social psychology, University of Nevada, Reno. He is a graduate of
the Philology Department at Kazan State University, Russia and received a
Masters degree in English from the University of Bergen, Norway. His re-
search interests include language related social problems in contemporary
society and interpersonal relationships. His hobbies include music (piano,
guitar, samples) and taking photographs.
Elaine D. Zelley is an Assistant Professor of Communication at La Salle Uni-
versity, Philadelphia, PA. She received her PhD from Pennsylvania State
University in 2001. current research explores the relationships be-
tween friendship, competition, conflict, social support and the occurrence

of eating disorders among women. She teaches in the areas of interpersonal,

group processes, communication theory, and ethics. She also has worked as
a team facilitator and in the fields of public relations and corporate commu-
nication. Elaine has recently been published in Communication Yearbook
and the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family Relationships.
She is a fitness enthusiast, loves watching movies, and enjoys spending time
at the beach.
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Definitions a Per5 ectives

on Fdational Maintenance

Kathryn Dindia
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

o maintain a relationship, partners must communicate with one an-

other. Conversely, as long as people communicate, they have a relation-
ship. The end of the relationship occurs when people stop communicating.
This does not mean they stop communicating for some period of time, for,
as Sigman
S&man (199 1) pointed out, relationships are continuous despite discon-
tinuous periods of physical and interactional copresence. But once two
people stop communicating (and do not anticipate future interaction),
their relationship is over. Thus, to maintain a relationship one must main-
tain communication. Similarly, the quality of a relationship is primarily de-
termined by the quality of the communication in the relationship. Thus, to
maintain the quality of a relationship, one must maintain the quality of the
communication. Communication is central to relationship maintenance.
Communication scholars have much to say about relational mainte-
nance. That is not to say we should study communication and relational
maintenance in a vacuum; concepts such as costs and rewards, attraction,
commitment, and so on, are all relevant to the study of relational mainte-
nance. But communication constitutes the primary way we maintain rela-
2-e=+ DINDIA

tionships. Consequently, this volume is about how we maintain

relationships through communication.
The purpose of this chapter is both to review communication ap-
proaches to relational maintenance and to preview communication per-
spectives on relational maintenance elaborated in this volume. The goal of
this chapter is to, among other things, illustrate the central role that com-
munication plays in the process of relational maintenance and the central
role that communication scholars play in the study of relational mainte-
nance. This chapter begins by reviewing definitions of relational mainte-
nance and is followed with a discussion of perspectives on communication
and relational maintenance. This leads to a discussion of communication
strategies to maintain relationships. In discussing communication strate-
gies, the issue of strategic versus routine relational maintenance will be
elaborated as well as the issue of self versus partner perceptions of rela-
tional maintenance behaviors. Uniphasic versus multiphasic models of re-
lational maintenance strategies are discussed followed by a discussion of
the types of relationships, and the limitations of the types of relationships,
in which relational maintenance communication has been studied. The or-
ganization of the chapter is chronological, beginning with earliest perspec-
tives that dealt explicitly with the role of communication in relational
maintenance moving forward to the most recent perspectives on relational
maintenance communication.


Relational maintenance processes and strategies compose the heart of rela-

tionship research. Although the processes and strategies of initiating and
terminating relationships are important, people spend more time main-
taining relationships than initiating or terminating them (Duck, 1988).
Thus, although early research on relationships focused on relationship ini-
tiation strategies and the initial stages of relationships, and was followed by
the study of the processes and strategies of terminating relationships, in
the last 30 years the field has come to focus explicitly on the process and
strategies of maintaining relationships.
Thousands of studies pertain to relational stability and satisfaction, and
each of these has something to say about relational maintenance processes
and strategies although the authors may not use the term relational mainte-
nance. (1979,1994) research is an excellent example of research
that has important ramifications for communication and relational mainte-
nance but does not explicitly use the term relutionship maintenance.
However, in the last 30 years, several lines of research have emerged
that explicitly use the term relational maintenance. In an earlier article,
Canary and I (Dindia & Canary, 1993) elaborated four definitions of rela-

tional maintenance as found in the literature. The first definition is to keep

a relationship in existence. A relationship that is maintained is a relation-
ship that is not terminated (i.e., a couple is married, not divorced). This is
the most basic definition of relationship maintenance on which all others
are based.
The second definition of relational maintenance is to keep a relationship
in a specified state or condition. This definition of relational maintenance
implies not only that the relationship is maintained but also that the funda-
mental nature of the relationship is maintained, as it currently exists. From
a stage perspective (e.g., Knapp &Vangelisti, 2000), to maintain a relation-
ship is to maintain the stage of the relationship and the characteristics of
the relationship associated with the stage of the relationship. For most peo-
ple, when they talk about maintaining a relationship, they do not mean
maintaining the existence of a relationship, they mean maintaining the
closeness, the trust, the commitment, the liking, and so on; and failure to
sustain these fundamental properties of a relationship constitutes a failure
to maintain the relationship. In close, personal relationships, what is usu-
ally desired to be maintained is not just a relationship but a close, personal
relationship. From a stage perspective, maintaining the stage of a relation-
ship prevents a relationship from de-escalating (or escalating), and conse-
quently from terminating; but it is not the same as continuing a
relationship. People can maintain a relationship at a lower (or higher) level
than they have in the past, thus, the relationship is maintained, but the
level of the relationship is not.
Relational maintenance defined as maintenance of a steady state is a
definition of relational maintenance at odds with dialectical theory. Ac-
cording to a dialectical perspective, to maintain a relationship, the relation-
ship must constantly change and adapt to opposing tensions (Montgomery,
1993). Thus, dialectical perspectives on relational maintenance reject the
term relational maintenance and advocate the term relational sustainment.
However, relational maintenance need not imply that a relationship is
static and unchanging. As stated by Wilmot (198 1) a stable relationship
still has considerable change occurring within it.
The third definition of relational maintenance is to keep a relationship
in a satisfactory condition (i.e., maintaining a satisfactory relationship).
Sometimes relational maintenance is conceptually and operationally de-
fined as maintaining relational satisfaction. Other times, relational main-
tenance is conceptually defined as relational continuity (i.e., whether the
relationship is intact) but the operational definition of relational mainte-
nance is relational satisfaction because predicting relational continuity is
more difficult to do (requires longitudinal data) than predicting rela-
tional satisfaction. However, maintaining relational satisfaction and
maintaining the relationship are not synonymous. One can maintain a dis-
satisfying relationship. Although it makes sense to study how people

maintain satisfaction (and other important characteristics of relation-

ships such as liking and trust), and maintaining satisfaction may lead to
relational continuity, maintaining satisfaction is not the same as relational
continuity. Relationships can be maintained whether or not they are sat-
isfying (e.g., in involuntary or circumstantial relationships, to be dis-
cussed later in this chapter). This is not to say that maintaining
satisfaction and other important qualities of relationships are not theo-
retically important issues in and of themselves as well as predictors of re-
lational continuity. It is only to say that some relationships that are not
satisfying are, none-the-less, maintained (continued).
The fourth use of the term rebztiond maintenance is to keep a relation-
ship in repair. It includes both relationship maintenance and repair in the
definition of relational maintenance. Davis (1973) defined relational
maintenance to include preventative maintenance and corrective mainte-
nance. As stated by Davis, “Integrations that have a tendency to become
loose can be tightened by preventive maintenance before they become
loose, or by corrective maintenance afterward” (p. 2 10). Similarly, Dindia
and Baxter (1987; Baxter & Dindia, 1990) included both maintenance and
repair in their definition of relational maintenance. Dindia and Baxter spe-
cifically tested whether relational maintenance and repair should be distin-
guished from one another. Conceptually, repair implies that something has
gone awry with the relationship that needs correcting. Maintenance does
not. Thus, the degree to which these two processes are similar-different,
and the degree to which similar communication behaviors function to
maintain-repair relationships is at issue. To keep a relationship in repair is
related to the first definition of relationship maintenance (relational conti-
nuity) because to keep a relationship in repair, using both preventative and
corrective maintenance, would, in effect, prevent the relationship from
deescalating further and terminating.
When Canary and I reviewed these definitions in 1993, we did not advo-
cate a particular definition of relational maintenance. We did, however, ar-
gue that because the definition of relationship maintenance varies across
studies of relational maintenance, the definition of relational maintenance
should be explicitly stated in every study of relational maintenance. Al-
though the definitions of relational maintenance overlap to some degree,
important conceptual and operational distinctions exist among the four
definitions. Differentiating the various conceptualizations of relational
maintenance allows for conceptual clarity, which is necessary for theory
development. For example, Interdependence Theory (Thibaut & Kelley,
1959) elaborates two distinct outcomes-satisfaction and depend-
ence-and posits that different equations predict satisfaction and depend-
ence. Thus, satisfaction and dependence are not the same and what causes
satisfaction and dependence are not the same. The same is true for the dif-

ferent definitions of relational maintenance, that is, what predicts relation-

ship continuity, stability, satisfaction, and closeness can and do vary.
In addition, a fundamental difference separates relational maintenance as
relational continuity from other definitions of relational maintenance. A rela-
tionship that is maintained is a relationship that is not terminated. This defini-
tion of relationship maintenance does not imply anything about the
dimensions or qualities of the relationship that are maintained. It does not
specify whether the relationship changes or remains stable during the process
of relational maintenance (an important theoretical issue in dialectical ap-
proaches to maintenance). Relational maintenance means that the relation-
ship is maintained, not that relational satisfaction is maintained, or that a
particular stage of the relationship is maintained, or that any other quality of
the relationship, such as liking, is maintained. Maintaining certain characteris-
tics of relationships (intimacy, liking, etc.) may affect whether a relationship is
maintained or declines and terminates. In addition, the stage in which a rela-
tionship is maintained affects whether a relationship is maintained (if the rela-
tionship is maintained at a particular stage, the relationship is, in effect,
maintained). But whether certain characteristics of a relationship are main-
tained or not is not the same as whether or not the relationship continues.
Thus, researchers should clearly indicate whether they are studying
maintaining the existence of the relationship, maintaining relational satis-
faction, or other important qualities of the relationship, and so on, when
they use the term relational maintenance. Satisfaction, stability, and close-
ness are important relational phenomena that may predict and explain re-
lational continuity and should be studied as such, but they should not be
confounded with the concept of relational continuity. Norton (1983)
made a similar argument regarding conceptual and operational definitions
of marital quality. Norton argued that an overall evaluation of a
relationship was confounded with characteristics of the relationship in tra-
ditional measures of marital quality (Locke & Williamson, 1958; Spanier,
1976). In traditional measures marital quality is measured by a multidi-
mensional scale that includes several dimensions of relationships that are
thought to be important components of marital quality (e.g., communica-
tion, cohesion, consensus). Norton conceptually defined marital quality as
a global evaluation of the relationship and dimensions of quality marriage
(communication, cohesion, consensus) were not included in his opera-
tional definition of marital quality and, therefore, could be studied as pre-
dictors of marital quality. Similarly, the ability to maintain a relationship at
a given level, or the ability to maintain relational satisfaction, may predict
relational continuity and therefore should be kept separate from relational
continuity. Specifically, we need to better understand what must be main-
tained in a relationship (satisfaction, liking, intimacy, etc.) for a relation-
ship to be continued.
0 -es DINDIA



A number of theoretical perspectives on relationships implicitly or explic-

itly pertain to relational maintenance. Social exchange theories including
Interdependence Theory, Equity Theory, and the Investment Model, have
made explicit theoretical propositions about relational maintenance (c.f.,
Rusbult & Buunk, 1993; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Relational Dialectics, an-
other theoretical perspective, has major implications for relational mainte-
nance in terms of the dynamic process of relational maintenance (see
Montgomery, 1993) and the strategies for maintaining relationships (i.e.,
the concept of praxis, Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). (1979,
1994) interactional approach focuses on how communicative patterns pre-
dict relational continuity. This chapter does not review research on social
exchange, dialectical, or approaches to relational maintenance
because these approaches were recently reviewed elsewhere (Canary &
Zelley, 2000; see also Dainton, 2000 for a more recent test of Interdepen-
dence Theory). Instead, scholarly work is reviewed that explicitly uses the
term relational maintenance and has focused on communication behaviors,
strategies, and routines for maintaining relationships.

Maintenance-By-Expression Versus

Kaplan (1975; 1976) argued that relationship maintenance entails three ba-
sic functions: emotional expression, definition of reality (i.e., definition of
relationship), and preservation of order. Emotional expression is based on
the assumption that human interaction continuously evokes feelings, which
must be released (Kaplan, 1975/l 976). This is particularly true for negative
emotion because it poses a threat to relationship stability. As Kaplan ex-
plained, “no relationship is immune to negative emotion . . . and no relation-
ship escapes the need to deal with these antisocial sentiments” (p. 106).
A second function of maintenance is to define the relationship. Rela-
tionship partners need to understand what happens between them. Both
individuals need to know what they think, feel, and expect of the partner,
and they also need to know what the partner thinks, feels, and expects of
them (Kaplan, 1975/l 965).
The third function of maintenance is to preserve order in the relation-
ship. The essence of a relationship is coordinated activity. Individuals
achieve coordination by restricting the range of possible behaviors and
bringing actions in to alignment with the actions (Kaplan,

Kaplan (1975/l 976) listed two global and polar-opposite types of main-
tenance behaviors relevant to these three functions of relational mainte-
nance. Maintenance-by-expression occurs when partners verbalize their
feelings, their observations of the relationship, and the regulation of the in-
teraction between them. Maintenance-by-expression has been labeled by
others as metacommunication or relationship talk, openness, and
self-disclosure. It encompasses direct strategies for maintaining relation-
ships. Maintenance-by-suppression occurs when any direct discussion of
mutual feelings, views of the relationship, or efforts to carry on in an orderly
fashion is suppressed. Maintenance-by-suppression included expressing
emotions indirectly through nonverbal and verbal communication (joking
and laughter). Maintenance-by-suppression also includes direct expression
to third parties in the absence of the partner. Indeed, Oliker (1989) showed
that married friendships promote marital stability. They do this, in
part, by diffusing anger or other volatile emotions and managing these emo-
tions so as to sustain married commitment to their marriage. Main-
tenance-by-suppression encompasses indirect strategies.
Kaplan (1975/l 976) argued that expressive maintenance is better able
to sustain relationships of high involvement over time than mainte-
nance-by-suppression. According to Kaplan, “expressive maintenance pro-
vides a way of preserving a strong emotional bond and, in general, promotes
closeness and satisfaction in relationship” (p. 301). Kaplan also argued that
maintenance-by-expression involves some amount of maintenance-by-
suppression (i.e., tact). Similarly, Kaplan indicated that maintenance-by-
expression should be conducted in a constructive manner and he provided
some guidelines for constructive maintenance-by-expression.
No studies have directly tested thesis. However, others have
studied metacommunication (or directness) as a strategy to maintain rela-
tionships. Research indicates that it is not a frequent study to maintain rela-
tionships (Ayres, 1983). Dindia and Baxter (1987) found that
metacommunication was more frequently reported to repair than to main-
tain a relationship. In particular, several studies using Stafford and
(I 99 I) measure of openness (defined as talking about the relationship and
self-disclosure) have found mixed results about the effectiveness of open-
ness in maintaining relationships (see Stafford, this volume).

Maintaining the ~ociaI Forces that HoId

Relationships Together

One common approach to relational maintenance posits a set of external

forces that act either to hold a relationship together (centripetal forces) or
to pull it apart (centrifugal force). Lewin (195 1) labeled these forces driv-
ing forces and restraining forces. Levinger (1965, 1976) called them at-

tractions and barriers. According to this perspective, relationship

maintenance strategies can focus on any of the forces that affect a relation-
ship. For example, Levinger (1979) indicated that a traditional strategy for
maintaining marriage was to keep up the barriers preventing divorce and to
remove all realistic alternatives; whereas, a contemporary approach to rela-
tional maintenance is to revive or raise the mutual feelings of at-
traction (although see Attridge, 1994, for a return to barriers and
maintenance). Similarly, Davis (1973) observed:
like any human construction, intimate relations are subject to deterioration.. ..
As these minor breakdowns accumulate, they will both weaken the centripetal
forces that hold intimates together and strengthen the centrifugal forces that
drive them apart. When the centrifugal forces become stronger than the centrip-
etal, the intimates will break up. (p. 209)

According to Davis, individuals who want to maintain a relationship

must sustain certain social forces that fasten themselves together.
Davis (1973) o b served three global types of preventative and corrective
maintenance designed to sustain the social forces that fasten intimates to-
gether. First, is manipulation of the external environment, both social and
physical, surrounding the relationship. To employ this strategy, intimates
deliberately seek out an environment that will bring them closer together.
Second, intimates can “work-it-out” or “have-it-out.” Intimates can
work it out through explicit communication about the relationship or the
problems in the relationship (i.e., “a serious talk”). Davis (1973) labeled
this “meta-intimate conversation,” but it is similar to the term
metacommunication. Davis also referred to this as a “State of the Union
Address,” which Baxter and Wilmot (1984) labeled a state-of-the-
relationship talk. Davis argued that metacommunication functions to rein-
tegrate the relationship.
Alternatively, intimates can “have it out” by engaging in an argument or
fight. This strategy also includes a number of “intimacy tests” that test the
desire to continue the relationship (e.g., becoming obstinate, in-
solent, hypercritical, sullen) and other destructive behaviors (e.g., ultima-
tums, withdrawal, acting cold to the partner, being unwilling to provide
customary self-disclosure or favors, taking preliminary steps to end the re-
lationship, etc). Ironically, all of these behaviors are intended to reintegrate
the relationship but accomplish the opposite. Thus, negative and antisocial
behaviors are used as strategies to maintain a relationship (albeit probably
not very effectively).
Third, couples can intentionally renew their relationship through peri-
odic ceremonies that Davis (1973) ca11e d reintegration ceremonies. Reinte-
gration ceremonies include formal reintegration ceremonies such as
celebrating anniversaries and less formal reintegration ceremonies such as
when couples recall times during which they were especially close (play

“our song,” etc.). Davis discussed two other kinds of reintegration ceremo-
nies (eating out at an expensive restaurant) and reassurance rituals (verbal
and nonverbal expressions of love, compliments, etc.).
Although not all of relational maintenance strategies are commu-
nication based, many of them are: primarily work-it-out and have-it-out
but also reintegration ceremonies. Davis did not empirically test his obser-
vations. However, his observations led to the work of Dindia and Baxter
(1987) and are later elaborated in this chapter.

Relational Maintenance as Metacommunication

Braiker and Kelley (1979) were interested in understanding the role that
conflict plays in relationship development. Employing a social exchange
approach to relational maintenance, Braiker and Kelley conceptually de-
fined maintenance as communication behaviors engaged in by members of
the couple to reduce costs and maximize rewards in the relationship. Main-
tenance behavior was operationally defined using items primarily measur-
ing communication with partner about the relationship (also
included one item measuring self-disclosure and one item measuring will-
ingness to change behavior). Thus, Braiker and Kelley also focus on
metacommunication as a relational maintenance strategy.
Braiker and Kelley (1979) ask ed married couples to complete question-
naires in which they estimated the degree or extent to which they experi-
enced a particular attitude, feeling, or behavior during each stage of the
history (casual dating, serious dating, engaged, and married).
The results of the study were that the maintenance scale showed a linear de-
velopment over time with gradual increases from casual dating to marriage.
Thus, metacommunication increased linearly from casual dating to marriage.
In addition, Braiker and Kelley (1979) f ound that the maintenance scale
loaded on a general love dimension during the first two stages of the rela-
tionship, but by the fourth stage (marriage) it was more heavily loaded on a
conflict-negativity dimension. The authors concluded that maintenance
strategies change meaning over time, with maintenance behavior serving to
increase interdependence and love in the earlier stages of development and
to resolve conflict in the later ones. Thus, it appears that talking about the
relationship functions to escalate a relationship (increase love and interde-
pendence) in the early stages of relationship development and to maintain
the relationship (resolve conflict) in later stages.

L of Relational Maintenance Strategies

The next set of studies on relational maintenance emphasized rehtional

maintenance strategies, or conscious and intentional behaviors designed to
maintain the relationship. Several typologies of relational maintenance

strategies have emerged in the literature. Each of these typologies is unique

in their conceptualization of relational maintenance. However, more re-
cent research calls into question the strategic nature of these behaviors, us-
ing the term routine maintenance behaviors to refer to behaviors that are
not consciously and intentionally employed as relational maintenance
strategies but, nonetheless, function to maintain the relationship.

Typology of Relational Maintenance Strategies

Although most of the research on relational maintenance has been con-

cerned with strategies for keeping a relationship from de-escalating and ter-
minating, Ayers (1983) defined relational maintenance as keeping a
relationship in a stable state, thus preventing it from de-escalating or escalat-
ing. Ayres gave male and female college students a relationship scenario and
asked them the likelihood of using 28 strategies (generated by the author
and supplemented by undergraduate students) to maintain the hypothetical
relationship. A factor analysis of the 28 strategies suggested three factors.
The first factor, avoidance strategies, included ignoring things the other per-
son might do to change a relationship and avoiding doing things that might al-
ter the relationship trajectory (up or down). The second factor, balance
strategies, involved keeping the number of favors and emotional support lev-
els constant or balanced (again, preventing the relationship from moving up
or down). The third factor, directness strategies, involved directly telling the
other person that the relationship should remain unchanged.
Overall, the most frequently reported strategy was balance strategies
followed by avoidance strategies then directness strategies regardless of
the relationship condition (trying to maintain when partner wants to esca-
late, de-escalate, or maintain). Thus, regardless of perceived partner in-
tent, individuals primarily maintain their relationship through balance and
avoidance strategies rather than directness strategies. However, perceived
partner intent did affect the use of avoidance, balance, and directness
strategies. Participants who wanted to maintain the level of the relation-
ship but were told that their partner wanted to escalate the relationship re-
ported more avoidance strategies than participants who were told their
partner wanted to maintain or de-escalate the relationship. Participants
who were told that their partner wanted to escalate the relationship were
less likely to report balance strategies than those who were told that their
partner wanted to maintain or de-escalate the relationship. Participants
who were told that their partner wanted to escalate the relationship re-
ported more directness strategies than participants who were told that
their partner wanted to de-escalate the level of the relationship. Shea and
Pearson (1986), in an extension of (1983) research, found three fac-
tors that resembled, but were not identical to, factors. They found

that perceived partner intent only affected balance (not avoidance or di-
rectness) strategies. Thus, it is difficult to draw conclusions from this re-
search. However, this research is important because it illustrates the
different types of relational predicaments in which relational maintenance
strategies occur (maintain when partner wants to escalate, maintain when
partner wants to maintain, maintain when partner wants to de-escalate)
and tries to illuminate similarities and differences in strategies to maintain
a relationship across these various relationship conditions.

Bell et al. (Bell, Daly, & Gonzalez, 1987) examined affinity mainte-
nance strategies. The researchers developed a typology of affinity main-
tenance strategies by asking a sample of wives to describe, in writing,
the things they and their husband said and did in their marriage that
they thought maintained liking and solidarity. The re-
sponses were content analyzed and used to develop a typology of 28
strategies. The strategies were:

altruism, concede control, conversational rule-keeping, dynamism, elicit

disclosures, equality, facility enjoyment, faithfulness, honesty, inclusion of other,
influence perceptions of closeness, listening, openness, optimism, physical affec-
tion, physical attractiveness, present interesting self, reliability, reward associa-
tion, self-concept confirmation, self-improvement, self-inclusion, sensitivity,
shared spirituality, supportiveness, third-party relations, and verbal affection.

Conceptual definitions and examples for each strategy are found in Bell
et al. (1987).
Bell et al. (1987) examined reported frequency of affinity maintenance
strategies. Wives reported the most frequently used strategies by both them-
selves and their husbands were faithfulness, honesty, physical attractiveness,
self-concept confirmation, supportiveness, and verbal affection. The least fre-
quently used strategies were altruism, conceding control, conversational
rule-keeping, dynamism, equality, shared spirituality, and similarity.
Bell et al. (1987) ask ed wives what affinity maintenance behaviors they
wanted from their husbands as well as what they thought their husbands
wanted from them. The affinity behaviors wives most desired from hus-
bands included being faithful, honest, physically attractive, sensitive, and
confirming the self-concept. Far less important to wives were strate-
gies of conceding control, dynamism, equality and self-improvement.
Wives believed that their husband most wanted them to be faithful, hon-
est, physically affectionate, sensitive, and physically attractive.
Bell et al. (1987) correlated marital satisfaction with perceptions
of their own and their frequency of strategy use. There were nu-
12 +=+ DINDIA

merous correlations between frequency judgments and marital satisfac-

tion. marital satisfaction was related to the frequency with which
wives reported engaging in 18 of the strategies and the frequency with
which wives felt their husbands engaged in 24 of the strategies.
Bell et al. (1987) investigated predictors of martial satisfaction.
Because the frequency of use of five strategies had accounted
for more than half the variance in marital satisfaction, marital
satisfaction was regressed on these five strategies. The stepwise regression
revealed the following predictors of marital satisfaction in order: (a) sensi-
tivity, (b) shared spirituality, (c) physical affection, (d) self-inclusion, and
(e) honesty. Thus, there is some evidence of the effectiveness of these
strategies for maintaining relationships. One reason that Bell et al.‘s re-
search on affinity maintenance strategies is important is because it reminds
us that liking is an important dimension of relationships and that to main-
tain a voluntary relationship requires maintaining affinity.

Dindia and Typobgg 06 KeIationaI Maintenance

and Repair strategies

In a third line of research Dindia and Baxter studied relational mainte-

nance and repair strategies (Baxter & Dindia, 1990; Dindia & Baxter,
1987). Following (1973) conceptual definition of relational mainte-
nance, which included both preventative and corrective maintenance (re-
pair), a typology of relationship maintenances strategies was generated
using a combination of deductive and inductive methods. strategies
to maintain relationships were supplemented with strategies derived from
interviews with married couples regarding their relational maintenance
strategies. The resulting typology consists of 49 categories that are clus-
tered into 11 superordinate types:

1. changing the external environment (drawn from Davis),

2. communication (from pilot study, not addressed by Davis),
3. metacommunication (derived from Davis),
4. avoid metacommunication (from Davis, keep quiet, let it pass),
5. antisocial strategies (derived from Davis, includes coercive attempts
to change the partner in some way, including fights, ultimatums,
threats, negative behaviors such as being insolent or rude, breaking
contact, being sullen, acting cold, etc.),
6. prosocial strategies (not from Davis but opposite of antisocial strate-
gies, things we do in relationship to maintain equilibrium, being nice,
cheerful, refraining from criticism, giving in, etc.),
7. ceremonies (from Davis, includes celebrations, reassurance rituals
including expressions of affection, compliments, etc.),

8. spontaneity (not from Davis, includes efforts to be spontaneous),

9. togetherness (spending time together, doing things together, etc.),
10. seeking or allowing autonomy (not from Davis), and
11. seeking outside help (not from Davis, see counselor, pray, etc.).

This typology of relational maintenance and repair strategies was used

to categorize the relational maintenance and repair strategies reported by
50 married couples (N = 100 spouses; Dindia & Baxter, 1987). Strategies
were categorized into the 12 superordinate categories. Respondents most
frequently reported the use of prosocial (primarily being nice, refraining
from criticism, giving in, being warm, providing favors), ceremonial (pri-
marily expressions of affection followed by going out to dinner), commu-
nication (primarily references to quantity of communication not quality of
communication), and togetherness (primarily spending time together and
doing things together) strategies. Changing the external environment,
avoid metacommunication, antisocial strategies, and seeking or allowing
autonomy were seldom reported as relational maintenance or repair strate-
gies. Moreover, the results of the study indicated that not all strategies
used to maintain a relationship were also used to repair a relationship.
Metacommunication occurred more frequently when the goal was repair-
ing the relationship than when the goal was maintaining the relationship.
Introducing spontaneity into the relationship occurred more frequently
when the goal was maintaining the relationship than when the goal was re-
pairing the relationship. In addition, more strategies were reported for
maintenance than repair indicating that repertoires of strate-
gies for maintaining their relationship is larger than their repertoire of
strategies for repairing their relationship.
Dindia and Baxter (1987) tested whether reported relational mainte-
nance strategies were correlated with relational satisfaction, length of mar-
riage, and gender. The only significant result was that the number of
relational maintenance strategies was negatively correlated with the length
of marriage. We concluded that either couples do less to maintain their re-
lationship the longer they have been married; alternatively, through a pro-
cess of trial and error, couples come to rely on a small number of strategies
to maintain their relationship. Relational satisfaction was not related to re-
lational maintenance strategies. This could be due to fact that we only
asked partners to indicate what they did to maintain their relationship (not
what their partner did to maintain the relationship) and research later re-
viewed in this chapter indicates that our perceptions of our rela-
tionship maintenance strategies predicts relational satisfaction (not our
perceptions of our own maintenance strategies).
Because this research included relational maintenance and repair in the
definition of relational maintenance, it illuminates similarities and differ-
ences between strategies designed to maintain (at an advanced level as op-
1-v -I+- DINDIA

posed to deescalate) a relationship versus strategies designed to repair a

relationship (return to a previously advanced level after decline).

Canary and staffordJs Typobgy

o F Relational Maintenance Strategies

Finally, Stafford and Canary (199 1) d erived five relational maintenance

strategies through factor analysis of items derived from previous research
and by asking a sample of married and dating couples what they did to
maintain their relationship. The factors were:

1. positivity (being positive and cheerful),

2. openness (self-disclosure and open discussion about the relationship),
3. assurances (stressing commitment, showing love, and demonstrat-
ing faithfulness),
4. network (spending time with common friends and affiliations), and
5. sharing tasks (sharing with household tasks).

This line of research is not reviewed here because it is reviewed by

Stafford (chap. 3) in this volume. However, this line of research is impor-
tant for several reasons. First, it has become the most frequently used op-
erational definition of relational maintenance strategies in the literature, in
part because it has spawned research by others beyond the original devel-
opers of the instrument. Second, because of all the research using this in-
strument, an impressive body of evidence is developing on the following
issues: the frequency of various relational maintenance strategies, the rela-
tionship between relational maintenance strategies and relational satisfac-
tion, the effect of relationship type on relational maintenance strategies,
the effect of gender on relationship maintenance strategies, the link be-
tween relational maintenance strategies and various relationship charac-
teristics, in particular, control mutuality, trust, and liking but also
commitment and love, the results of which are reviewed in Stafford (chap.
3, this volume).



To more thoroughly review research on communication and relational

maintenance strategies one can elaborate on three issues that are central to
research on relational maintenance strategies: the various perceptions of
relational maintenance strategies, the degree to which these behaviors are
strategic, and the degree to which they are unique to this relationship goal.

Perceptions 06 Relational Maintenance Strategies

Some of the research on relationship maintenance strategies has examined

an perception of his or her maintenance strategies (e.g. Canary
& Stafford, 1993; Canary, Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993; Dainton &
Stafford, 1993). For example, Canary et al. (1993) asked students who
were involved in a wide variety of relationships what communication strat-
egies they used to maintain their relationships. Other research has exam-
ined an perception of his or her maintenance
strategies (Ayres, 1983; Dainton, Stafford, & Canary, 1994; Guerrero,
Eloy, & Wabnik, 1993; Shea & Pearson, 1986; Stafford & Canary, 1991).
Some researchers have examined both an perception of his or
her own maintenance strategies and the same perception of his
or her maintenance strategies (Bell et al., 1987; Canary &
Stafford, 1992). Research has also examined both perceptions of
their own relationship maintenance strategies (Dindia SKBaxter, 1987).
Determining whose perceptions of relational maintenance strategies are
being examined is important for a number of reasons. For example,
Stafford and Canary (1991) examined perceptions of their
relational maintenance strategies. They found that women per-
ceived their male partners as using more positiveness, assurances, and so-
cial networks than men perceived their female partners as using. Based on
results of this study, it is unknown if men use more relationship mainte-
nance strategies than women or if women are just more perceptive of rela-
tional maintenance strategies (Canary & Stafford, 1992, studied
perceptions of their own maintenance behaviors and found the opposite;
women reported using more openness, networks, and tasks than men re-
ported using). Only by systematically taking into account whose perspec-
tive is being measured, can we determine the answer to this question.
Whose perceptions are being examined is also important in terms of de-
termining whose perceptions of self or partner relational maintenance
strategies predict relational satisfaction (and ultimately relational continu-
ity) . If an individual does not perceive his or her relational main-
tenance strategies, his or her relational maintenance strategies
may not affect the relational satisfaction. It is possible for an
individual to perceive that he or she is using a relational maintenance strat-
egy and for his or her partner not to perceive that he or she is using this rela-
tional maintenance strategy. We need to know whose perceptions of whose
(self or partner) maintenance strategies are related to relational satisfac-
tion (and other relational characteristics).
Spiegelhoff and Dindia (2001) studied perceptions of self and
partner relational maintenance strategies and relational satisfaction. Both
partners in a relationship reported their perceptions of their own and their
lo +i=+ DINDIA

relationship maintenance strategies. This allowed us to examine

agreement in perceptions of their relationship maintenance strat-
egies (e.g., “If I perceive I use assurances does my partner perceive I use as-
surances?“) and perceived similarity in use of relational
maintenance strategies (e.g., “If I perceive I use assurances does my part-
ner perceive s/he uses assurances?“). It also allowed us to examine whose
perspective is more predictive of relational satisfaction, “my perceptions
of my relational maintenance strategies,” “my perceptions of my
own relational maintenance strategies, ” “my perceptions of his or
her relational maintenance strategies,” or “my perceptions of my
relational maintenance strategies.”
Partners in 75 opposite-sex dyads independently completed the Canary
and Stafford Relational Maintenance Strategies Scales (1991) and a mea-
sure of relational satisfaction. The results indicate high reliability in part-
perceptions of relational maintenance strategies and high similarity in
use of relational maintenance strategies. The results also indicate
that, in general, an perceptions of his or her relational
maintenance strategies are most predictive of the relational
satisfaction. Specifically, when controlling for self and partner perceptions
of self and partner relational maintenance strategies, perceptions of
their female assurances and positiveness were related to
relational satisfaction, and perceptions of their male as-
surances were related to relational satisfaction. However,
perceptions of their male assurances were related to
relational satisfaction. Apparently, men who are satisfied with their
relationship engage in assurances, and these assurances, are perceived by
their female partners, and such assurances are highly predictive of both
their own and their female relational satisfaction.

StrategicVersus Routine Relational Maintenance

Dainton and Stafford (1993) d i ff erentiated relational maintenance strate-
gies and routine maintenance behaviors by defining strategic behavior as
conscious and intentional behavior enacted by partners to maintain the re-
lationship, whereas routine maintenance behavior was held to occur at a
lower level of consciousness and is not intentionally used to maintain the
relationship. Duck (1988) argued for the need to look at routine behaviors,
stating, “there are many other instances where the little things of life keep
us together” (p. 99). For example, people probably do not think of asking
their partner how his or her day went or telling their partner how their day
went as strategies to maintain their relationship. However, these acts may
nonetheless function to maintain the relationship.
Dainton and Stafford (1993) extended previous typologies of relational
maintenance strategies by probing for routine maintenance behaviors used

by married and dating couples. The resulting 12-category taxonomy in-

cluded both strategic and routine maintenance behaviors. The researchers
found that the most frequently reported maintenance behavior was shar-
ing tasks, a category that was infrequently mentioned in prior research.
This discrepancy lead the researchers to note that sharing tasks may be a
routine behavior that functions to maintain relationships that couples per-
form without the explicit purpose of maintaining the relationship.
Dainton (1995) compared use of strategic and routine main-
tenance behaviors. Dainton developed a typology of interaction types
based on a daily interaction log completed by subjects. The typology in-
cluded seven categories of interaction: instrumental, leisure, mealtime,
affection, conversations, and network. Dainton had participants rate
how much thought each interaction required and how typical it was for
the relationship. Dainton then combined these scores to come up with
an index of routineness. Dainton discovered that the majority of inter-
actions couples engage in are routine, rather than strategic. Participants
rated the category of affection as the most routine and the most impor-
tant to the relationship.
Similar to routine maintenance behaviors are the rituals that function to
maintain relationships. Bruess and Pearson (1995) focused on the types
and uses of interpersonal rituals in marriages. They developed a typology of
seven ritual types: couple time rituals, idiosyncratic and symbolic rituals,
daily routines and tasks, intimacy expressions, communication rituals,
spiritual rituals, and patterns, habits, and mannerisms. Bruess and Pearson
studied the functions of these rituals. They found that marital rituals, such
as communication rituals and performing everyday tasks together, served
to bond and maintain the relationship.
In reality, the distinction between strategic and routine relational main-
tenance behaviors may not be dichotomous. Couples may routinely (with-
out thinking about maintaining the relationship or intending to maintain
the relationship) kiss each other and say “I love you,” and this behavior may
function to maintain the relationship. Alternatively, an individual may kiss
his or her partner and say, “I love you” as a conscious and intentional strat-
egy to maintain the relationship. People may initially use some relational
maintenance behaviors as strategic, but such behaviors become routine
over time. Some behaviors may be strategic for some partners or couples
and routine for others, or they might be perceived as strategic by some
partners or couples but not by others. Finally, strategic or routine may not
be characteristic of maintenance behaviors but of specific instances of
maintenance behaviors on particular occasions. For example, some rela-
tional maintenance behaviors may be produced routinely but they may also
be used in a strategic manner on occasion. Regardless, it is clear that cou-
ples engage in both strategic and routine behaviors that function to main-
tain the relationship.
uniphasic Versus Mukiphasic Relational
Dedo~ment Strategies

Dindia (1994) argued that research on relationship development strategies

was phase bound, that is, relationship development strategies were studied
within the boundaries of a particular stage of relationship development. How-
ever, there are typologies of relationship initiation strategies (e.g., Baxter &
Philpott, 1982), relationship escalation strategies (e.g., Tolhuizen, 1989,
1992), relationship maintenance strategies (e.g., Ayres, 1983; Dindia &
Baxter, 1987; Stafford & Canary, 1991), and relationship termination strate-
gies (e.g., Baxter, 1982, 1984). Al so, relationship development strategies are
multiphasic, that is, strategies used to initiate and escalate a relationship are
also used to maintain relationships and these are the opposite of strategies to
de-escalate and terminate a relationship. For example, in reviewing the re-
search one can find that communication and contact is used to initiate, esca-
late, and maintain relationships. The opposite, avoidance, is used to deescalate
and terminate relationships. Rewards, self-presentation of positive attributes,
and affection are used to initiate, escalate, and maintain relationships. Their
opposites, costs, self-presentation of negative attributes, and indifference are
used to terminate relationships. Similarity is used to initiate and maintain rela-
tionships; whereas, dissimilarity is reported to terminate relationships, and so
on. Taking a closer look, it becomes apparent to me that a typology of relation-
ship development (broadly conceived as relationship initiation, escalation,
maintenance, de-escalation, repair, and termination) strategies is applicable to
all stages of relationship development, including relationship maintenance.
Also, a typology of relationship development strategies that is multiphasic has
more generality and parsimony than separate typologies of relationship initia-
tion, escalation, maintenance, and termination strategies and that a
multiphasic typology is important for understanding the similarities and dif-
ferences between relationship maintenance and other stages of relationship
development as well as the similarities and differences between relationship
maintenance strategies and relationship initiation, relationship termination,
and the like, strategies.
There is some empirical evidence to support this view. As stated earlier,
Bell et al. (1987) d eveloped a typology of 28 affinity maintenance strate-
gies by asking wives what they said and did to maintain liking and solidarity
in their marriage. Bell et al. found that 24 of the 28 strategies used to main-
tain liking were used to generate liking in the first place (Bell & Daly,
1984). The only exceptions were assume control, personal autonomy,
comfortable self, and nonverbal immediacy (all strategies to generate but
not maintain liking). As stated by Bell et al. (1987), the exertion of control
and demonstration of independence would seem to be counterproductive
to the goal of relational maintenance; the strategies of comfortable self and

nonverbal immediacy may be more suited to interactions between ac-

quaintances than interactions between married couples. In addition, the
typology of affinity maintenance strategy contained six strategies not rep-
resented in the reports of affinity-seeking strategies. Theses strategies
were faithfulness, honesty, physical affection, verbal affection,
self-improvement, and third-party relationships, which derive their mean-
ing and significance from the interdependence and emotional involvement
characteristic of more developed relationships (Bell et al., 1987). Thus,
Bell et al.‘s study provides some empirical support that, to a large degree,
similar strategies are used to generate and maintain liking.
Similarly, Tolhuizen (1989) studied strategies to generate liking across
relationship stages. Participants read a description of one of four levels of
relationship development: new acquaintances, fully developed stable
friendship, deteriorating friendship in which the desire is to save and con-
tinue the relationship, and deteriorating friendship in which the desire is to
terminate the relationship. Participants indicated the likelihood that they
would use Bell and (1984) 25 affinity-seeking strategies.
The results indicated that more than one half (14) of the strategies were
similar across all stages of relationship development (altruism, assume con-
trol, assume equality, concede control, conversational rule-keeping, dyna-
mism, elicit disclosures, inclusion of other, nonverbal immediacy,
optimism, personal autonomy, physical attractiveness, self-confirmation,
and trustworthiness). However, 11 of the strategies showed significant dif-
ferences across relationship stages. Without going into too much detail,
participants reported greater use of a number of affinity-seeking strategies
to maintain a relationship than to initiate, repair, or terminate a relation-
ship. These results suggest either greater effort to maintain a developed re-
lationship than to initiate or terminate a relationship, or a greater
repertoire of strategies to maintain a relationship than to initiate, repair, or
terminate a relationship.
When the goal was initiating the relationship, participants reported be-
ing more likely to use similarity than when the goal was to repair or termi-
nate the relationship and more likely to use present interesting self than
when the goal was to terminate the relationship (Tolhuizen, 1989). Thus,
these strategies may be unique to early stages of relationship development.
Among other findings, openness, was more likely to repair the relationship
than to initiate or terminate a relationship. This is similar to Dindia and
Baxter (1987) w h o f ound that metacommunication was used more to re-
pair than to maintain a relationship. When the goal was termination, par-
ticipants were more likely to use supportiveness than when the goal was
initiation. Tolhuizen speculated that this result might confirm Knapp and
(2000) contention that supportiveness may be evident in the
farewell rhetoric of decaying relationships. Indeed, research by Baxter
(1984) indicates that other-oriented strategies are specifically designed to
20 +e DINDIA

avoid hurting the other party in the break-up. Overall, these studies pro-
vide evidence to support the contention that some strategies are used to
initiate, maintain, and terminate relationships. Similarities and differences
across relationship strategies (strategies to initiate, intensify, maintain, re-
pair, de-escalate, terminate) should be studied more in the future.



Communication scholars, like others who study relationships, have fo-

cused their study of relational maintenance strategies on voluntary, inti-
mate (i.e., close) relationships (marriage, romantic couples, friends) to the
exclusion (until lately) of involuntary or circumstantial relationships or
nonintimate relationships (e.g., acquaintances, friendly relations, supe-
rior-subordinate relationships, co-worker relationships). This emphasis on
voluntary, intimate relationships, to the exclusion of involuntary or
nonintimate relationships, is not unique to the relational maintenance lit-
erature but is true in general for the study of personal relationships. As
Milardo and Wellman (1992) wrote:

The field [of p ersonal relationships] has become myopic, with most papers fo-
cusing on emotionally supportive close relationships: friends, spouses and lov-
ers.. . . There are more relationships worth studying in heaven and earth than
love, marriage and friendship. People work together, are neighborly.. . . In a world
where people have many hundreds of ties, we often need to extend analysis to
more than a few close relationships. (pp. 339-340)

Although only voluntary and intimate (close) relationships for the most
part have received scholarly attention, people maintain a variety of rela-
tionships, some of which are subjectively significant including relation-
ships with spouses, friends, romantic partners, and family members, and
some of which are less significant, such as relationships with co-workers,
acquaintances, neighbors, etc. (Burleson & Samter, 1994). Although these
relationships are viewed as less significant by participants in the relation-
ships, as well as those who study relationships, these relationships are im-
portant and serve a variety of functions in everyday lives. Milardo
and Wellman (1992) explained:

[Weak ties] are quantitatively important because there are so many of them.
They are the basis for many of the allies or enemies people have when things get
complicated. They form potential outlets for changing lives when people change
jobs, spouses, neighborhoods or political systems. They lend familiarity and a
sense of community to daily routines. (p. 340)

A few recent studies of relational maintenance examined nonintimate

relationships. Ray and Poulson (1994) studied holiday greetings and found

that holiday greetings function to maintain nonintimate relationships. Ray

and Poulson concluded that Christmas letters are “significant means by
which persons structure and maintain low intimate, long-term relation-
ships” (p. 27). They stated: “This form of maintenance allows the relation-
ship to remain on a non-intimate, but stable basis. Inadequate as this
maintenance may seem to others, especially in regard to intimate relation-
ships, it still functions effectively to keep the relationship going” (p. 30).
Dindia et al. (1995) a1so studied holiday greetings and found that peo-
ple did not perceive holiday greetings as functioning to maintain relation-
ships (i.e., average score was very near mean of scale “neither agree nor
disagree” that holiday greetings function to maintain relationships). In ad-
dition, holiday greetings were perceived to maintain relationships even less
for nonintimate than intimate relationships. Type of relationship did not
affect the degree to which holiday greetings were perceived to maintain re-
lationships except that holiday greetings sent to co-workers, superiors, and
subordinates were perceived to maintain the relationship less than greet-
ings sent to friends, relatives, and romantic partners. Although holiday
greetings were not perceived as functioning to maintain relationships,
when asked why people send holiday greetings, the most frequent reason
given for sending holiday greetings was to maintain the relationship (ap-
proximately one-fourth of responses). Thus, the authors hypothesized
that holiday greeting cards might be a hygienic factor; the absence of holi-
day greetings, rather than the presence, may negatively impact relational

Maintaining work ~elationshps

Recently there has been a major effort to study relational maintenance
communication in superior-subordinate relationships. Waldron (199 1) ar-
gued that maintaining superior-subordinate relationships is the most im-
portant communication objective pursued by subordinates. Waldron also
argued that relational maintenance in supervisor-subordinate relation-
ships deserves special attention because of the unique nature of this rela-
tionship. First, maintenance communication in supervisor-subordinate
relationships is highly influenced by formal role definitions and subject to
constraints not encountered in unstructured interpersonal relationships.
Second, the unique features of superior-subordinate relationships limit
the use of some maintenance tactics (e.g., avoidance). Third, upwardly di-
rected maintenance communication is important because relationship de-
terioration has potentially substantial career and possibly economic
implications for the subordinate.
relationship maintenance strategies with subordinates are also
important to the career and the organization as a whole. According
22 -is- DINDIA

to the results of research conducted by the Gallup Organization (Buckingham

& Coffman, 1999) involving surveys of more than 1 million employees, how
long an employee stays with an organization and how productive that em-
ployee is, is determined by his or her relationship with the immediate supervi-
sor. As stated by Buckingham and Coffman (1999), employee retention is
“most directly influenced by the immediate manager. What does
this tell us? It tells us that people leave managers, not companies” (p. 33).
Waldron (1991) and L ee and Jablin (1995) studied strategies to main-
tain relationships in superior-subordinate relationships. However, rela-
tional maintenance in work settings involves more than maintaining the
superior-subordinate relationship. Work relationships take on a number of
forms (Waldron, chap. 8, this volume). A given employee may be faced
with maintaining relationships with a supervisor, several subordinates,
members of a work team, formal and informal mentors, and any number of
co-workers, customers and clients, suppliers, and so on. Although research
on the maintenance of work relationships needs to continue and expand
beyond the supervisor-subordinate relationship, some conclusions can be
drawn about strategies used to maintain work relationships versus strate-
gies used to maintain close, personal relationships based on research con-
ducted to date (see Waldron, chap. 8, this volume).

Maintaining Nonvokmtar~ Relationships with Disliked Others

Hess (2000) studied relational maintenance in nonvoluntary relationships
with disliked partners. rationale for studying relational maintenance
in this context was that, “people do maintain relationships, often healthy
and close relationships, with partners they dislike, and they do so on a daily
basis” (p. 459). Hess defined nonvoluntary relationships as relationships in
which the actor believes he or she has no viable choice but to maintain it.
Nonvoluntary relations include a variety of types of relationships according
to Hess, including family relationships (e.g., siblings, stepparents, or
in-laws), work relationships (e.g., bosses, students, clients, or tenured col-
leagues), and social relationships (e.g., roommates, church members,
camp counselors, or members of a sports team).
Hess had participants respond to questionnaires about their mainte-
nance of voluntary and nonvoluntary relationships with liked and disliked
partners. Hess was interested in distancing behaviors and asked
open-ended and closed-ended questions to learn what type of distancing
behaviors people use to maintain relationships. The closed-ended ques-
tions were specifically about distancing behaviors. The open-ended ques-
tions (e.g., “what did you do to maintain this relationship, what did you do
differently when interacting with this person than you did when interact-
ing with people you like . . . “) were coded specifically for distancing behav-
iors. The results showed that people use distancing behaviors (expressing

detachment, avoiding involvement and showing antagonism) to maintain-

ing involuntary relationships with disliked partners. It makes sense that
people use distancing behaviors to maintain nonvoluntary relationships
with disliked others. If you cannot end the relationship, you can at least
distance yourself from the relationship and your partner as a strategy to
maintain the relationship.
This line of research should be continued and expanded; of particular
interest, whether traditional relational maintenance strategies (e.g., posi-
tiveness, assurances, openness, sharing tasks) are strategies to maintain
nonvoluntary relationships with disliked partners. If we are stuck with
these relationships due to marriage, our job, or whatever, it seems that in
addition to distancing behaviors, we might employ positive relational
maintenance strategies to make the relationship we cannot terminate more
satisfying, or at least tolerable. People generally try to get along with their
in-laws, colleagues, and others as a strategy to maintain these relationships.
Similarly, it seems reasonable that some of (1991) and Lee and
(1995) strategies may be used to get along with disliked superiors
(as well as disliked others in other non-voluntary relationships).


This chapter is concluded with a brief elaboration of (199 1) theo-

retical perspective on relational continuity and the behaviors that function
to construct relational continuity because this perspective has major impli-
cations for relationships in the 2 1st Century, including long-distance rela-
tionships and on-line relationships.
Sigman (1991) noted a fundamental anomaly about social and personal
relationships; social and personal relationships are continuous despite dis-
continuous periods of physical and interactional copresence. Sigman argued
that couples manage the discontinuous aspects of relationships by using rela-
tional continuity constructional units (RCCUs). RCCUs refer to behaviors
relational partners engage in before, during, and after an absence that func-
tion to construct the continuity of the relationship despite the absence.
Sigman divided RCCUs into three types: prospective units, introspec-
tive units, and retrospective units. Prospective units are behaviors that rela-
tionship partners perform before physical separation. Behaviors in this
category include farewells, agenda establishments (projections of future
interactions, such as see you at the office tomorrow morning”), the use
of tokens (e.g., wedding and engagement rings), and spoors (objects left
behind, such as a toothbrush in bathroom).
Introspective units occur during relational noncopresence and constitute
the continuity during periods of absence. The wearing of
wedding bands is an example of an introspective unit. Affiliative artifacts,
2-f +s=+ DINDIA

such as team jackets, wedding bands, and photographs of the relationship

partner all signal the existence of the relationship although the partner is
not present. A second type of introspective unit is mediated contact be-
tween relationship partners. Greeting cards, notes, phone calls, and e-mail
messages allow partners to remain connected even when face-to-face in-
teraction possible.
Retrospective units occur after the period of relational noncopresence.
Greetings and conversations that allow the partners to “catch-up” on what
happened during the period of absence are examples of retrospective units.
Gilbertson, Dindia, and Allen (1998) conducted a test of the-
ory. They studied the relationship between time spent apart, RCCUs, and
relational satisfaction for married and cohabitating couples. The results of
the study, similar to the results of other studies, indicated that time apart
was negatively related to relational satisfaction. This evidence indirectly
supports the claim that periods of absence threaten the continuity of rela-
tionships. More important to theory, a number of significant corre-
lations were found between prospective, introspective, and retrospective
RCCUs and relational satisfaction. In particular, when the effects of rela-
tional copresence were held constant, and reports of their
prospective RCCUs predicted female relational satisfaction and
reports of their prospective RCCUs predicted male relational satisfaction.
The concepts of relational continuity and relational continuity con-
struction units are particularly informative to theory and research on
long-distance relationships including commuter marriages and to all rela-
tionships in which couples spend considerable periods of time away from
each other (see Aylor, chap. 6, this volume). In world, couples
spend a considerable amount of time apart due to increased job demands.
For example, in the U.S. the average number of hours worked per week has
risen (from 43.6 in 1977 to 47.1 in 1997), more women work (28% in
1940, 40% in 1966, 51% in 1979, and 60% in 1998), more women work
full time year round (28% in 1969, 50% in 1997), and there are more
dual-earner couples (39% in 1970, 64% in 1999; Bond, Galinsky, &
Swanberg, 1997). Thus, couples are apart from each other for many hours
during the workday. In addition, more people engage in increased business
travel (nights away from home on business), which takes workers away
from their loved ones. Moreover, there are more job relocations, which of-
ten have the effect of inducing long-distance relationships and commuter
marriages (see Aylor, chap. 6, this volume). Similarly, the rise of
telecommuting, global organizations, and virtual teams has had a profound
effect on accessibility in the workplace (see Waldron, chap. 8, this vol-
ume). Managers often manage from a distance, teams often work at a dis-
tance, and individuals are often physically isolated from superiors,
subordinates, and co-workers. Thus, this theory is particularly relevant for
maintaining relational continuity in the 2 1st centurv.

However, this theory assumes that relationships are initiated

face-to-face and that physical copresence is the sine qua non of relational
maintenance. This may no longer be the case. Today, relationships are initi-
ated and maintained on-line (see Rabby & Walther, chap. 7, this volume).
Some relationships never involve physical copresence, some do not get to
the point of meeting each other face-to-face until they are months, even
years, into the relationship. In some relationships, computer-mediated
communication, such as e-mail, is not the means for maintaining a relation-
ship during periods of physical and interactional noncopresence, it is the
means for maintaining the relationship all the time. Thus, although
theory assumes that physical and interactional copresence main-
tains relationships, there may be no primacy or even necessity to physical
and interactional copresence in maintaining relationships (Rabby &
Walther, chap. 7, this volume).
A more radical way to look at this is that mediated communication is no
longer an introspective relational continuity construction unit used to
maintain relationship during periods of absence; instead, for some relation-
ships, mediated communication constitutes the copresence of the rela-
tionship, virtual copresence, and it is the only copresence experienced.
Thus, relational continuity construction units become something that
must be done to maintain the relationship during periods of virtual
Rabby and Walther (chap. 7, this volume) take a less radical view of rela-
tional maintenance in which computer-mediated communication (CMC)
is viewed as a relationship maintenance strategy. They hold that, ” [CMC]
functions alongside phone calls, letters, and FtF interactions to keep the
relationship going” (p. 153). Rabby and Walther view CMC as an intro-
spective RCCU, “friends, family members, and romantic partners use
e-mail as a means of staying in touch with each other between face-to-face
meetings and phone calls.” (p. 153)


Typically, chapters such as this end with a section called “directions for fu-
ture research.” There is no need for that here because the rest of the chap-
ters in this volume constitute the directions for future research on
communication and relational maintenance. Future research on communi-
cation and relational maintenance begins with the rest of the chapters in
this volume and charts a path of greater expansion and diversity on the role
of communication in relational maintenance across relational types, con-
texts, and culture. Clearly, a solid foundation has been built on which the-
ory and research on relational maintenance communication will continue
to gain momentum as it branches out beyond the confines of traditionally
defined “close” relationships.
2c +== DINDIA


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Maintainin Different Types
o F Re-f ationships
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Sally Vogl-Bauer
Uniuersi ty of Wisconsin-Whi tewater

fall the relation types studied, perhaps the ones most neglected,
overlooked, or taken for granted by individuals are those of familial origin.
Societal cliches about family relationships abound, such as “your family is
always there for you” or “blood is thicker than water.” Yet little time or re-
search has been done on how families maintain “the ties that bind.” In fact,
casual observers might postulate that people do not care about their fami-
lies because family members are often treated less favorably than individu-
als having no biological or legal connection.
When research first began on relational maintenance in the 198Os, stra-
tegically working on sustaining existing relationships was a relatively new
concept (Ayres, 1983; Dindia & Canary, 1993). As research on relationship
maintenance grew, the primary focus was on how to maintain marital or ro-
mantic relationships (Fitzpatrick & Badzinski, 1994). Strong marital rela-
tionships are extremely important for families. However, there are some
problems deducing family relational maintenance from what is known
about marital relational maintenance. First, relational maintenance activi-
ties might vary dramatically in accordance to the type of relationship under
investigation (Dindia & Canary, 1993). Second, the majority of family rela-
tionships are characterized as relationships of circumstance (McGoldrick,

Heiman, & Carter, 1993; Peterson, 1986; Vangelisti, 1993). Marital rela-
tionships are perceived as relationships of choice. Particularly in western
culture, it is customary to choose marital partner. Although these
distinctions are not inherently problematic, it becomes an important issue
if other family relationships are ignored when attempting to explain and
examine how individuals maintain family relationships.
(1993) essay on communication in the family was one of the
first to discuss the maintenance of family relationships. This is a rather
large task and several approaches could be taken. The primary goal of this
chapter is to examine family relational maintenance by integrating re-
search on family communication patterns with the findings on relational
maintenance strategies. In either case, research examining family rela-
tional maintenance is still in the preliminary stages of development. This
chapter first examines the relationship between relational maintenance
and communication in families and developmental issues relevant to rela-
tional maintenance. Research in both areas has important implications for
understanding family maintenance across the lifespan (Stafford & Bayer,
1993). Second, this chapter explores three possible theoretical frame-
works for examining family maintenance: Systems Theory, Exchange The-
ories, and Relational Dialectics Theory. Each perspective has been
incorporated either implicitly or explicitly in scholarship relevant to rela-
tional maintenance (Dindia & Canary, 1993). The final section discusses
the role technology may play in family relational maintenance now and in
the future.



When examining family relational maintenance two issues are at the fore-
front: communication in families and family developmental issues. Nu-
merous scholars have highlighted the importance of communication for
families (Bhushan, 1993; Fitzpatrick & Badzinski, 1985, 1994). Unfortu-
nately, very little research specifically focuses on communication
strategies for maintaining relationships. When families are studied across
the lifespan, different familial challenges may influence relational mainte-
nance (McGoldrick et al., 1993). Thus, each area is examined in greater
detail, to underscore the relationship of communication and developmen-
tal issues to family relational maintenance.

Communication in Families

The value of communication in family relationships is significant, however,

the importance of family communication has not always been acknowl-

edged. When Fitzpatrick and Badzinski (1985) reviewed communication

behavior in families, they reported that many family theories either had ig-
nored or undervalued the role of communication, despite the fact that
families are the primary context wherein children learn effective interac-
tion skills (Booth-Butterfield & Sidelinger, 1997; Noller, 1995). When
Fitzpatrick and Badzinski (1994) updated their review of family communi-
cation research, the significance of communication in families was becom-
ing more apparent, as scholarship published both inside and outside of the
field of communication touts the importance of communication for fami-
lies (Bhushan, 1993; Booth-Butterfield & Sidelinger, 1997).
Relational maintenance behaviors provide an important avenue for ex-
amining the communication dynamics in families. Relational maintenance
behaviors are primarily demonstrated through the use of verbal and non-
verbal messages. What family members say to each other, as well as their
behavioral patterns, serve as a reflection for how families maintain their re-
lationships. Specifically, the exchange of messages between family mem-
bers is paramount to demonstrate three different strategies of relationship
maintenance: positivity, openness, and assurance. Although actual behav-
iors can supplement these efforts, family members typically satisfy these
patterns through frequent or routine verbal interactions between mem-
bers (Miller & Lane, 1991). Although the relationship between the rela-
tional maintenance strategies of positivity, openness, and assurance
identified by Stafford and Canary (1991) to communication is evident, the
relational maintenance strategies of shared networks and shared tasks can
be easily linked to family interaction. For example, when family members
participate in shared activities (e.g., eat dinner together, go on a family va-
cation) or interact with similar groups of people (e.g., attend a neighbor-
hood block party), the event serves as a catalyst for one-on-one exchanges
between family members. As a result, if research is going to address how
families maintain their relationships, communication should play an inte-
gral role in the process (Bhushan, 1993).
Unfortunately, there is a dearth of research explicitly studying mainte-
nance strategies by families. Thus, in order to make assumptions about
family maintenance behaviors, connections to relevant communication
variables influencing family maintenance must be made. One such exam-
ple is the significance of listening skills. Family listening skills are
critical to whether or not family relational maintenance strategies have the
opportunity to work effectively (Nelson & Lott, 1990). Effective listening
conveys involvement with and attention to other family members (Galvin
& Brommel, 2000; Steen SKSchwartz, 1995); behaviors inherently helpful
to maintaining family relationships. Although it is important for all family
members to listen effectively, parents may find that listening to their chil-
dren can be especially challenging. “Parents especially get extremely
ego-involved with their kids; they take things even more personally, be-

cause they feel they may not be good-enough parents” (Nelson & Lott,
1990, pp. 229-230). A s a result, if family members believe that their voice
is not being heard correctly, either parent or child may withdraw, or mod-
ify their maintenance messages to coincide with the relational dynamics.
The maintenance strategies most likely to be impacted by this type of ex-
change are openness, positivity, and assurance because the reduction in
overall family exchanges is likely to have a negative impact on the degree of
positive or encouraging remarks made.
From a pragmatic perspective, if family members have poor listening
skills, their likelihood to withhold information from each other, or inhibit
conversation between family members is probably great (Steen &
Schwartz, 1995). According to communication boundary management,
individuals can determine who has access to personal information in fam-
ilies (Petronio, Ellemers, Giles, & Gallois, 1998). If relational dynamics
are questionable, family members are less likely to reveal personal infor-
mation to others. Research also suggests a positive relationship between
how frequently a topic is discussed and the degree of self-disclosure pro-
vided by the family member (Noller, 1994). Thus, if family members
only talk about a small number of topics with any regularity, family mem-
bers may place greater restrictions on what they consider private knowl-
edge. Such restrictions are problematic when families attempt to
develop relational maintenance patterns. Relational maintenance strate-
gies implicitly, as well as explicitly rely on family willingness to
self-disclose information to each other. Reduced disclosures are likely to
have a negative impact on the ability to maintain successful rela-
tions between its members.

DeveloDtnental Issues

Although families encounter transitional periods across the lifespan, two

stages are especially relevant to the study of family relational maintenance:
families with adolescent children, and families at midlife and beyond. The
period of adolescence and the transformation of families at midlife are par-
ticularly relevant to family maintenance for several reasons: (a) each stage
presents a series of changes for multiple family members; (b) all family
members may actively participate in the maintenance during each
stage; and (c) the research available on each stage allows for reasonable in-
ferences to family relational maintenance behaviors.

Adolescence. The period of adolescence is often accented due to vast

amounts of change occurring for family members (McGoldrick et al.,
1993). Adolescent development has been examined from several perspec-
tives, ranging from biological indicators of adolescence to dependency is-

sues for parents and children (Collins & Repinski, 1994). During the years
often associated with adolescence (e.g., from ages 11 to 19; Ambert,
1997), a great deal can occur for individual family members that poten-
tially impact all other family members as well, as issues of responsibility
and social status change (Boxer & Petersen, 1986). The time frame may get
skewed if individuals associate the period of adolescence exclusively with
puberty, which typically occurs between the ages of 11 to 17, as opposed
to viewing the period of adolescence in terms of successfully establishing
autonomy or independence. For example, if financial dependency is a
marker for adolescence, the time frame may extend into a
midtwenties (Ambert, 1997).
One reason adolescence is such a highlighted developmental stage is
that there are behavioral, emotional, and value adjustments occurring
(Montemayor, 1986; Noller, 1995). Although changes occur at the indi-
vidual level, family interactions may be impacted on a larger scale. As a re-
sult, both parents and adolescents may find themselves modifying their
communication patterns to accommodate new situations (Bhushan,
1993), which can be stressful for all parties involved (Hartos & Power,
2000). Furthermore, parent-child exchanges may later influence spousal
interactions or sibling relationships. Thus, the ability to maintain family re-
lationships during adolescence can get rather complicated.
Research has shown that the influence over children varies dur-
ing adolescence. Parental ability to influence an behaviors may
be compounded by social changes occurring, as well as what is being valued
by society at the time (Ambert, 1997). 0 ne of the more salient features
studied during adolescence, the peer group, has received extensive cover-
age due to its strong influence over children during their early to midteens.
Family members are in a potentially precarious position during this period
if the relationship between parents and children was not reasonably estab-
lished early on. After a child reaches 16 to 17 years of age, the influence of
family members, parents in particular, could be re-emphasized or strength-
ened if the relationship was initially solid (Golish, 2000). Thus, family
maintenance may “look” different from a few years before. Attachment is-
sues between parents and children compound relational dynamics be-
tween family members. In addition, the dialectic between autonomy and
connectedness may potentially undermine how and what family members
do to maintain their relationships. For example, the type of relational strat-
egy may vary, or perhaps the significance of the strategy for family mem-
bers may change as family members cope with issues of independence.
The communicative dynamics during adolescence are also complex be-
cause parents and adolescents typically have divergent views about percep-
tions of their family (Noller, 1995). R esearch has shown that parents tend
to perceive and communicate about their families in more optimistic
tones, whereas adolescents tend to be more pragmatic to critical in their
36 -+=+ VOGL-BAUER

perceptions and communicative displays about their families (Bhushan,

1993). These discrepancies may make it inherently more complicated for
family members to successfully maintain their relationships. It is especially
problematic if one family member believes that things are running
smoothly, whereas another believes that there are numerous problems in
the relationship.
In summary, family relational maintenance experiences flux just like
any other relationship. However, marital couples or friendships do not en-
counter the relational stages encountered by families, in particular the de-
velopmental stage of adolescence. Thus, families encounter a set of
developmental issues that necessitate flexibility and adjustment in order
to accommodate the relational issues encountered during this period of
growth and transition.

Families at Midlife and Beyond. Families probably have the lon-

gest lifecycle of all relationship types (McGoldrick et al., 1993;
Vangelisti, 1993). Th us, as relationships between family members
change over time, family relational maintenance behaviors are also likely
to adjust accordingly (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999). Kinship ties offer
families an avenue for continued relational maintenance over time. Kin-
ship involves the sustained interaction of families with relatives and
friends, with the intent to share, participate in, and promote the welfare
of the family (Galvin & Brommel, 2000). Essentially, kinship mainte-
nance allows family members to stay in contact, keep abreast of changes
in one lives, and exchange family gossip. Depending on the level
of cohesiveness between family members, the expectations placed on
family members to maintain family relationships may vary. In some in-
stances, attendance at family gatherings may be mandatory, whereas in
other instances some family members may be excluded from events (or
never even told of their occurrence).
Often times, one person assumes the primary duties of maintaining
communication between family members. This person is known as the
kinkeeper (Leach & Braithwaite, 1996). Because kinkeepers maintain fam-
ily connections in a variety of ways, their significance in family relational
maintenance should be examined. Kinkeepers help maintain family rituals,
keep family members connected through family reunions, and facilitate in
establishing a lineage. In regards to family communication,
kinkeepers provide several important functions. Specifically, kinkeepers
(a) provide information to family members; (b) facilitate rituals, especially
family gatherings; (c) offer assistance, financially or physically; (d) help
maintain family relationships; and (e) continue a previous
work (Leach & Braithwaite, 1996).
One of the most recently recognized phases for families across the life
cycle, and also one of the longest, occurs at a midlife

(McGoldrick et al., 1993). The child rearing stage is near an end, yet
there still remains a large period of time for family members to cope with
prior to retirement. Golish (2000) examined the turning points in adult
child-parent relationships. The major turning points found were (a)
physical distance between parents and children; (b) the rebellious teen-
ager, pertaining to the decline and then increase in closeness as adoles-
cents age; (c) times of crisis for family members; (d) communication; and
(e) participating in activities together. Of the five turning points re-
ported, two events, communication and participating in activities to-
gether, can be directly associated with relational maintenance strategies.
The relationship between family relational maintenance and family turn-
ing points pertaining to closeness in adult child-parent relationships sug-
gests that relational maintenance strategies continue to play a pivotal role
in family dynamics across the life span of the family.
Once children reach adulthood, the potential for numerous entries and
exits from families occurs. Family members might marry, and perhaps have
children, increasing the size of the family, while long-standing family mem-
bers may die. As a result, family membership, as well as the status among
family members, may change. Either event can impact how families rees-
tablish and maintain themselves. Family roles may also change over time.
For example, parents traditionally provide the primary care giving for their
children when they are young, thus facilitating the majority of mainte-
nance behaviors occurring. These roles may be reversed when adult chil-
dren take care of their older parents (Cicirelli, 1993). The responsibility
for maintaining the family may be transferred to other family members. In
addition, the living arrangements for parents and their children could vary.
Each party may be living independently of the other; the child could be liv-
ing with the parents, or vice versa. Needless to say, the satisfaction with the
living arrangement could vary for one or both parties (Noller & Fitzpatrick,
1993), and family maintenance behaviors could be greatly impacted by the
change in proximity for family members.
Perhaps one of the most critical points for family relational maintenance
involves the death of the last parent. ‘A critical point for siblings comes af-
ter the last parent dies, when for the first time their relationships become a
matter of choice. Fostering such connectedness throughout the life cycle is
an important factor in cushioning families against the stressors of life”
(McGoldrick et al., 1993, p. 414). M ares (1995) identified several factors
that impact the likelihood of sibling contact: (a) proximity; (b) family size;
(c) sex of siblings; (d) presence of other relationships; and (e) ethnicity.
These factors are of interest because as siblings age, and as family connec-
tions are weakened, sibling relationships begin to look more like relation-
ships of choice as opposed to relationships of circumstance. As a result,
family members may consciously think about the maintenance of their
family relationships for the first time.

In summary, like families, relational maintenance behaviors are subject

to changes over time (Vangelisti, 1993). H ow families adjust to change is
often reflected in how their relationships are maintained afterwards.
Clearly, some changes are more traumatic for families to adjust to than oth-
ers. Therefore, the relational maintenance behaviors enacted may tran-
spire over a greater period of time. Yet if families are some of the most
enduring relationships that individuals have, it is important to understand
these relational maintenance transitions.



Three theoretical frameworks examine how relational maintenance can

be understood and applied within families. Each theory offers a different
perspective on how relational maintenance is assessed within the familial

Systems Theory
One of the most popular theories for studying family dynamics is systems
theory (Galvin & Brommel, 2000). Systems theory is discussed in virtually
every family textbook, and it has intuitive appeal for understanding family
relationships. At the core of systems theory is the concept of interdepen-
dence; one part or person in the system relies on or impacts other parts or
persons in the system. Interdependence underscores the complicated na-
ture inherent when there are a variety of family subsystems to explore
(Galvin & Brommel, 2000). Essentially, family interactions become diffi-
cult to isolate because the implications from one behavior could
extend to the entire family (Peterson, 1986). Scholars have typically re-
searched various family subsystems in an effort to gain a greater under-
standing of family dynamics. These subsystems range from parent-child
dyads, sibling dyads, and same-sex-opposite-sex familial dyads. Thus, a
second component of systems theory may be applied: hierarchy. Hierar-
chy may be examined in family dynamics by assessing the age or power/sta-
tus of each family member to ascertain degrees of influence for each family
member. Research on each dyadic combination offers insight into how
family subsystems function. Depending on the subsystem under analysis,
relational maintenance may vary in both practice and application because
each family member has the potential to mutually influence one another
(Stafford & Dainton, 1995).
Inherent within the systems perspective is the concept of
nonsummativity. This concept suggests that the whole is greater than the
sum of its parts. The relational dynamics of the family create outcomes

Task and Social Balance. One aspect of undesired relationships that

seems especially salient in the workplace is the difficulty of maximizing
task effectiveness when that task forces participation in an unwanted rela-
tionship. Unpleasant peer relationships in the workplace interfere with
successful task outcomes (Fritz & Omdahl, 1998). A case could be made
that this outcome should not necessarily follow, because keeping interac-
tions focused on task, rather than relational issues, is one way people create
distance (Hess, 2000). However, simply interacting on a task level is im-
possible. First, the general consensus among scholars is that virtually all
communication involves both content and relational information, so it is
impossible to remove the relational component from a communicative ex-
change (e.g., Burgoon & Hale, 1984; Watzlawick et al., 1967). Second, ef-
fective social interaction is a contributing factor in task success (Bormann,
1990). research shows that groups that tried to focus exclu-
sively on task concerns and eliminate any social dimension to their interac-
tion were less effective than counterpart groups that effectively balanced
task and social elements in their work. So, to maximize task success,
interactants in undesired relationships must find a balance between social
interaction and disengagement.

Multiple Audience Problem. The multiple audience problem is a

challenge for relational communication, whether the interaction happens
in the workplace or a social setting. It refers to a communicative situation
in which a speaker needs to simultaneously meet different, and usually
mutually exclusive, purposes with a single message (Fleming & Darley,
199 1; Fleming, Darley, Hilton, & Kojetin, 1990). The challenge is to ad-
dress the conflicting purposes in message construction so that all parties
are treated in ways that meet the social goals. Although this prob-
lem is not unique to undesired relationships, it is likely to present itself
when a mutual acquaintance is present for whom the relationship with
the target person is desired. In this case, a person may want to distance
herself or himself from the undesired partner without simultaneously
suggesting a desire to do so to the favored relational partner. The reverse
can also occur. If a third party is present who considers a relationship with
the target person unwanted, an individual may wish to show the third
party their dissociation from the target person (to avoid perceptions of
affiliation) while concealing that message from the target. Researchers
have found many creative ways that people attempt such deceit. For ex-
ample, people can word messages in a way that the target and the third
party would interpret differently, display nonverbal cues visible only to
the third party, or convey relational messages using indirect references
that the target person could not interpret (e.g., Clark & Schaefer, 1987;
Fleming & Darley, 1991).
4-o -c== VOGL-BAUER

Numerous exchange theories have been applied when studying family rela-
tional maintenance (Rusbult & Buunk, 1993; Vogl-Bauer, Kalbfleisch, &
Beatty, 1999). Although exchange theories possess different nuances and
characteristics, collectively they share many features. Klein and White
(1996) i d en tfi ie d several general features of exchange theories. First, ex-
change theories put the primary focus on the individual; families are collec-
tions of individuals. Second, in order to predict or understand an
choices, there must be a motivational factor present. Choices
are driven more by the motivations, as opposed to outside con-
straints. Third, self-interest directs individual choices. Therefore, family
members may be guided by their own desires, as opposed to the desires or
needs of the family. Fourth, individuals make rational choices. This sug-
gests that individuals are able to assess information logically when making
decisions within families. Fifth, inherent within every choice is the assess-
ment of rewards and costs. Individuals assess potential benefits or sanc-
tions from fellow family members based on choices made. Sixth,
individuals want to maximize their rewards or benefits. Essentially, family
members compare and assess their options to ensure that they receive an
overall net profit from familial interactions. Finally, individuals compare
their options and select the one that is the most beneficial or the least
costly to themselves; there is more regard for personal interests than those
of the family.
At first glance, exchange theories may seem calculated and self-cen-
tered (Peterson, 1986). Exchange theories are very individual centered
and appear contradictory to how families function. But on closer inspec-
tion, exchange theories provide an important perspective in understanding
how or why individuals choose to maintain their family relationships. For
example, a parent may decide to call his or her child when he or she gets
home from school on a regular basis because the parent feels comforted
knowing where his or her child is after school. Is this exchange costly to the
parent? Perhaps the telephone call may be considered a cost in terms of
time constraints or frustration and uncertainty if his or her child does not
answer the telephone. Yet the parent may feel that the benefits outweigh
the costs because he or she feels comforted knowing that his or her child is
safe, and it gives the parent a chance to touch base with his or her child dur-
ing the day. Granted, the rewards and costs should also be assessed for the
child as well. It may be more interesting to assess how consciously family
members actually think about the relational maintenance behaviors uti-
lized throughout the day. For example, do people consciously exchange
positive messages with family members in order to avoid a fight or get
someone to do a task around the house? Furthermore, is it a problem if

avoidance or strategic persuasion is the true motive for utilizing more rela-
tional maintenance strategies in families?
Exchange theories have been criticized for their insensitive approach to
family relationships (Klein & White, 1996; Peterson, 1986; Vogl-Bauer et
al., 1999). As a result, features have been added to respond to such feed-
back. For example, the time frame considered for exchanging rewards or
costs has been modified (Noller & Fitzpatrick, 1993). Family members are
often content to wait longer periods of time for a “return on their invest-
ment” than nonfamily members. In addition, norms of reciprocity have
been incorporated in order to examine how family members respond to
each other. In both examples, family members acquire greater flexibility
for demonstrating relational maintenance behaviors to each other. The ex-
panded time frame provides family members with a longer period to re-
turn maintenance behaviors to others. Presumably, one family
relational maintenance behaviors will encourage similar behaviors across
the family.

Equity Theory. One of the more popular exchange theories used

when studying family interactions is equity theory (Handel, 1992;
Vogl-Bauer et al., 1999). Equity theory incorporates the fundamental fea-
tures of exchange theories, however, equity theory emphasizes the impor-
tance of shared, comparable exchanges between relational partners
(Adams, 1965). A relationship is considered equitable if one ratio
of relational rewards to costs is comparable to the other relational
ratio of rewards to costs. Thus, both parties demonstrate comparable lev-
els of personal investment in the relationship, suggesting that the relation-
ship is balanced. Inequities are said to occur if one person feels
overbenefited (the reward/cost ratio is greater than their rela-
tional ratio) or underbenefited (the reward/cost ra-
tio is less than their relational ratio; Adams, 1965). Relational
partners adjust their rewards or costs accordingly in order to regain balance
with one another. When applying these features to family relational main-
tenance behaviors, equity theory suggests that family members are compa-
rably sharing the maintenance of family relationships in their efforts to
sustain familial ties.
Preliminary research by family scholars examining equity theory in fam-
ily relationships has identified qualifications for family application.
Vogl-Bauer et al. (1999) examined parent-adolescent relationships and as-
sessed the satisfaction of parents and adolescents when in equitable, as op-
posed to inequitable relationships and the perception of relational
maintenance strategies by parents and adolescents when in equitable, as
opposed to inequitable relationships. Although the child is typically
overbenefited while the parent is underbenefited in parent-child relation-
42 -c=+ VOGL-BAUER

ships, it was hypothesized that parent-child relationships would become

more equitable as children grow older. Vogl-Bauer et al. (1999) found that
although parents were the most satisfied when relationships with their
children become more equitable, at age 16 and 17, children were the most
satisfied when they overbenefited from the parent-child relationship. Re-
garding relational maintenance strategy usage, there was a greater likeli-
hood for the strategies of positivity and shared tasks to occur in equitable
relationships, as opposed to underbenefited relationships. Although the
primary responsibility for maintaining the parent-child relationship still
rested with the parent overall, it may not be perceived as a negative factor
for the parties involved. “If parents are equally comfortable with their role
as provider, it may be presumptuous to assume that adolescents and par-
ents can make this change quickly, or for that matter, that each will be sat-
isfied while this transformation occurs in their relationship” (Vogl-Bauer
et al., 1999, p. 42).
Handel (1992) examined the significance of equity in sibling relation-
ships. Equity theory may be demonstrated by observing how fairly siblings
treat each other, but it is also reflected in how fairly or comparably parents
treat each of their children. Handel found that when siblings perceived the
treatment from their parents as equitable, the sibling relationship was
strengthened. When parents did not treat all of their children in a compa-
rable fashion, negative ramifications were present in sibling relationships.
Thus, parental patterns of equitable behavior toward their children di-
rectly influence the ability of siblings to maintain relationships with each
other (Stafford & Dainton, 1995).
In summary, exchange theories offer a contrasting perspective for un-
derstanding how family members maintain their relationships. Al-
though some scholars believe that exchange theories neglect the
altruistic features present in family relationships (Peterson, 1986), oth-
ers suggest that the maintenance of families may be captured within the
parameters of exchange theory, in particular, equity theory. The chal-
lenges for researchers may be to understand the unique family dynamics
that impact how family interactions vary over developmental periods,
and across other family dyads to identify how maintenance behaviors
are exchanged in families.

Relational dialectics theory is a relatively new framework for examining the

dynamics in close relationships. The focal point of relational dialectics con-
cerns the bilateral tensions present in close relationships. These tensions un-
derscore the process as well as the contradiction between opposing forces
(Baxter, 1988). Th e metaphor of a “tug-of-war” captures the dynamic strug-

gle inherent in relational dialectics. Relational partners are challenged to

manage the seemingly endless discrepancies that relationships encounter.
Although partners encounter many relational dialectics, three in particular
have been examined in relationship to relational maintenance: auton-
omy-connection, predictability-novelty, and openness-closedness (Baxter
& Simon, 1993; Montgomery, 1993).
The first dialectic, autonomy-connection, refers to the continuous
struggle to balance individual identity issues with relational partner con-
cerns (Baxter, 1988). In the context of families, how does someone main-
tain personal independence without alienating family members?
Depending on the role of the family member, the struggle to achieve bal-
ance between autonomy and connectedness may persist for an extended
period of time. Expectations pertaining to who should make the individual
sacrifices to their own autonomy may also exist. For example, children of-
ten think of their parents in fairly narrow ways. In fact, it may not be until
the child is older that he or she acknowledges that a parent holds interests
outside of the family. Of course, the reverse could also be said of parents;
the child could be expected to spend the majority of his or her free time
with the family. To make alternative plans that conflict with traditional
family get-togethers is very problematic.
The second relational dialectic is predictability-novelty (Baxter, 1988).
The predictability-novelty dialectic underscores the tensions between
what is certain versus what is new or spontaneous. The predictability-nov-
elty dialectic may be especially problematic for families because it is often
assumed that families will remain constant; as individuals, we can change,
but our family should stay the same. Thus, whenever a family member
does something deemed extreme in another family opinion,
there may be conflict to the extent that although relationships need nov-
elty to remain healthy (Baxter & Simon, 1993), the challenge for families is
to determine the amount of novelty desired.
The third relational dialectic is openness-closedness (Baxter, 1988).
The degree of openness in family communication may be assessed in two
ways. First, it could reflect the struggle to access or block information from
reaching family members. Depending on the age of the family member,
perceptions of openness could be associated with restrictions on television
programming or reading materials. The second way to examine open-
ness-closedness in the family is to identify the disclosure patterns of fam-
ily members. How open is the dialogue between and among family
members? Do some family members have greater liberties in which to dis-
close their views on particular topics, while others remain silent?
Although relational dialectics theory provides an interesting avenue to
assess family relational maintenance, it too has some problems. One of the
primary criticisms is that a great number of dialectics to examine in fami-
lies potentially exists. Thus, it is challenging to determine what to include
4-e -I+=+ VOGL-BAUER

and what to withhold (Griffin, 2000). Second, many of these dialectics are
subject to change over the lifespan of a family. Accordingly, it may be im-
portant to identify the relational dialectics most likely to occur across the
history, as well as to identify those dialectics that emphasize a par-
ticular period within the family.
Because change and flux in relationships are not uncommon, many ideas
proposed in relational dialectics theory have been examined as distinct fea-
tures in relational development, with a large body of research related to
each. For example, autonomy has been studied extensively by family
scholars (Bulcroft, 1991; Clasen & Brown, 1985; Montemayor, 1986).
Granted, regardless of the number of approaches taken, more is being
learned about autonomy. Unfortunately, the research being done across
disciplines on autonomy is not always integrated into a comprehensive as-
sessment. This issue is probably more problematic for relational dialectics
theory than the previous two discussed due to the structure and premise of
relational dialectics theory. In short, relational dialectics theory empha-
sizes the relational tensions that exist in family relationships. The struggle
for families is to determine how to maintain strong family relationships
successfully through these moments.

Circumplex Model of Family Functioning. Olson and his colleagues

in Family Sciences have been refining a model for assessing marital and fam-
ily interactions for approximately two decades (Barnes SKOlson, 1983).
The Circumplex Model of Marital and Family Systems emphasizes three
primary dimensions in marriages and families: (1) cohesion or together-
ness; (2) flexibility; and (3) communication (Olson, 1993). Optimal fam-
ily functioning occurs when balance is attained between levels of cohesion
and flexibility. Family communication patterns provide the means to attain
balance. Although model is traditionally placed within a subset of
Systems Theory, when contrasted with (1988) Relational Dialec-
tics Theory, many similarities exist. As in relational dialectics theory, fami-
lies struggle to balance feelings of extreme closeness (e.g., enmeshment)
with degrees of autonomy (e.g., independence). Families also have to man-
age degrees of flexibility ranging from rigid to chaotic (Olson, 1993). This
continuum is very comparable to the relational dialectic of predictabil-
ity-novelty. Although Relational Dialectics Theory has a third dimension,
openness-closedness because the Circumplex Model places major signifi-
cance on family communication, it appears that both approaches concur-
rently strive to understand how families manage the ebb and flow of
inherently dynamic relational features. The fact that each relies on com-
munication to ultimately accomplish this task for families suggests that
family relational maintenance strategies could be examined from either
perspective with potentially comparable results.


Families do not maintain their relationships in a vacuum. Just like any rela-
tionship, families are impacted by changes occurring in society. As techno-
logical advances affect both our professional and private lives, these
advancements also change how family members maintain their relation-
ships. As the options available to maintain family relationships increase,
the scope and magnitude of family maintenance is impacted as well.

Utdizing TechtAg in FarniIy Maintenance

Presumably, family relational maintenance is accomplished through

face-to-face interaction. Although it could be conceded that other commu-
nication channels could be used to send family maintenance strategies, little
coverage has been given to these alternative channels. Yet as family members
age or leave home, the opportunity to rely exclusively on face-to-face inter-
action is problematic. Thus, families are adapting to these changes by utiliz-
ing channels that are better suited to their changing needs.
As family activities limit the amount of face-to-face interaction
among family members, technological devices are beginning to play an inte-
gral role in family maintenance (Carlson, 1999; Ticoll, 2000). Children are
faxing copies of their homework to parents in order to ask questions (or ver-
ify that the homework is being done). Parents may purchase cellular phones
or pagers for their children so that they may contact family members with
greater ease. For some families, technological tools have increased familial
interactions that would not have taken place otherwise.
Probably the most highly advertised technological tool available to fami-
lies to maintain their relationships is electronic mail, or e-mail. As access to
sending and receiving e-mail messages increases, more families are taking
advantage of this communication channel. Children can e-mail their par-
ents when they get home from school to let them know that they arrived
safely. E-mail is especially beneficial for families maintaining communica-
tion between members who are no longer available for face-to-face interac-
tions. E-mail is quick, accessible (in most areas of the United States), and
adaptive to individual constraints. Messages can be exchanged between
family members in a short period of time (Carlson, 1999). Time delays as-
sociated with traditional mailings are also significantly reduced. In addi-
tion, more and more families are purchasing computers. Finally, family
members are not restricted by when they can communicate with others
(Oravec, 2000). Traditionally, time constraints affected when family
members could call one another, due to availability factors. Now, family
members can send messages to one another at their leisure, without dis-
turbing the receiver of the message. The receiver can read the message at
d-6 -is+ VOGL-BAUER

his or her convenience as well. Thus, many constraints associated with

other communication channels, such as face-to-face access; time-zone
variances when making telephone calls, or the message delays associated
with traditional mailings are no longer obstacles.
Interesting solutions are being identified for using technologies to assist
parents and teachers in their communication about children in the class-
room. Effective communication between parents and teachers tends to lead
to more appropriate and cooperative behaviors by children in the classroom
(Cameron & Lee, 1997). Cameron and Lee found that voice mail offered
parents and teachers an additional means of communication to establish and
maintain contact with parents regarding specific messages, announcements,
and reminders. Although teachers and parents continue to place value on
other communication channels, voice mail provides an important outlet for
maintaining communication over the course of an academic year.
However, there are legitimate concerns associated with utilizing tech-
nology to maintain family relationships. For some, problems are associated
with learning and using technologies. A lack of basic computer competen-
ties may be the most salient for individuals who did not grow up with the
technologies (Neudecker & Burke, 1985). Contradictions also exist re-
garding the belief that technology will give people and families more lei-
sure time (Carlson, 1999; Neudecker & Burke, 1985). The assumption is
that families should be able to share more time together because technol-
ogy reduces the amount of time necessary to accomplish other tasks. But
other scholars argue that technology has just made life busier (Carlson,
1999) or more problematic due to the inherent struggles to manage tech-
nology (and the information it disperses; Oravec, 2000). Parents are given
the task of managing a technology for which they may have limited under-
standing or control. Thus, the roles, norms, or expectations placed on fam-
ily members could be questioned.
The role of technology in maintaining family relationships is still uncer-
tain. Some researchers view the role of technology very favorably (Ticoll,
2000), whereas others view the impact of technology on families with
greater concern or skepticism (Carlson, 1999; Oravec, 2000). The chal-
lenge for families and researchers alike is to identify when technological
tools are accessible and supportive of family maintenance and when tech-
nological tools become a detriment to effective family functioning.


There is something intuitively appealing to studying relational mainte-

nance. Relational maintenance examines how individuals can keep the im-
portant relationships in their lives over time and, nonetheless, have the
potential to improve them. Thus, the ability to understand how families

accomplish relational maintenance is a compelling one. Although little in-

put exists regarding family selection, individual connections to families are
extremely strong. What can be done to nurture these relationships over
time has the potential to impact all parties involved, as well as society.
Clearly, if families are going to continue as a vital force in society, helping
family members maintain these relationships is paramount to their sur-
vival. Existing family theories may help to unravel the questions surround-
ing family relational maintenance. Systems theory, exchange theories, and
relational dialectics theory have the potential to reveal more about how
families maintain their relationships over time, as well as the obstacles fac-
ing families in their efforts to do so. As greater knowledge is acquired, the
impact for families and relational maintenance scholarship is great.
Two important items highlighted are communication and the use of
technology. In order for successful family maintenance to occur, mes-
sages need to be exchanged, either verbally or nonverbally. Advances in
technology offer potential tools to aid family maintenance. Family mem-
bers may incorporate technology to varying degrees to enhance family
maintenance contingent upon accessibility to each other or technological
tools. Perhaps cautious optimism should be used when aiding families in
how they choose to communicate with each other. What is known is that
without communication, the ability of families to maintain their relation-
ships is severely hindered.

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Laura Stafford
Ohio State University

he quest to elucidate factors associated with marital stability or satis-

faction is long-standing and pervasive. Sophisticated investigations of fea-
tures of satisfying marriages, self-report measures of marital stability, and
applied programs aimed toward enriching marriages can be traced back to
the 1930s (Perlman, 2001). In addition, literally hundreds of investiga-
tions on stability or satisfaction in romantic relationships have been under-
taken in the last several decades (Canary & Stafford, 1994). This plethora
of previous research has served as the vanguard to study of a con-
ceptually related phenomenon: relational maintenance. As Canary and
Stafford observed, such studies explicitly or implicitly inform us about re-
lational maintenance.

I gratefully acknowledge the responses provided by Dan Canary and Marianne Dainton to earlier
drafts of this chapter. They have provided much stimulating discussion, deliberation and debate of
the material presented.

32 -+==s STAFFORD

Notwithstanding (1926) ob servation that any given family or mar-

riage is a constantly evolving and fluctuating process that may be best thought
of as a set of “interacting personalities” (p. 3) for several decades research
tended to focus on demographic characteristics or personalities of marital
partners to the neglect of interaction. It was not until the 1960s when the link
between interactional processes of the marital participants and martial satis-
faction became a focal point of relational research (Duck, 1985; Fitzpatrick &
Badzinski, 1985). Research during the 1970s indicated that communication is
strongly associated with marital satisfaction (Lewis & Spainer, 1979).
Reminiscent of (1926) conception of marriage as a constantly
changing entity, Duck (1985) reminded us that although we may be in-
clined to think of development and deterioration of romantic relationships
as processes; “It is worth pointing out that the maintenance and stability of
relationships are also processes” (p. 671). Furthermore, scholarly work
concerning interactive processes was directed far more often towards the
development or deterioration of relationships than toward the continu-
ance of relationships. This seems ironic given (1988) insightful re-
flection that people spend more time maintaining relationships than
developing or dissolving them. Yet the direct question of what do romantic
partners do to sustain these processual romantic relationships was largely
unexplored until the last 10 to 15 years and certainly the term maintenance
as a point of convergence for research on the role of linkages between com-
munication and the properties of personal relationships is relatively new
(Canary & Stafford, 1994), a point echoed by Perlman (2001).
Stafford and Canary (199 1) began a program of inquiry aimed at delin-
eating maintenance strategies. Albeit, certainly not the only scholars to ad-
dress issues of relational maintenance, their work serves as the focus of this
chapter. It is hoped that theoretical connections implied by their particular
model of maintenance will be made lucid in the upcoming discussion.
This chapter first provides a definitional and theoretical review. Then
Canary and (1994) overarching model of relational maintenance
is used as an organizational heuristic to discuss research invoking, expand-
ing, or challenging Canary and work on relational maintenance.
The primary focus of their research has been on romantic relationships,
and thus is the major focus of this chapter. However, this program has ex-
panded into other domains that will be given brief attention here as well.
Questions regarding this research are then raised. This chapter closes with
conclusions that can be drawn from this line of work.


From the beginning, Stafford and Canary (199 1) clearly laid out their guid-
ing principles. They have summarized the manner in which equity theory

informs their research (Canary & Stafford, 1992, 1994). Accordingly, a

highly abbreviated recap is offered here explicating two cornerstones of
the many principles that have continued to guide their efforts. First and
fundamentally, relationships require maintenance to continue; second, in-
dividuals are motivated to maintain relationships in accordance with social
exchange theory.

Duck (1988) suggested two models underlie relational stability: that rela-
tionships will stay together unless something tears them apart and that re-
lationships will deteriorate unless efforts are made to keep the relationship
intact. Although these two conceptions are not mutually exclusive (Duck,
1994) and Canary and Stafford (1994) concur with the proposal that barri-
ers act to keep relationships together, they focused primarily on the latter
of these two propositions. The statement that all relationships require
maintenance to continue seems intuitively obvious. Yet, given the number
of romantic relationships and marriages that end leaving one or the other or
both partners proverbially scratching their heads asking the question,
“What happened?” perhaps the necessity for maintenance is not as appar-
ent as it seems. In brief, a guiding principle is that some kind of mainte-
nance activity is necessary to keep relationships from deteriorating.
The second fundamental principle is derived from the tenets of equity
theory as laid out by Hatfield, Traupmann, Sprecher, Utne, and Hay
(1985); Sprecher (1986); Walster, Berscheied, and Walster (1973) among
others. Canary and Stafford (1994) explained, “equity theory predicts that
people are content when both persons have equal ratios of inputs to out-
comes, that people are distressed when involved in an inequitable relation-
ship and that people try to restore and maintain equity.” (p. 7).
Overbenefited individuals perceive they get more out of a relationship
than they put into it whereas underbenefited individuals perceive they get
more out of a relationship than they put into it. Being either overbenefited
or underbenefited should cause emotional distress (Sprecher, 1986). Eq-
uity should be satisfying. Furthermore, in a dyadic relationship one per-
inputs serve as rewards for the other person. Thus, maintenance
activities are conceived of as a cost or input for one person and hence a re-
ward for the other. It follows then, that individuals would adjust their
maintenance efforts in accordance to their perceived equity levels.


Stafford and Canary (1991) first used the term maintenance strategies and
offered their definition of maintenance as “efforts expended to maintain

the nature of the relationship to the satisfaction” (p. 220). Canary

and Stafford (1992) o ff ere d a similar definition of maintenance strategies:
“communication approaches people use to sustain desire relational defini-
tions” (p. 243). Stafford and Canary (1991); Canary and Stafford, (1992)
were silent on the meaning of the term strategy. However, they did point
out that their investigations “focus on strategies and not routine interac-
tions” (Canary & Stafford, 1993, p. 242).
Dainton and Stafford (1993) expressed concern with these efforts di-
rected at ascertaining strategies, which they considered as behaviors in-
voked with the intent to sustain the relationship. They contended that
maintenance behaviors might also be less strategic. That is, although the
behavior itself may be intentional the “actor is not performing these behav-
iors with the express goal of maintaining the relationship. However, the
performance of these behaviors may indeed serve maintenance functions”
(Dainton & Stafford, 1993, p. 256). Drawing on (1988, 1992) dis-
cussion of routine interactions, they chose to label such nonstrategic activi-
ties as routine behaviors.
Thus, maintenance behaviors were viewed as a broader term encom-
passing both strategic and nonstrategic or routine activities by Dainton and
Stafford (1993) and the inclusion of both sets of behaviors was then set
forth as a central tenant by Canary and Stafford (1994).
Proposition 6: People use both strategic and routing interactions to main-
tain heir relationships. Maintenance behaviors are thus distinguished into
strategic and routine categories (Duck, 1988). That is, people maintain
their relationships both by using approaches they believe will function to
sustain their involvements and, through the practices of daily living, been
enacting particular routines which become part of the dyad (p. 10).
Nevertheless, the terms behaviors and strategies are ambiguously and
indiscriminately interchanged. The reason behind this ambiguous use of
the term strategy is centered in differing conceptions of the term strategy.
D. J. Canary (personal communication, August 2,200l) adheres to an ex-
pansive definition:

For me, a strategy is defined as an approach someone takes. In other words, stra-
tegic communication is implicitly learned and often mindlessly enacted. This is a
broad definition of “strategic” that encompasses a lot of behavior. Strategic ap-
proaches are often routinized but become more cognitively processed when the
routine plan does not work (Berger, 1997). So, I d 0 not see a necessary separation
between routine and strategic.

Stafford (see e.g., Stafford et al., 2000) however, invokes a more narrow
view of the term strategy. As Duck (1994) stated, “research which has fo-
cused on strategies impLies a conscious sustaining of relationships and con-
tinues a distinction between such strategies and the more automatic” or

“breezy allowance of the relationship to continue” (p. 46) that is the rou-
tine or nonstrategic behaviors. It is this implication that is at issue at hand.
For at least some relational maintenance scholars the distinction be-
tween strategic and routine appears to be a meaningful, albeit perhaps in-
tuitive one. (1994) distinction has already been alluded too.
Acitelli (2001) a1so d rew a distinction and argued the degree to which a be-
havior is strategic or routine is contingent on several factors such as the de-
velopment of the relationship and the situation. Indeed Dainton and
Stafford (1993; Dainton, Stafford, & McNeilis, 1992; Stafford et al.,
2000) proposed that the same behaviors may be invoked in both strategic
and routine manners depending on many factors. Dindia (chap. 1, this vol-
ume) also adheres to the primary delineation of strategic and nonstrategic
maintenance behaviors. However, she proposes the dichotomy between
strategic and nonstrategic may be too rigid and activities may be more or
less strategic or routine. Yet, she maintains the principle demarcation as
one grounded in the intent of the actor. Dainton underscores the intent of
the actor is the point of distinction between strategic and routine behav-
and has found little correlation between the strategic and routine use
of maintenance behaviors; some behaviors may indeed be invoked more of-
ten in a strategic manner whereas others may be invoked more routinely
(Dainton & Aylor, 2002).
The foregoing definitional issue is not raised as a point of substantive
theoretical division as both Stafford and Canary concur that both types of
maintenance activities occur. This is clearly evidenced in their principle
articulated earlier. Rather, the unease is with a potential ambiguity for
others. Therefore, the recommendation is offered that future work
should consider the terminology invoked and perhaps utilize the term
maintenance behaviors in place of strategies as more definitely encom-
passing term.
A final issue confounded with the earlier discussion is the extent to which
routine or nonstrategic behaviors operate within an equity framework. It is
unclear if nonstrategic maintenance efforts are also hypothesized to operate in
accordance with equity principles, or if this is reserved for maintenance strate-
gies. Duck (1994) contended that relationships continue, for the most part in
a taken for granted manner; that partners unlikely continue a relationship only
after explicitly sitting down with their calculators to determine their relative
costs and benefits. Nonetheless he noted that some unconscious accounting of

‘The choice of the term routine was not perhaps the best one. Routine seems to imply regular-
ity to actions or events. Duck (1992; Duck, Rutt, Hurst, & Strejc, 1991) discussed regularity and
routines in interactions, or patterns of interactions in a daily realm. Although it is recognized that
many such behaviors may be routine in a mundane day-to-day patterned manner, the distinction
within this line of work has been on the intent of the actor, or perhaps lack of intent, rather than
the regularity of the event. Possibly simply the term nonstrategic as the logical opposite may have
been a better choice than routine.
?c7 -e=+ STAFFORD

the overall fairness of the relationship is likely taken into consideration. Fur-
ther, he proposed that such mental accounting may become more salient
when a partner is considering changing the relationship. D. J. Canary (per-
sonal communication, August 2, 2001) offered a like opinion:

I do not think that exchange theorists, including equity theorists, believe that
people constantly take into account rewards and costs (or inputs and outcomes).
I think that most people have a vague running tab of who has done what, though
some of us have high exchange orientations (where daily ledgers are taken) and
others have low exchange (or communal) orientations. Equity is probably a vague
collection of inputs and outcomes that leads to both intentionally performed and
unintentionally performed actions. However, I would predict that it [equity the-
ory] is a more powerful predictor of intentional actions and planning. It probably
leaks through unintentional actions as well.

The extent to which relational participants view maintenance behav-

iors as intentional or unintentional and to which they accord a greater
role in the preservation of their relationships is yet to be ascertained.
Moreover, the extent to which intentional versus unintentional behav-
iors are affected by perceptions of in(equity) is also an empirical ques-
tion. Nonetheless, a point of convergence is the recognition that
individuals act both consciously and unconsciously to sustain their in-
volvements and these activities are likely influenced to a greater or
lesser degree of consciousness by overall perceptions of (in)equity re-
gardless of the terminology invoked. Attention is now turned directly to
the proposed model of maintenance.



Canary and (1994) overall model of maintenance is com-

prised of three main components: maintenance behaviors, antecedents
that may predict them, and salient relational characteristics that may be
predicted by them (see Canary & Stafford, 1994, for a discussion of
their central tenets.) These components are presented in Fig. 3.1. Al-
though the model conceptually begins with antecedents, the mainte-
nance behaviors are presented first as they have been at the heart of this
line of inquiry. A discussion of the antecedents to maintenance as well as
the outcomes of maintenance follows. This section concludes with the
proposal for a revised model.

The Maintenance Behaviors

This particular line of work began when Stafford and Canary (199 1) devel-
oped five factors (positivity, assurances, openness, sharing tasks, and social
networks) that individuals purportedly used in a strategic manner to sustain

Antecedent Factors Maintenance Activities



Equitably Treated --b

Relational Type and

Individual Differences

Fig. 3.1. Canary and model.

Note: From Canary and Zelley (2000). Based on Canary and Stafford (1994).

desired relational characteristics. These five factors were refined and exam-
ined in conjunction with equity theory by Canary and Stafford (1992).
Following this initial effort to define and operationalize maintenance
strategies, efforts have been made to identify other maintenance behav-
iors. This has occurred in two primary ways. Sometimes an expanded con-
ceptualization of maintenance as “routine” or “nonstrategic” has resulted
in additional maintenance behaviors (e.g., Dainton & Stafford, 1993;
Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000). Other times, maintenance research
moved outside the confines of White, middle-class heterosexual romantic
couples living in the United States in an attempt to identify various main-
tenance behaviors used in various populations. Research has expanded to
White, middle-class nonromantic relationships such as friends and family
(e.g., Canary, Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993; Messman, Canary &
Hause, 2000), non-White romantic samples (e.g., Diggs & Stafford, 1998),
Non-Western romantic samples (Young & Canary, chap. 13, this volume),
and nonheterosexual Western romantic relationships (e.g., Haas &
Stafford, 1997, 1998.)
Table 3.1 presents the original five behaviors as well as the mainte-
nance behaviors generated within this program. Upon examination of Ta-
ble 3.1, it becomes readily apparent that category systems have at times
Exploration of behaviors occurred virtually simultaneously in two do-
mains. On one front, using inductive analyses, Canary, Stafford, Hause,
ReIationaI Maintenance Behavior

Behavior Examples
Positivity” Try to act nice and cheerful.
Attempt to make our interactions enjoyable.
Ask how his or her day has gone.
Openness” Encourage him or her to disclose thoughts and
feelings to me.
Seek to discuss the quality of our relationship.
Remind him or her about relationship decisions
we made in the past.

Assurancesa Stress my commitment to him or her.

Imply that our relationship has a future.
Show myself to be faithful to him or her.

Social Networka Like to spend time with our same friends.

Focus on common friends and affiliations.
Show that I am willing to do things with his/her
friends and family.

Sharing Tasks” Help equally with tasks that need to be done.

Do my fair share of the work we have to do.
Perform my household responsibilities.

Conflict Managementb Apologize when I am wrong.

Cooperate in how I handledisagreements.
Patient and forgiving with my partner.

Adviceb Tell partner what I think she or he should do

about her or his problems.
Give him or her my opinion on things going on in
his/her life.

Focus on Self Working on a degree.

Focusing on spiritual or religious development.
I make sure I look good.

Joint Activities Spend time hanging out.

Attend Saturday football games.
Visit my brother when he is away at school.

Mediated Communication Write letters.

Use e-mail to keep in touch.
Communicate on the phone.

(continued on next page)

TABLE 3.1 (continued)

Behavior Examples

Avoidance/Antisocial Am not completely honest with him or her.

Avoid him or her.
Act badly so she or he want to get closer
to me.

Humor Call him or her by a funny nickname.

Tease him or her.
Be sarcastic in a funny way.

No Flirting Avoid flirting with him or her.

Do not allow myself to be in a romantic place
with him or her.
Do not encourage overly familiar behavior.

Give advice.
Seek advice.
Comfort him or her in time of need.

Share Activity‘ Share special rituals with him or her.

Share specific routine activities with him or her.
Share time with him or her.

Religion Attend church together.

Pray about our marriage.
Talk to a minister or priest.

Small Talk Talk about our day.

Talk about little things.

Affection Displays of fondness.

We kiss each other goodbye in the morning.

Gay/lesbian Supportive Living, working, or socializing in supportive

Environments settings.
Being in nonjudgmental settings.

Same as Heterosexual Modeling similar values as heterosexual parents.


Note. Table adapted and extended from Canary and Stafford (2001). Examples adapted
from Canary and Stafford (1992); Canary et al. (1993): Dainton and Stafford (1993), Diggs and
Stafford (1998), Messman et al. (2000), Stafford et al. (2000); and Haas and Stafford (1998).
Categories are those directly from work with Stafford or Canary as an author or coauthor.
Items without a superscript have not yet been developed into measurements.
aThe five original factors from Stafford and Canary (1991).
bAdditional factors from Stafford et al. (2000).
‘Additional factors from Messman et al. (2000).
60 -c=e STAFFORD

and Wallace (I 993) extended the repertoire of strategic maintenance be-

haviors to those used not only in romantic relationships, but also those used
among friends and relatives. In addition to the initial five categories, and a
mediated mode (noncontent specific use of cards, letters, and the tele-
phone), two more prosocial categories were derived (joint activities and
humor) as well as two less socially positive strategies (avoidance and anti-
social behaviors).
Building directly on this work, Messman et al. (2000) developed a
6-factor measure designed to tap how individuals maintain platonic oppo-
site-sex friendships. Two new factors were found: no flirting and suppor-
tiveness. The concept of supportiveness in general has emerged in other
work. For example, it is implied in Haas and (1998) study of gay
and lesbian romantic relationships. The examples or supportiveness of-
fered by Messman et al. are also quite similar to the factor labeled advice by
Stafford et al. (2000).
Mirroring Canary et (1993) efforts was an inquiry, also utilizing in-
ductive analyses, by Dainton and Stafford (1993). The primary difference
was that Dainton and Stafford believed that the shift in the conceptualiza-
tion of maintenance to include routine or nonstrategic behaviors would
yield additional behaviors in romantic populations. The nine categories re-
ported by Canary et al. (1993) were replicated and the repertoire of be-
haviors was extended with categories of affection and focus on self.
The effort to tap routine behaviors continued with Stafford et al.‘s
development of a 7-factor measure. This measure was constructed uti-
lizing the items from the Canary and Stafford (1992) scale along with
items developed from the deductive analyses of Dainton and Stafford
(1993). They f ound the original five factors of assurances, positivity,
sharing tasks, openness, and social networks. However, openness split
into two factors. They retained the label openness for one of these as it
seemed to reflect the self-disclosive aspect of openness. The other fac-
tor was labeled advice. Similarly, positivity broke into two factors: one
that seemed to reflect the original conceptualization of being upbeat
and positive and another that referred to conflict management such as
apologizing and being cooperative in disagreements. This refinement of
an instrument to assess romantic behaviors occurred virtually
simultaneously with Messman et development of the 6-factor scale
examining maintenance behaviors in friendships. Note in Table 3.1 the
similarity between the items labeled by Stafford et al. (2000) as advice
and those by Messman et al. (2000) as support. Indeed, several of the
items labeled support by Messman et al. directly mention “advice.”
A list of the maintenance behaviors that have evolved from their in-
vestigations was reported by Canary and Stafford (1994). Nix (1999)
began with this list in an effort to examine potentially negative mainte-
nance behaviors used to maintain friendships. He invoked Duck

(1994), who noted a bias toward positive strategies in maintenance

work; although antisocial ones had been discussed in previous work,
they had received little attention. Sustaining friendships in light of a ro-
mantic involvement, particularly through potentially negative strate-
gies, was the heart of interests. In addition to the categories
previously reported by Canary and Stafford (1994), Nix identified one
other maintenance behavior: passive disassociation-emphasizing the
“fun and excitement” of being romantically unattached. Furthermore,
antisocial behaviors were found to be more direct and less covert than
previous research had indicated.
The attempt to identify maintenance behaviors has gone beyond
White, middle-class heterosexual romantic relationships. As noted, re-
search has sought to identify maintenance behaviors of friends and family
members. Other studies involving family members include Vogel-Bauer,
Kalbfleisch, and (1999) assessment of the factor measure of
maintenance with a White middle-class parent-adolescent population
and Hample and (2000) examination of the similarity of the
maintenance behaviors, using the -/-factor measure, between
and their adult children.
Another realm of study is homosexual romantic relationships. Haas
and Stafford (1998), using the same inductive method as Dainton and
Stafford (1993), questioned 30 gay or lesbian individuals in long-term,
committed, romantic and found the same behaviors as did
Dainton and Stafford and two behaviors unique to this sample: being in a
gay-lesbian supportive environment and being the same as heterosexual
couples. Hass and Stafford (1997) created matched homosexual and het-
erosexual samples and found, in a direct comparison, that the two sam-
ples engaged in virtually identical maintenance behaviors.
Maintenance has extended to non-White, middle-class romantic in-
volvements as well. Diggs and Stafford (1998), again using inductive analy-
ses, found middle-class African-American married couples to use
maintenance behaviors virtually isomorphic to those found in previous re-
search on Euro-American, middle-class marital relationships. One possible
exception was the sharing of tasks as a salient maintenancebehavior. Addi-
tionally, this sample stressed the role of religion and the church. Con-
founding this finding however is the fact that much of African-American
sample was recruited through church networks. Thus, although it has long
been argued that the church may play a greater role in African-American
marriages than in Euro-American marriages, this remains equivocal here
due to the nature of the sampling.
One similarity that emerges from the study of these two samples in
conjunction with previous research is that, when using open-ended sur-
veys, specific populations may mention behaviors that are particularly
salient to them. Obviously a goal of open-ended research is to uncover

aspects that might not have surfaced when a previously developed mea-
sure is applied. The possibility that certain features might be unique for
differing populations is of course a major reason why measures previ-
ously designed for one population not necessarily appropriate for re-
search in another population. However, the failure of one sample to
mention certain behaviors, would not necessarily mean that such behav-
iors might be considered unimportant for that population. For example,
Diggs and Stafford (1992) proposed that sharing tasks may be men-
tioned more by Euro-American participants than by African-American
participants, not because sharing tasks is any less vital among Black mar-
riages than among White ones, but because historically, Black marriages
have had more egalitarian marital roles. Hence, sharing tasks may be
more of a challenge or issue for White couples. Similarly, gay and les-
bian samples have reported that participating in gay-lesbian friendly en-
vironments was important for the maintenance of their romantic
relationships. Given current cultural biases, heterosexuals may not feel
the need to mention a desire to be in environments that supported their
sexual orientation. Thus, the development of measures of maintenance
behaviors would ideally combine factors derived from the populations
about which the researcher is making inferences.
Whether friendships, romantic (heterosexual or homosexual), or kin-
ships, these studies have focused on close relationships in the U.S. At
least two studies have looked beyond the U.S. culture. Yum and Canary
(chap. 9, this volume) compared maintenance behaviors of Koreans with
those of North Americans. They found Koreans (versus U.S. partici-
pants) reported less reliance on maintenance strategies and found the as-
sociation between maintenance strategies and relational characteristics
to be less strong among the Korean sample. They propose that this may be
due to a Korean cultural belief that the partners form one unit compared
to a more individualized western belief.
Finally, Ballard-Reisch, Weigel, and Zaguidoulline (1999) took the
study of romantic maintenance behaviors to Tararstan, a part of the former
Soviet Union. Utilizing the S-factor scale, they found moderate amounts
of variance accounted for in the relational characteristics. It would be of in-
terest to determine if even greater amounts of variance could be accounted
for with additional of behaviors generated by a Tararstan sample.

Antecedents are theorized to influence the frequency and type of mainte-
nance behaviors invoked. Canary and Stafford (1994) specifically include
equity, type and history, and individual differences. Another focus has

been social cognition, in terms of relational schemata (Dainton & Stafford,

2000; Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999a) relational expectations (Dainton,
2OOO), gender-role orientation (Stafford et al., 2000), and perceptions of
behaviors (Dainton & Stafford, 2000; Weigel & Ballard-Reisch,
1999b, 1999c). These social cognitive variables are interrelated with rela-
tionship type and individual difference variables and are discussed with
those variables accordingly.

@n)equity. The most theoretically critical antecedent is equity. The

thrust of this research has been on the role equity plays in the prediction
of maintenance behaviors. One of the central tenets is that individuals
will adjust their maintenance efforts in accordance with their percep-
tions of relational equity. Canary and Stafford (1992) found support for
the overall contention that perceptions of equity were related to mainte-
nance behavior use. They found, for marriages defined as equitable by
wives, both wives and husbands reported greater user of maintenance be-
haviors than in inequitable marriages. Support was not as strong for hus-
band-defined equity.
Vogel-Bauer, Kalbfleisch, and Beatty (1999) reported similar findings in
that parental perceptions of equity-predicted maintenance behaviors; yet
perceptions of equity did not predict maintenance behaviors.
The hypothesis is offered that adolescents may expect to be overbenefited
in relationship to their parents. A parallel unflattering hypothesis was of-
fered by Canary and Stafford (1992) with regard to husbands. Just as teen-
agers simply may not expect to work as hard at their relationships with
their parents as parents expect to work on their relationships with their
teenagers, husbands may not expect to work on their marital relationships
to the same extent that wives do. Such expectations thus attenuate the ef-
fects of being overbenefited. Messman et al. (2000) also examined percep-
tions of equity and found platonic friends who believed their friendships to
be equitable reported a great user of positive maintenance behaviors than
individuals in overbenefited or underbenefited friendships.
Only one study, to date, has directly challenged the presumption that
equity is a primary influence on maintenance behaviors (Ragsdale, 1996).
Based in interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978), Ragsdale con-
tended satisfaction as determined by a favorable comparison of part-
ner or relationship against an imagined ideal partner or relationship would
predict maintenance more strongly than equity. He also critiqued Canary
and Stafford (1992) f or using an indirect assessment of equity. Several
concerns are raised about this particular study. As, Canary and Stafford
(2001) noted, Ragsdale did not conduct a comparison of equity verses in-
terdependence; using (1984) Marital Comparison Level Index

(MCLI) he only examined interdependence. Thus he was unable to test his

own hypothesis that interdependence would be more influential that eq-
uity. Also he did not find support for his hypothesis that interdependence
would predict maintenance behaviors in a linear manner. Finally he did not
test for a potential curvilinear relationship between interdependence and
maintenance behaviors.
To address (1996) c h a11en g e d irectly, Canary and Stafford
(2001) conducted another examination of equity in conjunction with rela-
tional maintenance using two direct indices of equity along with
(1985) MCLI. Th ey f ound both equity and satisfaction (i.e., interdepen-
dence) to predict perceptions of use of maintenance behaviors;
both of these social exchange models appear relevant to maintenance. Ca-
nary and Stafford (2001) thus provided the most direct evidence that eq-
uity and satisfaction are not disjunctive; they work together to predict
maintenance behaviors.
Dainton (2000) a1so p rovided some support that interdependence the-
ory may play a role in the prediction of maintenance behaviors. Dainton
modified Stafford and (1991) measure of relational maintenance
in order to test for comparison levels of relational mainte-
nance. That is, participants were asked to rate their use of main-
tenance behaviors, but she also asked participants the extent to which their
partners use of these behaviors meet their expectations. Dainton found a
positive relationship between expectations about maintenance be-
haviors being exceeded and relational satisfaction. Yet she reported that
performance of maintenance behaviors was a better predictor than the
comparison level (performance versus expectations) and thus provides
mixed support for the role of interdependence theory.

Relationship Type. Stafford and Canary (199 1) began with relation-

ship type referring to heterosexual “stages” of romantic rela-
tionship development (e.g., dating versus engaged versus married). They
did find an association between relationship development and the fre-
quency of use of various strategies. Specifically, Canary and Stafford
(199 1) found seriously dating or engaged couples perceived their part-
ners to be more open than did casually dating couples or marital partners.
Canary and Stafford also found that individuals who were engaged or
married perceived their partners to offer more reassurances than those in
dating relationships.
Attaching a different meaning to relationship type, Canary et al. (1993)
found maintenance behaviors to vary among friends, romantic partners,
and relatives. For example, relatives tended to offer assurances, share
tasks, and use cards, letters, and phone calls more often than friends. Ro-
mantic partners appeared to offer more positivity, openness, and assur-
ances than did frienrls.

A third manner in which maintenance behaviors have been explored in

conjunction with relationship type is (1988) typology.
Fitzpatrick developed a typology of marriages based on the ideologies indi-
viduals hold concerning marriage. Her typology is based upon the dimen-
sions of ideology, communication, and interdependence. Traditionals hold
conventional ideological values about family and marriage, report being
moderately expressive with their spouses (e.g., they may discuss impor-
tant issues and simultaneously attempt to manage conflict by avoiding in-
teraction), and report a high degree of interdependence. Independents
hold unconventional values, report a highly expressive communication
style, and are moderately interdependent. Separates hold relatively con-
ventional views about marriage, report little openness in the communica-
tion, and have very little interdependence. These ideologies are thought to
act as marital schemata, internal cognitive models, which then frame their
actions and perceptions within marriage (Fitzpatrick & Ritchie, 1994).
Given relatively strong support from a programmatic line of research for
the associations between these schemata and various communication be-
haviors, it seems logical that these same marital types might be related to
maintenance behaviors (Weigel & Ballard-Reisch, 1999a). Indeed, Weigel
and Ballard-Reisch found traditionals reported the most use of mainte-
nance behaviors, followed by independents, then separates who used the
least maintenance behaviors: Specifically, traditionalcouples were tended
to use of tasks more than either separates or independents. Independent
couples were more likely to use openness and assurances than separate
couples. Another difference was that traditionals were also more prone to
use networks than separates.
Also examining the role of relational schemata or ideology, Dainton and
Stafford (2000) invoked (1998) couple types to predict
maintenance behaviors. Unlike Weigel and Ballard-Reisch (1999a), they
did not find couple type to be a strong predictor of maintenance behaviors.
Dainton and Stafford (2000) reported perceptions of be-
haviors to have more influential role on own behaviors than couple
type. They offer the speculation that traditionals may report more mainte-
nance behaviors because they reciprocate their behaviors.
Several studies have sought to explore the link between perceptions of
behaviors and own maintenance behaviors. As already
discussed, Dainton and Stafford (2000) found the perception of a part-
particular maintenance behavior to have a strong association with
own use of that same behavior. Previously, Dainton and Stafford
(1993 j noted relational partners tended to offer similar strategies. More
directly, Weigel and Ballard-Reisch (1999c) reported mainte-
nance strategies predicted strategies. Furthermore, Canary and
Stafford (2001) f ound perceptions of maintenance behaviors to
be predictive of self reported maintenance behaviors.

Individual Differences. Sex as a predictor of maintenance use or per-

ceptions of maintenance use has been investigated several times; women
may use maintenance behaviors more frequently than men (e.g., Canary &
Stafford, 1992; Dainton & Stafford, 1993; Ragsdale, 1996; cf., Stafford &
Canary, 1991). Stafford et al. (2000) questioned these findings and noted
reliance on sex-role stereotypes to explain them. In a direct comparison of
sex verses gender, they found gender role orientation to be a significantly
better predictor of maintenance use than biological sex. It may be the cor-
relation between sex-role orientation and biological sex that accounts for
the previous sex differences findings.
Few individual differences have been studied aside from biological sex.
However, Prisbell(l995) 1in k ed maintenance use to some aspects of com-
munication competence. Stafford, Perry, Rankin, and Canary (1999)
found personal dependency to be positively related to perceptions of part-
ner positivity and openness for both husbands and wives. They found small
to modest correlations between structural dependency perceptions of
partner assurances and partner sharing in tasks.
Finally, although the model presented does not consider relational char-
acteristics as antecedents, a few studies have considered characteristics
such as satisfaction and commitment, for example, as antecedent influ-
ences on maintenance behaviors. This begins then to raise questions about
the direction of influence which will be returned to momentarily.

rhe dational characteristics

The final component of the Canary and Stafford (1994) model is relational
characteristics. Maintenance behaviors are, by definition, supposed to
“sustain desired relational definitions” (Canary & Stafford, 1994, p. 4).
These desired definitions involve facets of the relationship considered im-
portant, and perhaps universal, to close relationships. Drawing primarily
on previous research on relational topoi (Burgoon & Hale, 1984,1987) Ca-
nary and Stafford (1992, 1994) h ave maintained that numerous features
may be fundamentals of relationships, not only the often research marital
satisfaction. Features of romantic relationships that have been studied to
date as outcomes in this line of inquiry include control mutuality, commit-
ment, love, trust, liking and satisfaction. Prime consideration is given to
these as outcomes of maintenance behaviors.
Although satisfaction or some conceptual variation of satisfaction (ad-
justment, quality, etc.) is the most frequently studied outcome variable in
research on marriage (Fitzpatrick, 1987), C anary and Stafford have chosen
to examine additional relational features that may well be related to satis-
faction instead of only examining the broad construct of relational satisfac-
tion. The rational for the investigation of alternative relational
characteristics is their stance that such features comprise relational satis-

faction. Moreover, they contend that various maintenance behaviors may

be variously related to different relational characteristics.
Research on nonromantic relationships has used simply keeping a friend-
ship at the status quo as the meaning of the sustaining a relationship as de-
sired. For example, Messman et al. (2000) examined strategies to keep
friendships between opposite sex heterosexual friends from transitioning to
a romantic interest. Nix (1999) a1so investigated keeping a friend as the de-
sired outcome in light of a concern that one is losing that friend due to the ar-
rival of a romantic partner on the scene. Such work is consistent with Canary
and definition of maintenance as these efforts are aimed at pre-
serving the relationship in the manner desired by the participants.
In sum, the foci of this research include the identification of categories
of behaviors utilized, in theory, to maintain relationships and exploration
of antecedents-especially (in)equity as predictive of maintenance use in
various populations. In the second half of this chapter, consideration is
given to the third and most important focal point: the association between
maintenance behaviors and relational characteristics.



It seems reasonable to pause at this juncture and reflect upon the obvious
yet heretofore unasked question: Are maintenance behaviors related to the
maintenance of relationships?

Are Maintenance Behaviors Associated

with Relational Characteristics?

The majority of studies have examined the associations between original

five maintenance behaviors and commitment, liking, control mutuality,
and relational satisfaction. Subsequent work on romantic relationships has
used both the original 5factor and the 7-factor scale in conjunction with
these features and others, such as love and trust.
Canary and Stafford (1994) summarized the consistent findings:
positivity, sharing tasks, social networks, and assurances predict control
mutuality and liking; assurances seem to have an especially strong link to
commitment. Positivity and assurances are associated with trust (Canary &
Stafford, 1993). Dainton, Stafford, and Canary (1994) found comparable
patterns. Similarly, Weigel and Ballard-Reisch (1999c) found that both in-
dividual and joint perceptions of maintenance behaviors were predictive of
the joint constructions of love, commitment, and satisfaction.
Stafford et al. (2000), using the 7-factor measure, again found assur-
ances to be a strong predictor of commitment and control mutuality and

liking and also found assurances to be predictive of satisfaction. A new

finding was the association between conflict management and control mu-
tuality. Dainton and Stafford (2000), also using the 7-factor measure,
found assurances to be strongly linked to satisfaction. Research to date, as
Dainton and Stafford (2000) no t ed sh ows that assurances may hold the
most importance for sustaining a relationship. Positiveness seems to be
central as well. Openness, albeit discussed as a maintenance behavior, may
play a more equivocal role, as is discussed momentarily.

Esther-ea Len itudinabnkbetween Maintenance

Behaviorsan $ Relational characteristics?

Most studies have examined relational characteristics and maintenance be-

haviors simultaneously. A welcome exception is Canary, Semic, and
Stafford (1996) w h o assessed relational characteristics and maintenance
strategies in heterosexual married couples at three points in time at ap-
proximately 1-month intervals. They did not find maintenance behaviors
to be predictive of relational features at future times, nor did they find re-
lational features to predictive or maintenance behaviors at future times.
They found maintenance behaviors and relational characteristics to be as-
sociated with each other only when assessed concurrently. They argued the
effects of maintenance behaviors are short lived so they must be continu-
ously enacted. This seems quite plausible and comports to their contention
that maintenance behaviors are necessarily ongoing activities because rela-
tionships must constantly be maintained. This also leaves open this possi-
bility that the direction of causality runs from relational characteristics to
enactment (or perception) of maintenance behaviors.
Although they did not directly assess relational features, Guerrero, Eloy,
and Wabnik, (1993) may h ave offered the best evidence to date that mainte-
nance behaviors may affect relational outcomes. They investigated the con-
nection between the five maintenance factors at Time 1 and relationship
outcome at Time 2 (8 weeks later). Dating couples whose relationships had
remained stable or whose relationships had escalated since Time 1 reported
more positiveness, assurances, and sharing tasks at Time 1 than couples
whose relationships had ended or de-escalated. Their overall conclusion was
particular behaviors may play a facilitative role in sustaining or developing
the relationship or the lack thereof may contribute to relational demise.

lslher-ea Reciprocal Association Between Maintenance

Behavior-sand Relational Characteristics?
Although a fundamental premise, as outlined in the model presented by
Canary and Zelley (2000) is that maintenance behaviors influence rela-
tional characteristics, Stafford and Canarv (1991) speculated on the possi-

bility of the casual direction running the other way. Possibly relational
characteristics serve as antecedents to maintenance behaviors, rather than,
or in addition to, serving as outcomes. Despite this early speculation, this
possibility has been relatively neglected. Given the continued implicit in-
clusion of bidirectional&y, inquiry into relational characteristics as ante-
cedents, as well as the overall long recognized systemic nature of
communicative and relational processes, the potential chicken-and-egg
connection between maintenance behaviors and relational characteristics
deserves further attention.
Bidirectionality is implicitly theoretically evident in the inextricable
link between equity and satisfaction. According to equity theory, the
most satisfactory relationships are the most equitable ones and individ-
uals adjust their efforts (in this case maintenance behaviors) in accor-
dance to their perceived equity in the relationship (Adams, 1965;
Walster et al., 1973). Thus, operating within an equity theory frame-
work, level of perceived equity, and by definition, satisfaction, must be
considered not only as an antecedent to the use of maintenance behav-
iors, it must also be considered an outcome of those behaviors. An ex-
amination of whether equity is restored with adjustments in
maintenance behaviors is yet to be undertaken. Such an examination
would provide for a more complete test of the manner in which equity
operates in conjunction with maintenance behaviors and would be a
welcome addition to this literature.
Satisfaction has been considered both as an outcome and as an anteced-
ent of maintenance behaviors. Adhering to the viewpoint that the percep-
tions people have about their marriages influence the efforts they put forth
at maintaining them, Weigel and Ballard-Reisch (1999b) used a unique
dyadic design to explore the extent to which perceptions of marital satis-
faction, commitment, and love predicted the five maintenance behaviors.
They reported perceptions of satisfaction, as well as commitment and love
were predictive of maintenance behaviors. Specifically they found that
wives appear to engage in more positivity, openness, reassurances, use
more joint networks, and perform shared tasks when both they and their
husband report higher levels of commitment, love, and satisfaction. Also,
Dainton and Stafford (2000) f ound commitment to play a small role in
predicting assurances, networks, and conflict management in addition to
satisfaction as a predictor of assurances. However, given the minimal vari-
ance accounted for, they speculate that perhaps the direction is unidirec-
tional-from maintenance behaviors to relational characteristics. In the
Canary and Stafford (2001) investigation previously reported, they also
concluded both equity and satisfaction predict perception of partner main-
tenance behaviors. In the Canary et al. (1996) longitudinal study discussed
previously, links were not found in either direction leaving open the possi-
bility that the direction of causality may run both ways.

The model presented in Fig. 3.1 as outlined by Canary and Zelley

(2000) needs to go a bit further to capture the implications of Stafford
and program of work and implications from equity theory. If in-
dividuals do indeed adjust their level of maintenance efforts in accor-
dance with equity that in turn changes assessments of equity, (and hence
satisfaction) and maintenance behaviors must operate in a systemic fash-
ion. Given satisfaction is conceptually both an antecedent of mainte-
nance behaviors and a relational outcome and has received some support
as both an antecedent and an outcome, it is not unreasonable that other
relational characteristics may also be related to equity in a reciprocal
fashion. The question is simply, which factors play a consequential role in
this system?
Fig. 3.2 presents a revised model to capture the proposed reciprocal sys-
temic link between outcomes and maintenance behaviors and to illustrate
that the outcomes may also serve as antecedents. The model has also been
revised to include the two additional maintenance behaviors of advice and
conflict management reflected in the Stafford et al. (2000) maintenance
scale as well as relational features such as trust and love, which have been
explored as outcomes of maintenance.

what Do ~eopIe Do to Maintain Their dationships?

The thrust of this research reflects the continued endeavor to answer the
simple question: What is it that people do to ensure the continuance of
their relationships in the manner they so desire (Canary & Stafford, I994)?
Unfortunately, the question that may have an answer is not the one of what

Antecedent Factors Mamtenance Activmes

Control Mutuality +

Social Networks Lhng ~pb


Indwdual Differences

Contllct Management

Fig. 3.2 Revised Model to indicate reciprocal influence.


people do to maintain their relationships? But rather: What is it that people

think they do, or report they do, to maintain their relationships?
Maintenance behaviors should, by definition, maintain relationships
(see 1994, d iscussion of this tautology). It is noteworthy that in
summarizing findings to that time, Canary and Stafford (1994) reported
that associations between openness and relational characteristics have fre-
quently been weakly inversely related to relational characteristics, after
controlling for positivity and assurances. Since then, Stafford et al. (2000)
also reported openness to be negatively associated with satisfaction and
commitment, after controlling for positivity. In a like vein, Dainton (2000)
found openness to be a negative predictor of relational satisfaction.
Such findings naturally lead to (2000) deduction: Perhaps
self-disclosure simply is not important to sustain desired relational fea-
tures. This observation follows from Stafford and (1991) pro-
posal that openness may be reported due to the widespread and deeply
rooted cultural belief in self-disclosure as the hallmark of a successful rela-
tionship (see Parks, 1982). Weigel and Ballard-Reisch (1999b) also noted,
self-disclosure is seen in the American culture as the sine qua non of a good
relationship. They raised the possibility that men might use behaviors such
as openness to fulfill such cultural expectations.
Men may not be the only ones suspect of adhering to cultural expecta-
tions. When probed either inductively or in response to scale items on ques-
tionnaires, the cultural emphasis on self-disclosure may serve as an impetus
for a social desirability effect by both men and women. Perhaps this strong
cultural expectation is at least part of the reason openness is reported by
both women and men. Despite the overwhelming evidence that openness is
believed to operate to sustain relationships or at least reported to be believed
to sustain relationships time after time openness, as previously noted, has
not been related to positive relational characteristics. Numerous studies
have reported slight negative associations between openness and relational
features, when controlling for other maintenance behaviors.
A curvilinear effect for openness has not been tested within this pro-
gram. Yet this appears to be the logical relationship. Complete and indis-
criminate openness has been questioned for some time in the field of
interpersonal communication (see e.g., Bochner, 1982; Parks 1982). Re-
search in marital satisfaction has long considered a curvilinear relationship
between openness and satisfaction with the assumption that increases in
self-disclosure include negatively valenced talk. A curvilinear relationship
would also be in accordance with a dialectal perspective that hypothesizes
a role for both openness and closedness in relationships (see Baxter &
Montgomery, 1996, for a review) or when considering the boundaries of
privacy or secrecy (Petronio, 199 1).
Thus, two issues are embedded in the earlier discussion. One is whether in-
dividuals are reporting the behaviors they actually engage in (or perceive their
72 -is+ STAFFORD

partners engage in), or do the answers reflect socially desirable responses in

accordance with cultural stereotypes. The other is the assumption of a linear
relationships between maintenance behaviors and relational characteristics
based in the perceived and self-reported frequency of the behaviors.
Although the behavior of openness has served as the point of focus here,
similar questions could raised with all of the behaviors. Do any of these be-
haviors actually play a role in the preservation of a relationship or of rela-
tional characteristics? Or perhaps are individual self-reports reflective of a
cultural ideology of behaviors thought to maintain relationships and it is
these behaviors that then are parroted back to researchers? And if they do
play a role, is it in a linear manner based on pure frequency or at least for cer-
tain variables, should curvilinear relationships be examined? And finally,
should the focus be upon frequency at all?
Virtually every study to date considers the frequency of maintenance
behaviors (see Dainton, 1998, for an exception using a diary based meth-
odology). Yet, according to Gottman (1994), in summarizing his long-term
efforts at predicting divorce, negative behaviors may play more of a de-
structive role than positive ones do a constructive role in relationships, in-
dicating that frequency of use may not be as salient as other features such
as perceived importance or valence. Perhaps the importance of the enact-
ment of various maintenance behaviors should be explored in addition to
the frequency of enactment.


Canary and Stafford attempted to ascertain the communicative processes

that fill the space between the end of beginning a relationship and the begin-
ning of the end of the relationship. The specific behaviors of interest are
those that may play a role in sustaining relationships. They have offered sev-
eral tenets of their research (see Canary & Stafford, 1994) and proposed a
unidirectional model wherein antecedents influence maintenance behaviors
that in turn predict relational characteristics. The categories of behaviors
have been extended well beyond the five originally posed and various types
of relationships and populations have served as subjects of inquiry.
Nonetheless, several points of clarification are needed within this pro-
gram of work. The interrelationships among the characteristics and ante-
cedents, especially the role of satisfaction and (in)equity as both an
antecedent and outcome, must be clarified. Theoretically, if an equity
framework is utilized equity and satisfaction must be considered recipro-
cally related to maintenance behaviors.
Moreover, the terminology invoked should be carefully thought out. It is
argued here that strategies is not an all encompassing term and should not be
used interchangeably with the term behaviors. Strategies imply intent thus

implicitly excluding routine or nonstrategic behaviors from consideration.

Although position that strategies encompass both strategic and
nonstrategic behaviors is consistent with many other views,
position carries ecological weight (personal communication, Au-
gust 3,2OOI): “I am against using terms with a scholarly definition that does-
comport with everyday definitions . . . I believe in keeping definitions
and so intentional behaviors ARE conscious, because what ev-
eryday people would say.” In short, the term strategy likely does not hold
ecological validity as a broad definition. Although this distinction is relatively
unimportant within the halls of academe, the implications of terms take on
increasing importance as this line of study moves from theoretical to applied
Finally, at this time, strong evidence cannot be offered that these behav-
iors do indeed serve to sustain relational features across time. Obviously, it
would be naive and overly simplistic to hope to divine one set of behaviors
which serves to maintain relationships in all types of relationships in all
contexts. As Canary and Stafford (1994) pointed out, “not all relation-
ships may benefit from these strategies” (p. 19).
Canary and Stafford have not directly claimed to have strong evidence
these behaviors do indeed aid individuals in preserving or sustaining rela-
tionships in the manner they desire; they have consistently included cave-
ats. It is uncertain, if at this point in time, increasing the sheer frequency of
these five behaviors would serve to sustain desired relational features in
most romantic relationships. Nonetheless, sightings in undergraduate
texts of the five original factors as skills or competencies needed for suc-
cessful relationships are not infrequent. Even research in academic jour-
nals (e.g., Prisbell, 1995) h as referred to these behaviors as relational
competencies: “Maintaining personal relationships involves the use of five
strategies: positivity, openness, assurances, sharing tasks, and social net-
works” (p. 63).
Such global prescriptions are problematic and go beyond the claims put
forth by Canary and Stafford at this time. This program of research has
found that various behaviors may be differentially helpful pending the type
of the relationship (e.g., engaged versus married or independent verus tra-
ditional marriage), may vary with the life-stage or length or the relation-
ship, may be differentially linked to various relational characteristics, and
may not operate in a similar manner among various cultural groups. Thus,
although there is strong support of the overall linkages between equity,
maintenance behaviors, and relational characteristics, sweeping prescrip-
tions are not consistent with the extant findings.
Openness, when advocated as global maintenance behavior, may be the
most worrisome. It is difficult to imagine how sharing task activities, being
positive, sharing in each social networks, or offering assurances
might harm a relationship. However, the same cannot be said for the sim-
74 -is=+ STAFFORD

ple increase in frequency of openness. Overall, interpersonal communica-

tion and family scholars alike have retreated from prescriptions for
self-disclosure, and although the scale representing the factor openness in-
cludes items other than self-disclosure, self-disclosure seems to be the
crux of this factor labeled openness. Openness may well be virtually iso-
morphic with the construct of self-disclosure for a lay audience. Thus,
however unintended, this program of work may be not only be reflecting
the cultural myth of increased openness as healthy for relationships, it may
also be inadvertently perpetuating the myth of self-disclosure as a rela-
tional panacea. Perhaps the Stafford et al. (2000) scale that isolates
self-disclosure as a factor is a partial answer.

Notwithstanding the questions raised, several conclusions can be drawn

from this corpus of work: (a) a set of maintenance behaviors have been de-
rived using both inductive and deductive analyses to reflect the definition
of maintenance set forth; (b) these behaviors, and perceptions of them,
have been associated with equity in a theoretically meaningful manner; (c)
these behaviors are, for the most part, strongly associated with central rela-
tional characteristics, especially positivity and assurances; and (d) longitu-
dinal evidence supports the contention that these behaviors are
intertwined with relational characteristics.
Researchers are often their own best critiques and as such continue to re-
fine their theories that may in turn contribute to application. It is anticipated
this program will continue to evolve to address the concerns raised herein.

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Marianne Dainton
Elaine Zelley
La Salle University

Emily Langan
University of Texas, San Antonio

f the various relationships that people experience throughout their

lives, friendships remain the most prevalent type (Blieszner & Adams, 1992).
For example, a typical high-school student has four close friends (Weiss &
Lowenthal, 1975). Thi s number tends to increase in college, with college stu-
dents having relatively more friends than do young adults in the workforce. In
fact, a curvilinear relationship exists between age and the number of
friends identified in network, with the peak occurring during late ado-
lescence (Blieszner & Adams, 1992; Weiss & Lowenthal, 1975). Despite its
prevalence, however, friendship has received a secondary role in relationship
research, overshadowed by marriage and family relationships. Indeed, the ma-
jority of the existing literature on relationship maintenance has focused on
maintaining romantic or marital relationships (e.g., Canary & Stafford, 1992;
Dindia & Baxter, 1987) with only limited attention given to the strategies
used to preserve the voluntary, nonromantic bonds of friendship (e.g., Canary,
Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993; Messman, Canary, & Hause, 2000).

This chapter highlights the means by which friendships are maintained.

First described is the nature and functions of friendship. Next, an overview
is provided of prominent theories used to understand the maintenance of
friendships before offering conclusions and areas of future research. Sub-
sequent sections focus on sex differences in enacting friendships, cross-sex
friendships, and variations across the lifespan. Finally, specific mainte-
nance strategies identified in the research are discussed.


Definitional uncertainty plagues much of the research on friendship. For

example, friendship has been defined as nonkin, Fehr (1996),
nonromantic, Blieszner and Adams (1992), or nonprimary attachments,
Weiss (1998). Hays suggested a succinct, although strategically liberal con-
ceptualization of friendship, saying that friendship is “voluntary interde-
pendence between two persons over time, that is intended to facilitate
social-emotional goals of the participants, and may involve varying types
and degrees of companionship, intimacy, affection, and mutual assistance”
(p. 395). This definition aptly summarizes friendships and encompasses a
variety of relational participants at various stages of life.
Indeed, the variety of friendship types is a central issue in the literature.
The four variables identified by Hays (1988)-companionship, intimacy, af-
fection, and assistance-differentiate among friendship types. Berger, Weber,
Munley, and Dixon (19 77), f or example, found distinctions between acquain-
tances, friends, and close friends based on the sociability and supportiveness
of the relationship. Rose and Serafica (1986) argued for similar distinctions;
they found that casual friends, close friends, and best friends varied in the ex-
tent to which the partners perceived the relationship as self-maintaining and
based on affection, as well as the extent to which a reduction in contact af-
fected these three relational types. Likewise, Wright (1984) suggested that
such distinctions may be a function of whether the friendship is based on ex-
change needs (i.e., maintained based on mutual rewards) or communal needs
(i.e., concern for the welfare; appreciation of the unique and
irreplaceable qualities). Casual friends and acquaintances probably function
more on an exchange basis, whereas close and best friends most likely function
more on a communal basis. In short, varying types of friendships exist, which
implies that likely distinctions occur in the ways that maintenance is achieved
in these differing relational forms.
Despite variations in friendship types, however, we find several areas of
commonality across friendships. Fehr (2000) argued that four factors must
exist for a friendship to emerge and develop. Specifically, friendship devel-
opment requires environmental factors (e.g., initial contact), individual
factors (e.g., attraction, skills), situational factors (e.g., anticipation of fu-

ture interaction), and dyadic factors (e.g., similarity and self-disclosure).

Further, Rawlins suggested that friendships are distinguished from other
relational types by their voluntary involvement; friends are chosen, not in-
herited or otherwise assigned. Unlike other relational types, friends often
reactivate the relationship after experiencing periods of dormancy
(Rawlins, 1994). Moreover, Wright (1998) argued, “friendship carries
with it much less requiredness and urgency than do involvements in more
clearly regulated personal and social relationships” (p. 57). That is, friend-
ship transcends social and legal constraints, allowing the partners more
freedom to cocreate a unique relationship. Because friendships cannot rely
on structural forces for survival, relational maintenance must be an active
enterprise, even if this means simply evoking memories of the friendship as
a means of maintaining the relationship during aforementioned latent peri-
ods (Rawlins, 1994). Without social boundaries and increased vulnerabil-
ity to dissolution, friends are responsible for defining, refining, and
maintaining the parameters of their relationship.
Finally, friendship boundaries are more fluid and defy discrete classifi-
cation. Friends frequently play overlapping roles. For example, Rawlins
(1994) distinguished between friendships for sake as com-
pared to friendships that complement other relationships, such as mar-
riage or work relationships. The focus of the present chapter concerns the
former, although researching the complex ways in which relationships are
maintained with partners who serve multiple roles in our lives should be
undertaken. Next, presented are four theoretical frameworks commonly
used in the study of friendship maintenance.


Although research of friendship is not as plentiful as research of other rela-

tionship types (e.g., marriage, dating, kin relationships), four theoretical
approaches to relationship maintenance have been applied successfully to
the study of friends. Accordingly, the following section of this chapter fo-
cuses on how equity theory, a relational dialectics perspective, a social
skills approach, and an attachment theory framework have been instru-
mental in guiding current knowledge of friendship maintenance.

Equity Theory as App le d to Friendship Maintenance

Perhaps the most common theoretical approach used to explain friendship

maintenance, equity theory posits that a balance of rewards and costs is
necessary to continue a close relationship over time (for reviews, see Ca-
nary & Zelley, 2000). Based on the principle of distributive justice,
Deutsch (1985) argued that individuals should receive relational rewards

equivalent to their own relational contributions. Accordingly, equitable re-

lationships are those in which both partners perceive that their ratios of
outcomes dived by inputs are equal. The ratio of outcomes to inputs can
then be used to predict relational satisfaction, as well as the degree to
which friendships will be favorably maintained. For example, when both
friends believe that they both get out of the relationship (outcomes) as
much as what they each put into the relationship (inputs), then the friend-
ship is termed equitable. Also, one person might make more efforts but re-
ceive greater rewards relative to his or her friend, in which case the
friendship remains equitable. However, if Friend A puts forth more effort
into the friendship than does Friend B, and receives the same outcomes
from the relationship, it can be said the Friend A is underbenefited because
the ratio of outcome/inputs exceeds Friend Continuing with this ex-
ample, Friend B is receiving more rewards but doing less as compared to
Friend A; as a result, Friend B is overbenefited because Friend out-
come/input ratio is less than Friend outcome/input ratio.
Predictably, relational partners become distressed when either type of
perceived inequity persists over time and report higher satisfaction when
involved in equitable relationships (Canary & Stafford, 1994). Equity
theory suggests, therefore, that not only must individuals be active in the
maintenance of their friendships, they are also more motivated to main-
tain equitable as opposed to inequitable relationships (Canary &
Stafford, 1994).
A number of studies have used this understanding of equity to explore
the maintenance of various types of friendships. In a study of motivations
for maintaining cross-sex, platonic friendships, for example, Messman et
al. (2000) noted that participants in equitable friendships reported a
greater number of positive and proactive maintenance behaviors when
compared with participants reporting on either overbenefited or
underbenefited friendships.
Coinciding with the marginalized nature of friendship in terms of re-
search, however, a large majority of friendship studies compare friendships
to other relationship types (e.g., romantic relationships). In their compari-
son of friends, family, and romantic relationships, for example, Canary et
al. (1993) identified 10 strategies used by partners. Analyses revealed that
friends reported significantly fewer uses of positivity, openness, and assur-
ances when compared with romantic partners. Friends also reported using
significantly fewer assurances; shared tasks; and (c) cards/letters/calls
when compared to respondents describing the maintenance of family rela-
tionships. Likewise, (1997) study of long-distance relationships
found that e-mail messages contained fewer assurances but more
references to joint activities than did romantic email messages.
Importantly, equity theory predicts friendship maintenance across the
lifespan. For example, Pataki, Shapiro, and Clark (1994) compared first

and third graders and found that both groups divided shared tasks more
equally among friends than with acquaintances. Significantly, third-grade
friendship pairs were also more likely to distribute rewards equitably.
Buunk and Prins (1998) examined the effect of friendship inequity on
loneliness and found that college students in underbenefited and
overbenefited friendships felt significantly more lonely than participants
who reported providing and receiving equitable amounts of help. Equity
also appears salient in older and elderly adult friendships. For example,
Roberto and Scott (1986) f ound that individuals in equitable friendships
perceived significantly fewer trouble in their friendships regarding aspects
of helping, emotional impact, and the relationship overall. Clearly, re-
search demonstrates the importance of perceived equity in the mainte-
nance of friendship across the lifespan and in different types of friendships
(e.g., long distance, cross-sex).

A Dialectical Look at Friendship Maintenance

Dialectical theories provide the second major theoretical approach to un-
derstanding the maintenance of friendships. A dialectical approach pre-
supposes that change, opposing tendencies, and instability characterize all
social relationships (see Baxter & Montgomery, 1996; Montgomery, 1993;
Rawlins, 1989, 1994). U n 1-k1 e 1inear or causal models of relationship devel-
opment and maintenance (e.g., equity theory) wherein relational partners
are thought to seek a specified state of satisfaction or level of interaction, a
dialectical approach assumes that partners experience patterns of redun-
dancy while spiraling between opposing, yet interdependent tendencies
(Canary & Zelley, 2000). Th us, relational partners continuously realize and
react to conflicting yet interdependent influences; in brief, partners are
constantly being pulled together and simultaneously being pushed apart
(Montgomery, 1993).
Stated differently, a dialectical approach to relationship maintenance
indicates that mutually negating, opposing tendencies are abundant within
personal relationships such that relational partners seek autonomy and
connection, openness and closedness (Baxter, 1990). Specifically, Baxter
and Montgomery (1996, also see Rawlins, 1989) identified four key as-
sumptions of a relational dialectics perspective: (a) contradiction, (b)
change, (c) praxis, and (d) totality. Contradiction implies opposing, mutu-
ally negating, yet interdependent tendencies wherein one cannot experi-
ence one tendency, or pole, without understanding the presence of its
counterpart, for example, needing both expression and privacy in close re-
lationships (Baxter, 1990). With regard to change, because it is impossible
to address these interdependent yet mutually negating tendencies simulta-
neously, tension and change are always present. Praxis implies that individ-

uals both create and react to their social worlds; unlike passive bystanders,
intimates have choices and make decisions while also responding to part-
choices and decisions. Last, totality represents the understanding
that “social phenomena are defined by the relations among their character-
istics, not by the characteristics themselves” (Montgomery, 1993, p. 206).
Consequently, Montgomery argued that even the term relational mainte-
nance inaccurately portrays relationships as static entities; instead, Mont-
gomery and other dialecticians (e.g., Rawlins, 1994) observed that
relationships are sustained.
Extending a dialectical view of friendship, Rawlins (e.g., 1989, 1992,
1994) has investigated how friends sustain their relationships amid
ever-present and ever-changing tensions. Looking across stages of young
adult friendship in particular, Rawlins (1989) posited that two broad ana-
lytical classes of dialectic tensions exist: (a) contextual dialectics and (b)
interactional dialectics. First, Rawlins stated that two contextual dialectics
emerge based on how friendship is defined within American culture: Pub-
lic-private and Ideal-Real. Because public roles constrain friendships, ten-
sion arises between the private negotiation of a close, voluntary
relationship and the public display of the relationship within the confines
of social appropriateness (Rawlins, 1989). This “double agency” of friend-
ship is readily visible in cross-sex friendships where both friendship part-
ners are married to others (Rawlins, 1982, 1989). Although definition of
and closeness with the friendship is private, the friendship pair also must
operate within culturally bound social conventions (Rawlins, 1989).
Stated differently, some may view adult cross-sex friendships with suspi-
cion, whereas no suspicion would likely arise if the same “friendship” were
presented as a relationship between colleagues. The Ideal-Real dialectic
refers to the discrepancies between what is desired from a friend and the
daily realities of sustaining a voluntary relationship that must compete
with more formal social ties. With regard to interactional dialectics,
Rawlins (1989) offered f our specific tensions thought to characterize
young friendships: Independence-Dependence, Affection-Instru-
mentality, Judgment-Acceptance, and Expressiveness-Protectiveness
(Rawlins, 1989, 1992).
Baxter et al. (1997) identified similar tensions in young adult friend-
ships within the context of a Loyalty-Disloyalty dialectic. The two most
frequently reported tensions with regard to conflicting loyalties within
friendships were general time dilemmas and specific time demands. More
specifically, perceived obligations (general) as well as previously made
commitments (specific) appeared to constrain respondents, thereby creat-
ing a dilemma between wanting to be independent and feeling obligated to
spend time with friends.
In a similar vein, Rawlins (1994) a1so examined friendship dialectics
within middle adulthood (30 to 40 years old). One central dialectic that

encompasses both the Independence-Dependence and the Public-Pri-

vate tensions emphasized in young adult friendships is the notion of “be-
ing there” and “growing apart.” Specifically, descriptions of
their middle-adult friendship experiences revealed that “friendship dis-
continuities are shaped by other social circumstances, like marital and
family status, occupation, emerging interests, and friendship circles” (p.
285). Accordingly, middle-adult friendships appear to be strained by the
desire to have friends who are there for each other while faced with life
demands that prevent such closeness.
(1989, 1994) and (e.g., Baxter et al., 1997; Wise-
man, 1986) research gives some insight into how friendship mainte-
nance is neither steady nor static. Instead, a dialectical view of
friendship suggests that numerous interdependent contradictions tug at
partners throughout the lifespan. However, dialectics in
friendships have not been investigated. Instead, most dialectical re-
search involves young and middle adults.

A social skills A ppr-oath to Maintaining Friendship

Turning to the third major theoretical approach to friendships, Burleson

and Samter (1994) proposed a social skills similarity model to understand
friendship maintenance. They argued that possessing the same communi-
cation skill level as friend has a greater impact on relational satisfac-
tion than does the absolute level of skill sophistication. Stated
differently, it is not the sophistication level of communication skills itself
that predicts relationship satisfaction; rather, it appears more important
that two friends demonstrate similar degrees of skill (or lack of skill). Un-
like an equity approach to maintenance, a social skills perspective focuses
on nonstrategic routines whereby “relationship maintenance occurs when-
ever persons enact behaviors that service the particular tasks or functions
defining a particular relationship” (Burleson & Samter, 1994, p. 66). Fur-
thermore, because individuals vary in their skillfulness in handling relation-
ship tasks, the relationships themselves will be more or less maintained.
Using close friendships as an example, Burleson and Samter (1994) held
that a primary function of friendship is to give and receive social support.
According to the skills similarity model, friendships would be maintained
based on similar skill levels of support seeking and receiving. In other
words, similarity of social skills should influence the extent to which the
friendship is rewarding. Because relationships develop and change over
time, expectations also change and thereby differentiate close friends from
acquaintance friends (Burleson & Samter, 1994). Burleson and Samter
posited that only when both partners fulfill the expectations of a particular
friendship does the friendship remain intact for further development.

Empirical studies have demonstrated support for this model; however,

a meager amount of research has investigated the social skills similarity
model and friendships. For example, Burleson and Samter (1996) found
that among college students, not only were friendship pairs similar with
regard to their skillfulness with affective expression and the management
of emotional states but also, pairs of highly skilled friends were no more
satisfied with the relationship than were friendship pairs in which both
partners were equally unskilled. Burleson (1994) reported similar results
in a study of third graders, noting that children were more attracted to
peers with similar social skills as their own, and that pairs of friends
showed similar skills in the expression and management of emotional
states. Likewise, Burleson and Samter (1994) found that college coeds
“were both attracted to and maintained reciprocated friendships with
those having levels of social skills similar to their own” (p. 83). More pre-
cisely, Burleson and Samter found significant effects due to similarity in
comforting and conflict management. The skills similarity approach to
relational maintenance has also found support within marital relation-
ships (e.g., Burleson & Denton, 1992).

/utachmentThecx-ynd rriendshp
A final theoretical perspective is attachment theory. Initially framed
within the infant-caregiver relationship (Bowlby, 1973, 1982), attach-
ment theory (AT) posits that the bonds developed between a child and the
primary caregiver provide a context from which all other close relation-
ships must be understood (Collins & Read, 1990). Specifically, AT predicts
that sense of security depends on the initial infant-caregiver bond
whereby security and stimulus reduction are provided through consistent,
comforting responses from the caregiver (attachment figure) during an in-
times of need or distress, particularly as the infant develops and ex-
plores (Armstrong & Roth, 1989).
The degree to which young children recognize and react to (in)consistent
comfort from their attachment figure creates the foundation for under-
standing three primary attachment styles: secure, anxious or ambivalent,
and avoidant (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978; Bowlby, 1973,
1982). Whereas secure infants have confidence in their attachment
ability to comfort or soothe based on the consistent support
when needed, avoidant children have had limited exposure to comfort from
the caregiver when distressed; subsequently, avoidant children display little
desire to achieve closeness and do not seek comfort. In between these two
styles, anxious or ambivalent infants perceive their caregivers to be unreli-
able sources of support and, therefore, are easily upset, are difficult to
soothe, and demonstrate high degrees of separation anxiety.

Somewhat differently, Bartholomew and Horowitz (199 1) developed a

model to define attachment styles based on view of self versus
view of others. In their model, four distinct styles emerge: secure (positive
view of self and others), preoccupied (negative view of self; positive view of
others), dismissive (positive view of self; negative view of others), and
fearful avoidant (negative view of self and others) attachments. Despite
classification differences, both views of attachment styles suggest that the
initial bonding has a long-lasting influence on the atti-
tudes and behaviors of individuals within close relationships, including
friendships. For example, AT has also been used to explain adult relation-
ships in terms of relationship attitudes, self-disclosure, and openness (e.g.,
Collins & Read, 1990); intimacy (Guerrero, 1996); conflict styles (Levy &
Davis, 1988; Pistole, 1989); competitiveness (Zelley, 2001); and social
support (Simpson, Rholes, & Nelligan, 1992).
Although attachment clearly applies to the infant-caregiver relation-
ship, research has investigated the influence of attachment style on other
types of close relationships, including friendships. Children need exten-
sive social and emotional skills to sustain friendships, and attach-
ment to a parent or primary caregiver influences initiation and
maintenance of friendships (Shulman, Elicker, & Sroufe,
1994; Wright, 1984).
For example, observational analysis has revealed that attachment style
differences surfaced along two primary dimensions that appear to influ-
ence the maintenance of friendship: affective tone and de-
gree of closeness between friendship pairs, and nature of tasks friends
jointly pursue (Shulman et al., 1994). Importantly, secure children ap-
peared to display more positive affect as well as engaged in more joint, cre-
ative play than those with insecure attachment styles. Mikulincer and
(2001) th ree-part study of attachment style and affiliation
among best friendships revealed that anxious or ambivalent
participants overemphasized attachment goals (e.g., security and manage-
ment of distress), whereas avoidant participants minimized attachment
goals. Further, Mikulincer and Selinger noted that anxious-ambivalent re-
spondents reported greater difficulty in maintaining the friendship than ei-
ther secure or avoidant participants. Among preschool children, Kerns
(1994) found that attachment pairing significantly predicts friendship
quality with secure-secure pairs having more positive and coordinated in-
teractions than secure-insecure friendship pairs.
Attachment style, at least to some degree, influences the development
and maintenance of childhood and young adult friendships. AT has not
been used widely to address individual differences in adult friendships,
perhaps because attachment is largely a developmental theory, and, as dis-
cussed earlier friendship is not as heavily researched as romantic and kin
relationship. However, a number of findings have shown attachment styles

influence adult relationships such as marriage (e.g., Davila & Bradbury,

2001). It is quite likely that attachment style differences influence the
maintenance of middle and older adult friendships.
Having reviewed theoretical viewpoints common to friendship re-
search, attention is now turned to the ways in which individuals maintain
their friendships over time and distance.


Various definitions of maintenance imply alternative understandings of

how friendships are sustained. For example, Dindia and Canary (1993) ar-
gued that one definition of maintenance is to keep a relationship in exis-
tence. This definition of maintenance as relationship existence
corresponds with both (1988) and (1984) conceptualiza-
tions of maintenance in their studies of friendship. Other researchers focus
on maintenance as keeping the relationship in a specified state or condition
(e.g., Fehr, 1999; Messman et al., 2000). Finally, some scholars have fo-
cused on maintaining satisfactory friendships (e.g., Burleson & Samter,
1996; Cole & Bradac, 1996; Jones, 199 1).
Despite variations in how maintenance is explicitly conceived, a tenta-
tive consensus exists regarding how relational maintenance might be
achieved in friendships. Thus far, four strategies have consistently
emerged as in the friendship maintenance literature: time together, open-
ness, social support, and avoidance.
First, several scholars have highlighted the importance of time to-
gether as a maintenance strategy (e.g., Canary et al., 1993; Fehr, 2000;
Hays, 1984; Johnson, 2000; Messman et al., 2000; Rawlins, 1992; Rose,
1985). This research has emphasized the need for shared activity and on-
going interaction in order to sustain the relationship. Indeed, absence of
interaction is consistently cited as a basis for termination in friendships
(Hays, 1988; Rawlins, 1994; Rose, 1985). Interestingly, Rawlins found
that middle-adult friendships could be sustained without frequent con-
tact as long as friends were perceived as “being there” or “still there” for
each other. However, he concluded that visitation and interpersonal con-
tact afford the greatest chances for sustaining friendship, which suggests
that spending time together serves as a central means by which friend-
ships are maintained.
A second consistent maintenance strategy identified in the literature is
openness (e.g., Ayres, 1983; Canary et al., 1993; Fehr, 2000; Hays, 1984;
Johnson, 2000; Messman et al., 2000; Rose, 1985). In short, self-disclosure
and discussions about life events seem central to the maintenance of friend-
ships, and the use of openness as a maintenance strategy is important for ca-
sual, close, and best friendships. Indeed, Hays (1984) found that openness
predicted friendship intensity 3 months later for all types of friends.

Although it is important for friends to talk about their own lives, re-
search also suggests that the provision of social support (i.e., being
other-oriented) offers a central means by which friendships are maintained
(Barbee, Gulley, & C unningham, 1990; Burleson & Samter, 1994; Canary
et al., 1993; Fehr, 2000; Hays, 1984; Messman et al., 2000; Nardi &
Sherrod, 1994). Scholars have found that comforting, giving advice, and
providing ego support are primary functions of friendships.
The final strategy identified consistently in the literature is avoidance
(e.g., Ayres, 1983; Canary et al., 1993; Messman et al., 2000; Nix, 1999).
Although this strategy may be perceived as a less than ideal means to main-
tain relationships, research supports that avoiding particular topics or peo-
ple might help to sustain relationships. Such a perspective is consistent
with a dialectical perspective on maintenance (discussed previously),
where time together might be balanced by time apart, and openness bal-
anced by closedness (see Baxter, 1994).
Although these four strategies appear consistently throughout the litera-
ture, several other strategies have emerged that might also function to sus-
tain friendships. For example, several studies have noted that antisocial
strategies can be used to maintain friendships (e.g., Canary et al., 1993; Nix,
1999), whereas others have explicitly identified affection as a maintenance
strategy (e.g., Hays, 1984; Rose, 1985). 0 ne explanation for the inconsis-
tent reporting of this latter strategy could stem from the assumption that
friendships are affectionate simply by definition (Hays, 1988); therefore, it
might appear redundant to list this as a maintenance strategy. Additionally,
the inconsistent reporting of both strategies in the literature might be be-
cause such strategies are used less frequently to maintain friendships. Con-
versely, social desirability effects might explain why these strategies appear
less frequently. Individuals responding to surveys might be unwilling to ac-
knowledge their use of antisocial strategies with someone they presumably
hold dear. On the other end of the spectrum, friends might not be willing to
acknowledge the role of overt affection in their relationships due to social
norms against displays of affection for same-sex relationships (Fehr, 1996).
Several other maintenance strategies should be noted. Burleson and
Samter (1994) argued that conflict management was a vital social skill in
the maintenance of friendships. Canary et al. (1993) found that friends re-
ported using humor, sharing tasks, social networks, assurances, positivity,
and cards/letter/calls. In partial support for these categories, Messman et
al. (2000) a1so f ound the reported use of positivity as a means for maintain-
ing cross-sex friendships, and Johnson (2000) found the use of telephone
calls and e-mail as a means for maintaining long-distance friendships. Fu-
ture research should strive to ascertain the extent to which these addi-
tional strategies might be used to maintain friendships, as well as the
extent to which such strategies foster desired relational characteristics
such as satisfaction and commitment.


One frequently studied topic in the friendship literature is sex differences

in the enactment of friendships. Despite popular stereotypes of large dif-
ferences in the ways that men and women maintain relationships, research
results are far from consistent. This section highlights some of the research
into sex differences and offers conclusions regarding what is known and
where it might go from here.
First, a number of studies have suggested that female friendships are
emotionally closer than male friendships. Buhrke and Fuqua (1987) found
that female friendships have more contact under stress, are closer, and are
more satisfactory to the friends than are male friendships. Similarly, Hays
(1988; Hays & Oxley, 1986) h as f ound that female friends are perceived as
more supportive than are male friends. Indeed, both female and male
friends reported being less lonely when they spend time with female
friends (Wheeler, Reis, & Nezlek, 1983). In short, friendships that involve
at least one woman were more satisfying than male-male friendships
(Elkins & Peterson, 1993), primarily because of the provision of support
and the openness associated with them.
Regarding the maintenance of friendships, Johnson (1999) did not con-
duct a direct comparison, but she found that female-female student
friendships were more likely to describe maintenance as being achieved by
phone calls and discussion of life events and romantic interests, whereas
male-male student friendships described discussion of romantic interests,
talking about sports, and going to a bar or drinking as the most frequent
ways of maintaining their relationships. In summarizing sex differences in
friendships, Fehr (1996) argued that female friends prefer talking, and
male friends prefer engaging in activities. This was partially supported by
(1999) research. Fehr (1996) also suggested that when women
talk they discuss personal and relational matters, whereas men talk about
impersonal matters such as sports and work, which is also partially consis-
tent with the results of (1999) study.
Conversely, however, Barbee et al. (1990) found that both male and fe-
male friends preferred talking to a same-sex friend than an opposite sex
friend, diminishing the proposed superiority of female friendship. Further,
Derlega, Barbee, and Winstead (1994) f ound that male friends were more
often sought as a source of support for achievement-related stressors.
Finally, Jones (1991) f ound that although male friends self-disclosed less
than do female friends, self-disclosure remained a significant indicator of
male friendship satisfaction.
Complicating these inconsistencies, several studies have found no sig-
nificant differences in the maintenance of friendships (Ayres, 1983; Cole
& Bradac, 1996; Rose & Serafica, 1986). Further, marital status likely in-

teracts with sex when looking at friendship maintenance. For example,

Tschann (1988) f ound that married men disclose less than do unmarried
men, married women, and unmarried women. In short, the picture of sex
differences in the maintenance of friendships is opaque at best.
Methodological differences may contribute to this muddled view. Derlega
et al. (1994) proposed that sex differences might be a function of the
self-report methods used to study friendships. In a series of laboratory studies,
these authors found few sex differences in friendship enactment. Accordingly,
it may be that people respond in stereotypical ways when responding to a sur-
vey but might not exhibit stereotypical behavior when observed.
Moreover, although some sex differences might exist in the mainte-
nance of friendships, similarities likely outweigh any differences (Wright,
1998). Wright also proposed that views of what constitutes affec-
tionate and communal exchanges might be skewed toward feminine ideals
(e.g., a weekend fishing trip can also be seen as communal). Accordingly,
sex differences in such activities might not be experienced as such by rela-
tional participants. Finally, as with other relational types, gender probably
plays a larger role in predicting maintenance enactment than does sex (e.g.,
Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000). That is, gender (i.e., masculine,
feminine, or androgynous) might influence friendship behavior more than
does biological sex (i.e., male or female).


Although sex differences per se may not have a clear impact on the ways
that relationships are maintained, clear differences emerge in the enact-
ment of same-sex and cross-sex friendships. For heterosexual individuals,
maintaining a cross-sex friendship involves the affection, companionship,
intimacy, and assistance found in same-sex relationships, but it also in-
volves downgrading sexuality (Monsour, 1992, 1996). Indeed, one of the
fundamental challenges of cross-sex friendships is confronting the expec-
tation that such relationships should ultimately lead to romantic or sexual
relationships (Monsour, 1996). Yet, friendships themselves are typically
exemplified by a lack of sexual intimacy (Gaines et al., 1998). Such is the
paradox of cross-sex friendships.
Werking (1997) argued that opposite-sex friendships (as compared to ro-
mantic involvements) can be characterized in four ways: They involve attrac-
tion of the spirit, not the body; they are more egalitarian than romantic
relationships; they do not entail exclusivity, as do romantic relationships; and
they are an end in themselves, not a means to an end. Buhrke and Fuquo
(1987) found that both men and women have an average of three close oppo-
site-sex friends, although, single women and married men and women tend to
prefer same-sex friendships to opposite-sex friendships (Rose, 1985).

Women and men appear to perceive cross-sex friendships differently.

For example, Rose (I 985) f ound that women perceive cross-sex friend-
ships as providing less acceptance than do men in cross-sex friendships.
Men, on the other hand, perceive cross-sex friendships as closer than do
their female friends (Buhrke & Fuqua, 1987). Jones (199 1) found that al-
though women reported greater trust in their male friends, a more com-
munal orientation, and greater satisfaction, such differences were not
apparent when considering the actual functioning of cross-sex friendships.
Finally, regarding sex differences in the communication in cross-sex friend-
ships, Egland, Spitzberg, and Zormeier (1996) found that women more of-
ten reported flirting in cross-sex friendships than did men. Interestingly,
the avoidance of flirting was identified by Messman et al. (2000) as one
means for maintaining platonic cross-sex friendships.
When comparing the composition of the dyad (i.e., same-sex and
cross-sex friends), some clear differences emerge. Rose (1985) reported
that individuals in opposite-sex relationships more frequently reported
few, if any, maintenance efforts and the use of affection as maintenance
than did individuals in same-sex friendships. She found that same-sex
friendships used rnore acceptance, effort, communication, and common
interests as maintenance activities compared to cross-sex friend-
ships. Conversely, Winstead, Derlega, Lewis, Sanchez-Hucles, and Clarke
(1992) found that emotion-based talk occurred most frequently in
cross-sex friendships and least frequently in female-female friendships,
with the frequency of male-male emotion-based talk falling in between
that of the other two friendship compositions. This clearly is against ste-
reotypes of friendships.
Despite these differences, Monsour (1992) found similarity in the
meaning of intimacy for cross-sex and same-sex friends, although (predict-
ably) sexual contact was viewed as appropriate for cross-sex friends and
--L -- --- ----f:- - 1- l?-
not same-sex rrienus. ror _----example,
-- -l- -lLl--
alrnougn.-l- e-l-L:mm-lmm
relarlvely --.--
uncommon --- - I?-
ror -l- Dow

sexes, several scholars have found that men are somewhat more motivated
by sexual attraction in their pursuit of cross-sex friendships than are
women (Buss, 1994; Rose, 1985).
Indeed, it appears that one of the major challenges in cross-sex friend-
ships is dealing with sexuality. Some cross-sex friendships fail this challenge,
as both men and women report having had sex with cross-sex, ostensibly pla-
tonic friends (Buhrke & Fuqua, 1987). Much of the research on cross-sex
friendship suggests that sexual activity between opposite sex friends is a rel-
atively infrequent occurrence, however (Messman et al., 2000). For exam-
ple, according to Fuiman, Yarab, and Sensibaugh (1997), only one in seven
respondents noted having engaged in sexual activity with a friend of the op-
posite sex. On the other hand, Afifi and Faulkner (2000) found that one half
of participants (5 1%) had h ad sex with at least one platonic friend, and one
third (34%) of those who had engaged in sex reported having had sex with a

friend on more than one occasion. The difference in these proportions is

likely due to measurement; Afifi and Faulkner asked participants to report
on the frequency of sexual activity with all cross-sex friendships, whereas
other researchers typically ask participants to report on the frequency of sex
with only one cross-sex friend. Moreover, the varying definitions of platonic
friends could influence the reports of sexual behavior between friends. For
example, Messman et al. (2000) defined platonic as “non-sexual involve-
ment” (p. 73) thereby eliminating any cross-sex friendships in which there
had been any physical involvement. Conversely, Afifi and Faulkner (2000)
defined platonic friendship as a cross-sex relationship in which the partici-
pants were not dating and “had no intentions of dating” (p. 2 11). This more
liberal definition may explain the large proportion of cross-sex friends who
had reportedly engaged in sex with a friend on at least one occasion.
A discussion of the role of sexual activity in cross-sex friendships relies
on the presumption that the friends are heterosexual. Nardi and Sherrod
(1994) argued that when focusing on the friendships of gay men and les-
bian women, same-sex friendships are also challenged by the role of sexual
activity. Yet, friendships in general are likely to play an even greater role in
the lives of gay men and lesbians than in heterosexual individuals, as friend-
ships often substitute for family in the gay and lesbian population. Nardi
and Sherrod found that gay men were more likely than lesbian women to
have had sex with casual and close friends, but not with best friends. Les-
bians were more likely to say their best friend was a former lover, whereas
gay men were more likely to say their best friend was their current lover
(for more about the maintenance of gay and lesbian relationships, see
Haas, chap. 10, this volume).
In sum, it appears as though sexual activity does play at least a modest
role in adult friendships for both heterosexual and homosexual individuals.
However, it is important to emphasize that a vast majority of heterosexual
cross-sex friendships lack sexual intimacy. Further, and discussed next,
friendship composition preferences and appropriateness change through-
out the lifespan; such changes in preference as well as social appropriate-
ness may influence the degree to which sexuality is or is not emphasized
between friends.


How friendships are enacted changes over the lifespan (e.g., Matthews,
1986; Patterson et al., 1993; Rawlins, 1992). If the nature of friendships
changes as people age then it is important to highlight how the means to
maintain friendships might also vary over time. The next section highlights
variations in how friendships are sustained in four periods: childhood, ado-
lescence and young adulthood, adulthood, and older adulthood.

It is inappropriate to collapse all childhood friendships into one category
because friendships themselves vary a great deal throughout the lifespan.
Still, as a whole, children view friends as playmates, whereas individuals in
other developmental stages view friends as confidants (Burleson & Samter,
1994). In the following paragraphs several views are presented that distin-
guish friendship during childhood from friendship occurring in other de-
velopmental stages.
For instance, Burleson (1994) o b served that children count as friends
virtually all people with whom they come in frequent contact, engage in
mutual activities, and share material resources such as toys. In other
words, children view friendship as consistent with repeated contact and
mutual interest in playthings and pastimes. Similarly, Gottman and
Mettetal(l986) f ound that early childhood peer relations focus on coordi-
nated interaction. Even more precisely, Rawlins (1992) categorized the
features of childhood friendship into three groupings based on age range
and behavior. For example, he grouped the friendships of 3 to 7 year olds as
momentary physical playmates, whereas the friendships of 6 to 9 year olds
are characterized by activity and opportunity. The friendships of 8 to 12
year olds are characterized by equality and reciprocity. These distinctions
coincide with the literature reviewed previously (e.g., Burleson, 1994;
Gottman & Mettetal, 1986).
In each of the above descriptions, young friendships appear as
rather simple and lacking in sophistication. In fact, Rawlins (1992) sug-
gested that friendships often end over quarrels and negative ex-
changes because young children lack the ability either to repair the damage
or to imagine the friendship enduring beyond the conflict. Conversely,
other researchers have suggested that friendships are more highly
developed than they appear. For example, Whaley and Rubenstein (1994)
argued that toddlers are quite capable of complex and committed friend-
ships and that these young children worked at sustaining their relation-
ships through rituals and routines. Similarly, Howes, Droege, and
Matheson (1994) found that children in long-term friendships demon-
strated more efficient communication. The children in Howes et study
extended and clarified each behaviors; as a result, they had little
need for negotiation or conflict.
As children age, affective tone and degree of closeness between the chil-
dren, as well as the nature of the tasks that they pursue suggests friendship
closeness (Shulman, Elicker, & Sroufe, 1994). Moreover, younger children
prefer same-sex partners, but by eighth-grade cross-sex preferences
emerge, with boys preferred for telling jokes and stories, and girls pre-
ferred for giving advice and lifting spirits (Clark, 1994).

Much of the research into friendships follows strong theoreti-

cal components. Although these theories were discussed earlier, some of
the results of this research warrant additional discussion. First, Shulman et
al. (1994) f ound that preadolescents with a secure attachment style are
more competent at establishing and maintaining close friendships,
whereas preadolescents with anxious attachment styles had difficulty
making and keeping friends. Second, using a cognitive complexity ap-
proach, Burleson (1986) f ound that children lacking appropriate social
skills are more likely to be rejected by their peers than were children who
are more skilled. More importantly, Burleson (1994) found that similarity
in social skills was a better predictor of friendship than were objective lev-
els of such skills.

Ad&scence and voungAdulthood

The transition from childhood to adulthood brings with it a shift in notions
of friendship. Tesch (1983) suggested that friendships during these years
are defined by intimate disclosures and expectations for support. Like-
wise, Rawlins (1992) posited that mutuality and understanding constitute
the sine qua non of adolescent and young adult friendships. He argued that
this is a period of articulating identity and learning to develop inti-
macy, and friends provide the major resource for accomplishing these
goals. In fact, adolescence and young adulthood represents a time of high
contact with friends (Verbrugge, 1983).
Much of the research on friendship maintenance has focused on adoles-
cence and young adulthood. Not surprisingly, the four main maintenance
strategies described earlier in this chapter (time together, openness, sup-
port, and avoidance) clearly align with maintaining the types of friendships
most often experienced by individuals in this age group. That is, because
young people experience high expectations for intimate communication,
social support, and shared experiences (Rawlins, 1992), it is not a surprise
that time together, openness, support, and even avoidance have been iden-
tified in the literature. All of these strategies can assist with the develop-
mental goals of this period.
Young adult friendships encounter challenges, however. Rawlins
(1992) noted that this timeframe is associated with competition be-
tween friends, as well as competition between friends and their romantic
partners. For example, Nix (1999) f ocused on the ways that individuals
maintain friendships when the other friend is involved with a romantic
partner. He found that romantic involvements challenge existing friend-
ships, and that most friends actively seek to maintain the friendship bond
despite this challenge.

The young adult timeframe is also associated with the complexities of

transitioning to and away from college (Paul & Kelleher, 1995; Rawlins,
1992). Because of such transitions, Johnson (1999, 2000) has initiated a
series of studies focusing on the maintenance of long-distance friendships.
She has found that, like romantic relationships, long-distance friendships
(LDFs) and geographically close friendships (GCFs) did not vary in the ex-
tent to which they reported closeness, satisfaction, or the expectation that
the relationship would continue (for a discussion of long-distance romantic
relationships, see Aylor, chap. 6, this volume). However, she did find varia-
tions in the types of routine and strategic maintenance behaviors that indi-
viduals utilized in LDFs and GCFs.
Finally, Burleson and Samter (1996) focused on the maintenance of
young adult friendships. They found that similarity in comforting and con-
flict management skills was important in friendships among young adults,
whereas similarity in ego support and persuasion were less important.

The friendships of middle adulthood, defined by Rawlins (1992) as matu-
rity to middle age (30 to 6.5 years old), are less frequently studied than
those of the other age groups. However, several key areas of concern asso-
ciated with relational maintenance can be identified. First, Rawlins (1992)
argued that, for this age group, friendships can most clearly be distin-
guished as either communal (i.e., emotionally supportive) or agentic (e.g.,
socially facilitative, activity oriented). Many adult friendships are those of
convenience, meaning that friendships are the byproducts of
other roles such as co-workers, neighbors, or kin. This reliance on agentic
friendships throughout middle adulthood most likely results due to the
time constraints adults face in the wake of family and work pressures.
Maintaining friendships becomes particularly problematic during adult-
hood as dating and marriage result in withdrawal from the friendship net-
work (Milardo, Johnson, & Huston, 1983). Indeed, unmarried friends rely
on time together as a maintenance strategy to a much greater extent than
do married friends (Rose, 1985). On the other hand, married friends re-
port greater use of affection as a maintenance strategy than do single
friends (Rose & Serafica, 1986). Ironically, divorce also compounds the
difficulties of maintaining friendships (Rawlins, 1992). Divorced individu-
als frequently feel isolated from the friendship networks they maintained
when they were married. Given focus on romantic pair bonding
during adulthood, adult friends have lower expectations regarding the
need to spend time together to maintain their friendships (Rawlins, 1994).
In terms of managing problematic events, adult friends argue over nu-
merous issues including contrasting ideas, inappropriate disclosures, indi-
vidual freedoms, rule violations, third parties, and time management

(Berger, Shaffer, Freeman-Witthoft, & Freund, 1998; Blieszner & Adams,

1992; Rawlins, 1992; Rose, 1985). Conversely, Tesch (1983) indicated
that similarity, power, and acceptance become less important in adult
friendships than they were previously.

older Adulthood
Researchers more frequently study friendship in older adulthood, most
notably because of the presumed health benefits associated with friend-
ship. Patterson et al. (1993) f ound that friendships between elderly people
are most often characterized by devotion, reciprocity, closeness, under-
standing, shared experience, and attraction. These authors argued that el-
derly people have more complex views of friendship than do younger
people, as older adults focus both on reciprocity and the consequences of
friendship loss. Moreover, given a lessening of time constraints, as well as
the opportunities that retirement communities and nursing homes pro-
vide, older adulthood may offer a time where friendships are more active
and numerous (Matthews, 1986). Of course, these opportunities are also
tempered by the more frequent deaths of those in friendship circle
(Matthews, 1986). Finally, and relative to younger cohorts, older adults re-
port fewer cross-sex friendships, and their friends also tend to be similar in
terms of age (Matthews, 1986).
Older friendships fall into three categories (Matthews, 1986;
Rawlins, 1992). First, independent friendship types are agentic; that is,
they are activity oriented and socially facilitative. Those with discerning
friendships are characterized by deep attachments to the friend. Finally,
acquisitive types include friends from the past, as well as new relation-
ships. Importantly, Matthews (1986) f ound that elderly people may main-
tain established friendships differently than new friendships. Specifically,
the maintenance of established relationships involved more self-disclosure
and the provision of more services.


The maintenance of friendship is complicated by several factors. First, few

social or legal constraints affect the enactment of friendships, making it an
amorphous relational type that is likely to be a unique construction for the
relational partners. Second, there are numerous levels and types of friend-
ships. Just as variations exist in the ways that casual daters, serious daters,
and married couples maintain their relationships (e.g., Canary & Stafford,
1994), variations likely occur in the ways that casual friends, close friends,
and best friends maintain their friendships. Third, whether sex differences
exist in friendship enactment or not, biological sex and gender influence

the friendship process, as same-sex friendships confront different chal-

lenges and tensions than do cross-sex friendships. Finally, the meaning and
enactment of friendship changes over the lifespan, and our understanding
of friendship maintenance must take these changes into account.
Numerous areas for future research abound. First, scholars should co-
alesce and collapse existing maintenance typologies into a clear typology
that can be applied with some consistency. The four consistent strategies
described in this chapter, for example, are probably not exhaustive. Once a
clear typology is created, perhaps research should turn to variations in the
use of these maintenance strategies across friendship levels and over the
life span. Finally, the four theories described in this chapter provide a pre-
liminary means for understanding maintenance processes. Nevertheless,
more programmatic research using these theories will likely yield more fo-
cused and clear answers regarding the various simple and complex ways
that friendships are maintained.

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Jon A. Hess
LTriversity of Missouri-Columbia

i s social creatures, we spend our lives in the company of others, rather

than in isolation. Consequently, we maintain many relationshps out of need
rather than desire. Unfortunately, some of these relationshps are ones that we
would not maintain if given a choice. Although a considerable amount of re-
search on relational dynamics can be applied to unwanted relationshps, schol-
ars have made little attempt to generate an integrated overview of what
communication characteristics typify such relationshps, how they differ
from desirable relationshps, or how they should best be maintained.
The maintenance of unwanted relationshps piques public interest. Articles
with titles such as You Bug Me! (Precker, 2000) and Do YouAttract People You’d
Rather Repel? (Finello, 2000) that are scattered throughout the pages of news-
papers and magazines, and books such as Dealing With People You Can’t Stand
(Blvlkman & Kirschner, 1994), serve as a testament to the attraction such rela-
tionshps have on people’s attention. But unwanted relationshps should catch
scholars’attention as well because a closer examination of these relationships
could broaden and enrich our understandmg of personal relationshps. Relation-
shps people want to maintain pose challenges (e.g., managing dalectical ten-
sions or dealing with confict), but greater challenges can arise in relationshps
that one or both parties wish &d not exist. It seems llkely that at both an indi-
vidual and societal level, more problems arise from relationships people would
not maintain if given a choice than from relationships that people choose to nur-
ture. The widely documented tensions in Ireland, the Middle East, and the for-
mer Yugoslavia may illustrate some problems that result from social groups
being unwillingly forced to coexist. At an interpersonal level, individuals face
undesirable relationships on a regular basis and often experience negative conse-
quences from them (Hess, 2000; Levitt, Silver, & France, 1996).
Research on unwanted relationships and their challenges offers an opportu-
nity for theoretical advances in the study of personal relationships. Unwanted
relationships provide a rich context for the study of many communication
challenges, and they offer a venue assessing the generalizability of theory. At
present, some theories of relational phenomena apply only to voluntary and
desired relationships (Wiseman & Duck, 1995). Studying unwanted relation-
ships can help scholars learn more about communication under difficult cir-
cumstances and can help scholars discern which principles of relational
maintenance are universal and which are context-specific. Duck (1994b) ar-
gued that “the and sides of relationship need to be incor-
porated together theoretically into one set of principles that can deal with
both” (p. 4). Doing so entails testing theories in a wide range of relational con-
texts (Wood & Duck, 1995), especially those that differ in significant ways
from the more traditional contexts studied by researchers.
This chapter provides a foundation from which to study such relation-
ships. A diverse set of constructs and theories are pulled together to help il-
luminate the characteristics that differentiate undesired relationships from
their more desirable counterparts. This chapter examines the assumptions
that underlie the study of undesired relationships, delineates the factors that
give rise to such relationships, discusses the nature of communication pro-
cesses in such relationships, and suggests directions for future research.


The study of undesired relationships is founded on a set of assumptions

that may differ from ones scholars often make when studying maintenance
of more traditional relationships. These assumptions are as follows.

Assumption I: Relationships d-ten Exist

as Nonbohntary Associakons

Few scholars would deny that some relationships are nonvoluntary, but the
majority of relational communication theory focuses on relationships
formed by voluntary association (Galvin & Cooper, 1990). Family scholars
(e.g., Coleman SKGanong, 1995; Galvin & Cooper, 1990) often discuss the
impact that nonvoluntary association has on families, but by and large, the

relational maintenance literature focuses on what forces can hold relation-

ships together or tear them apart, how relationships develop, or how they
deteriorate, rather than on how people sustain a relationship when separa-
tion is not an option. If scholars approach the study of relational mainte-
nance from an assumption that relationships are often nonvoluntary
associations, then a broader range of relationships must be studied so that
the theory developed can be applied to all relationships.

Assumption~:closeand Ongoin Relationships

canSometimesbeCharacterized % y NegativeAffect

Many scholars suggest that liking is an essential quality of close relation-

ships (e.g., Bell, Daly, & Gonzalez, 1987; Byrne & Murnen, 1988; Dickens
& Perlman, 1981; Rubin, 1973). This stipulation is unwarranted. Un-
doubtedly, the majority of close relationships are affectively posi-
tive, as are the relationships that people most highly value, so the
characterization of close relationships as involving liking is often appropri-
ate. However, the assertions that liking constitutes a necessary condition
for a close relationship or that all close relationships are affectively positive
inaccurately represent the social milieu of most lives. As
Berscheid (1983) noted:

It is clear that strong negative affect experienced more or less regularly, perhaps
even exclusively, in a relationship many would consider as close on other grounds
is not unusual. At the least, a classification scheme that excluded such relation-
ships from the domain of close relationships would exclude many family rela-
tionships. (p. 115)

In attempt to delineate the factors that make relationships close, Kelley

et al. (1983) f ocused on causal interdependence rather than liking. In their
definition, relationships are close when they have frequent, strong, di-
verse, and enduring causal interconnections. Although some of these au-
thors later questioned the necessity of duration in this definition
(Berscheid, Snyder, & Omoto, 1989), they stated explicitly that affect was
irrelevant to the definition of closeness.

Assumption 3: Relational Development and Maintenance

Sometrmes Involve Fluctuatingor Even Decking
Levels of Intimacy
Many theories of personal relationships have stated that relational devel-
opment and dissolution are characterized by increases or decreases in inti-
macy level (e.g., Altman & Taylor, 1973). These theories typically saw
relationships as continuously in a process of growth, and thus, gradually in-
creasing in intimacy, unless they were left to stagnate or deteriorate. Ayres
(1983) suggested that instead, relationships develop to a certain level of in-
timacy and then enter a maintenance phase of stable intimacy levels. The
common assumption among all these theories is that intimacy increases or
stabilizes during relational development and maintenance, and that a re-
duction in intimacy signals relational deterioration.
More recent perspectives (e.g., Baxter & Montgomery, 1996) propose
that many relational qualities are dialectical in nature, and thus they vary
over time as relational partners attempt to satisfy competing tensions be-
tween opposing forces. For example, the needs for autonomy and interde-
pendence may drive partners to increase or decrease intimacy at different
points of their relational lives. Thus, intimacy may go through periods of
increase and decrease during the maintenance phase of a long-term rela-
tionship. Research on relationships with disliked partners suggests that
people often try to minimize intimacy throughout the course of an ongoing
relationship (Hess, 2000).
Although existing evidence suggests that most healthy and desired per-
sonal relationships do indeed experience steady or increasing levels of inti-
macy throughout their development and maintenance, theory and
research also show that some relationships may be characterized by part-
attempts to minimize or reduce intimacy as one way of maintaining
the relationship (Hess, 2000). Such a trend might seem like evidence of re-
lational decline, but reduction of intimacy as a coping mechanism for an
undesired relationship may be seen as a way of reducing conflict and thus,
preventing relational dissolution.

Assumption+:U-wanted Relationships
Can be HeaIthy Relationships

A substantial amount of research suggests that unpleasant or undesired re-

lationships have detrimental effects on people. For example, unpleasant
relationships at work and school have been linked to workplace cynicism,
decreased work effectiveness, and decreased psychosomatic well-being
(Fritz & Omdahl, 1998; Kinney, 1998; Schwartz & Stone, 1993). Is this
negative impact inevitable? Unwanted relationships will probably never be
pleasant, but it seems realistic to believe that researchers can identify the
causes of negative impacts and provide ways to minimize their effects so
that some of these relationships can be maintained without such unhealthy
consequences. Duck (1987) observed that:

For something like 10,000 years, people have been warring with each other,
fighting other nations, sparring with their neighbors, hating their colleagues,
quarreling with their loved ones, arguing with one another, and suffering the
pangs of despised love without the benefit of scientific research into relation-
ships and their problems. (p. 278)

The study of unwanted relationships is one area where research has the
potential for significantly improving the quality of human life. One pur-
pose of this chapter is to suggest research directions that might help people
learn how to make undesired relationships healthy relationships.


The investigation of undesired relationships must begin by answering two

fundamental questions: What conditions cause a relationships to be un-
wanted?; Why do people maintain unwanted relationships? These ques-
tions define the context in which the undesired relationship exists.
Understanding the conditions that create unwanted relationships allows us
to better understand their internal forces, because these relationships de-
velop within the constraints defined by those conditions.

why Certain ReIationships Are Perceived asunwanted

Relationships can be unwanted for rational and/or emotional reasons. The

rational reasons can be described as interference with personal goals, and
the emotional reasons share the common factor of negative affect.

Goal Interference. The rational side of human behavior is governed

by logical thought processes. The purpose of cognition is to for-
mulate alternative choices for behavior and to select among those options
(Greene, 1984). Scholars characterize the rational thought process as be-
ing goal-driven in nature, noting that our rational choices are made to
achieve certain goals (e.g., Berger, 1997; Bogdan, 1994). These goals en-
compass a wide range of objectives. Task-related goals, such as getting a job
done, come to mind easily, but virtually all other reasoned and intentional
human behavior can be described in terms of goals. For example, social be-
haviors such as maintaining a certain identity, interacting in socially appro-
priate ways, maintaining or increasing valued resources, and regulating
arousal are all goal-driven processes (Dillard, Segrin, & Harden, 1989).
Thus, any relationship that poses an ongoing obstruction to the accom-
plishment of these goals can become unwanted. Relational partners who
disconfirm a desired identity, cause anxiety, or deplete a desired
resources may be unwanted. Sometimes this goal interference is brought
about because of mutually conflicting goals between two people.
The perception of a relationship as unwanted emerges from a
goal-directed perspective as follows. Goals are hierarchically organized
(Berger, 1997), meaning that some goals supersede others. Overtly avoid-
ing another person or terminating a relationship goes against social eti-
quette and may have negative consequences for people. In lieu of reason to
108 -ii=+ HESS

eliminate social ties with someone, people are likely to interact with that
person when social norms make such behavior expected. However, when
maintaining a relationship interferes with higher-order goals, such as ac-
complishing a task or presenting a certain face, the relationship becomes
undesired. For example, a student who was talking in class about undesired
relationships reported an incident with a friend who needed temporary
housing, but became a nuisance after moving in. When this lifestyle
began interfering with the plans, the relationship became unwanted.
Another student mentioned a work relationship that was undesired be-
cause the co-worker interfered with the objectives she was trying to ac-
complish (task goals). Other people have spoken of relationships that were
unwanted because friends and family did not approve (social interaction
goals) or because they were publicly embarrassed by the other be-
haviors (impression management goals).
For goal interference to make a relationship unwanted, the interference
must have a lasting effect over time. Goals are not always consistent, and
they can change suddenly from one time to another (Berger, 2000). If a re-
lationship interferes with a goal on one or two occasions, then it is more
likely to be an interaction that is undesired rather than the relationship it-
self. For instance, a person may wish to avoid talking to a close friend when
he or she has pressing deadlines, but still value the relationship. More en-
during objectives must be obstructed for the relationship to be undesired
on the basis of goals.

Negative Affect. It would be a mistake to describe behavior

only on the basis of rational thought (i.e., choices based on goal assess-
ments) . One of the hallmarks of human behavior is that people often base
actions on emotional impulses, behaving in ways that defy any sane reason.
This tendency can cause unwanted relationships. Relationships that are
neutral or even beneficial with respect to goal success may be unwanted
because of negative affect. Fritz and (Fritz, 1997; Fritz &
Omdahl, 1998) research on negative coworkers provides a good example.
Despite the importance of coordinating work for task effectiveness, many
people report relationships in the workplace that they would prefer not to
maintain. While this chapter was being written, a department at a univer-
sity received a large donation from a wealthy alumnus to endow a program
that would host business executives for annual seminars. However, when
the donor visited the department he was so offensive that the faculty
hoped he would not return. Despite the goal-related benefits (funding a
program to improve education), the negative affect he aroused
meant that people did not want to have a personal relationship with him.
Although disliking may result in seemingly irrational behavior, the de-
sire for dissociation in such circumstances makes rational sense. Theories
of cognitive consistency (e.g., Heider, 1958; Newcomb, 1968) state that

people prefer that their perceptions fit together harmoniously. For rela-
tionships, two perceptions are relevant: affect and relational association
(Heider, 1958). Wh en affect is negative, people prefer a lack of relational
association. Thus, continued maintenance of the relationship is seen as un-
Negative affect can arise from a variety of sources. Wiseman and Duck
(1995) reported that when asked to describe friends and enemies, people
typically reported endearing qualities of friends (e.g., loyal, caring) and
malicious actions by enemies (e.g., inflicted emotional pain, lied to oth-
ers). When discussing the subject of relationships with disliked partners,
students often talk about disliking others because of incompatible per-
sonalities, antisocial behavior, or heinous actions by the other, such as be-
ing judgmental, pushy, or harassing. Once people develop an enduring
dislike for another person, relational interaction with that person be-
comes unwanted.

why undesired Relationships Are Maintained

If people would prefer not to associate with certain others, why do they
continue to maintain these relationships? It is because these relationships
are seen as nonvoluntary associations (Hess, 2000). Many scholars (e.g.,
Levinger, 1965, 1976; Rusbult, 1987; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) have sug-
gested that relationships are held together by barriers that prevent them
from coming apart. This explanation makes good sense-the forces tearing
the relationship apart are overcome by forces holding it together. The
forces that act as barriers to relational dissolution can be classified into two
broad categories, external and internal.

External Barriers. External barriers are forces that originate outside

the individual and make the person feel constrained to that relationship.
These forces of connection can come from at least three sources: social
ties, work ties, and proxemic ties. Social ties refer to elements of social life
that bind people together, such as friendships, family relations, and mar-
riages. In a review of external barriers that hold marriages together,
Attridge (1994) cited financial burdens of divorce (e.g., lack of economic
self-sufficiency), difficulty in disentangling networks of mutual friends,
and legal ties that must be severed as forces that can hold a marriage to-
gether when it might otherwise have broken apart.
In addition to these social barriers, people may maintain relationships be-
cause of their work. The desirability of the present job or the difficulty of find-
ing a new one may make it worthwhile for a person to endure an unwanted
relationship. Athletic teammates can face this situation acutely because the
two may work together very closely and there might be no opportunity for a
person to be traded, especially in high school or college athletics.
110 + HESS

Finally, people are often constrained to relationships by physical prox-

imity. Whether it is due to residential area (e.g., residing in a small town) or
living arrangements (e.g., family member, roommate), people can be
forced into relationship just by the inevitability of encountering each
other. A student once talked about how she maintained an undesired rela-
tionship throughout high school because she lived in a small town and
could not avoid the other person. She was happy when she could end the
relationship by moving away from home for college.
Undesired relationships caused by external ties cause a collision of
psychological and social forces. Internally, the person may prefer not to
have the relationship, but external pressures force the interaction. Such a
situation is bound to be stressful, as research has demonstrated (Hess,
2000). Ultimately, though, these situations can often be tolerable if han-
dled in a constructive manner. Despite the conflict between the desire
not to relate and the externally generated need to do so, these situations
are ultimately resolved through the rational prioritization of goals. Re-
gardless of whether the relationship is unwanted because of goal interfer-
ence or negative affect, people in these circumstances choose to
subordinate their disdain for maintaining the relationship to their desire
to satisfy more important objectives or social needs. Those needs may
range from providing for dependents to presenting a socially desirable
face or treating people according to certain moral standards, but in all
cases the external barriers are constraints only because other goals over-
ride the desire to terminate the relationship. Recalling (2000)
point that goals are hierarchically organized, it can be said that what hap-
pens in cases of external constraints is that the goal of ending the relation-
ship is subordinated to some higher-level goal.
At face, the discussion of goal subordination calls into question whether
any but a few atypical relationships (e.g., people who have been institu-
tionalized) are truly unwanted. After all, if people choose to maintain these
relationships because of higher-order goals then the relationship seems to
be at least partially desired. However, if the term unwanted relationship
were restricted to relationships that were undesired to the degree that
ending the relationship overrode all other considerations, then the term
would encompass so few relationships that it would be practically useless.
The term unwanted relationship is used in this chapter to describe a rela-
tionship that a person would choose to discontinue if nothing extraneous
to the relationship were taken into account.

internal Barriers. In contrast with external barriers, these forces

arise from within the individual. In these cases, people experience conflict
with their own desires. Attridge (1994) identified factors such as
self-identity goals, religious beliefs, and sense of commitment. As with the
external ties, these forces hold a relationship together because relational

satisfaction is subordinated to goals that are perceived as being more im-

Some internal barriers function in a different way. These barriers pri-
marily center on safety and security, fear of making changes, or a lack of
faith in the ability to leave the relationship. For example, one student
talking about such a situation discussed how she sustained a relationship
because it was difficult for her to deviate from the history of closeness
she had with the person. Another recalled maintaining a relationship with
a mutual friend whom she disliked. In attempting to explain why she con-
tinued in this relationship, she could only say that she did not know why
she did it. It was an unidentified fear of ending the relationship that pro-
pelled ongoing interaction. In other cases, fear of making changes or de-
sire not to hurt the other led to relationships that were unhealthy for the
individual who found the relationship undesirable. In these cases, peo-
reasons for maintaining undesired relationships seem less rational
and sometimes even dysfunctional. Relationships maintained under such
circumstances might have little chance of being healthy for the individual
who sees it as undesirable.


“P ecial characteristics of undesiredtdationships

Unwanted relationships are characterized by the goal conflict or negative
affect that makes them undesirable and the barriers that keep them to-
gether. As a result, these relationships cause discomfort to those who find
the relationship undesirable, whether that is only one person or both part-
ners. Because undesired relationships are sustained by forces counteract-
ing the pressures that would otherwise tear the relationship apart, they
exist in the battleground of opposing forces. That tension creates an emo-
tionally-strenuous situation. Although any relationship may be a source of
discomfort from time to time, undesired relationships cause discomfort
throughout their entire existence (e.g., Hess, 2000).
Undesired relationships are also characterized by a number of commu-
nicative behaviors that seem to set them apart from other relationships.
Most notable among these behaviors is a greater tendency to create dis-
tance with relational messages (Hess, 2000). Because these relationships,
by virtue of their existence, are closer relationships than people want, they
are characterized by attempts to make themselves more distant
from the unwanted partner. This characteristic and other communication
behaviors that seem to differ from those in more desired relationships are
discussed later when specific communication characteristics of unwanted
relationships are addressed.
112 -I+=+ HESS

One assumption made in this chapter is that a relationship need not be

unhealthy (or dysfunctional) just because it is unwanted. A relationship
is dysfunctional when its interactions have harmful effects on its mem-
bers. These harmful effects can include psychological trauma, physio-
logical symptoms of stress, or physical injury from abuse (Gottman,
1994; Kinney, 1998; West, 1995). 0 ne worthwhile objective in the
study of undesired relationships is to address the question of what fac-
tors cause dysfunctions and what can be done to make such relation-
ships healthier.
The conceptual framework proposed in this chapter suggests one factor
that may be finked to relational dysfunction is the creation of an undesired
relationship due to self-contradictory internal barriers (e.g., fear of making
changes, a lack of faith in the ability to leave the relationship, low
self-esteem, etc.). These barriers represent self-supplied impulses to sus-
tain the relationship that contradict the self-supplied desire to escape from
it. This set of contradictory beliefs seems likely to result in a high rate of
dysfunctional relationships because self-contradiction is a common factor
associated with psychological pathologies (Krippendorff, 1989;
Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). The account of one survivor of an
abusive relationship typifies this situation. She recalled, “by the time the
whole thing ended, I just felt like a rag. I feel attractive at all.. . . I felt
totally worthless. How could I possibly get out of this marriage, I was
worthless. How could I possibly have any kind of life outside of him now?”
(Lempert, 1997, p. 156).
When external barriers create an undesired relationship, the situa-
tion is out of the control, at least in the present and immedi-
ate future (actors may plan long-term strategies to change the situation
and eliminate the undesired relationship). At face, that contrast sug-
gests that relationships that are unwanted due solely to external barriers
might be less likely to be unhealthy than those maintained because of in-
ternal barriers. However, research on abusive relationships shows that
both internal barriers (e.g., feelings of commitment) and external barri-
ers (e.g., economic dependence, lack of child care) play a role in
decisions to stay in abusive relationships (e.g., Rusbult &
Martz, 1995; Strube & Barbour, 1983). So, the question of whether cer-
tain types of barriers more strongly predispose a relationship to be un-
healthy is unanswered at present. This question is worth addressing
with future research, because if certain types of barriers can be identi-
fied as leading to more or less healthy outcomes, then scholars can begin
to form a set of risk factors for negative outcomes from unwanted rela-
tionships. In addition, researchers may also wish to examine what per-

sonality traits or interactive behaviors predict health-related outcomes

from unwanted relationships. It seems likely that a combination of all
three factors will predict the healthiness or unhealthiness of these rela-
tionships. For instance, Thomsen and Gilbert (1998) found that
neuroticism was associated with negative marital outcomes (e.g., satis-
faction), but also that a combination of neuroticism (a personality trait)
and dominance (an interactive behavior) “explained more variance in
marital dissatisfaction than did either factor separately” (p. 85 1).

s e&c Communicative Processes in the Maintenance

o P ti ndesired Relations hips

Coping. Research applicable to unwanted relationships suggests that

at least two behaviors should be universal in this context. The first of these
is coping. Unwanted relationships cause stress, and stress demands some
form of coping by the individual. Coping is “a stabilizing factor that can
help individuals maintain psychosocial adaptation during stressful periods;
it encompasses cognitive and behavioral efforts to reduce or eliminate
stressful conditions and associated emotional distress” (Holahan, Moos, &
Schaefer, 1996, p. 25). W iseman and (1995) study of enemies
showed that people coped by shaping perceptions in ego-protective ways,
which helped reduce stress and cognitive dissonance. For instance, they re-
ported that most people saw enmity as unilateral-they were innocent,
and the malice was solely due to the actions and intentions. Wise-
man and Duck also noted that people were more likely to focus their en-
ergy on maintaining their own self-esteem than on reducing the enmity. In
many cases, people responded with self-pity and other forms of
nonproductive reflection on the situation.
Another method of coping people may use in unwanted relationships is
drawing support from social networks (Pierce, Sarason, & Sarason, 1996),
For example, talking with others is a common way people cope with enemy
relations (Wiseman & Duck, 1995). Several consequences of this strategy
are noteworthy. First, such communication can serve as a catalyst to im-
prove matters or it may actually aggravate the problem. Talking with others
about an enemy might provide a more neutral perspective or ideas for rec-
onciliation, but it can also strengthen a convictions about mis-
treatment. As Wiseman and Duck noted, talking with others “may cement
enmity by making it impossible to ‘talk out (p. 70). Second,
utilization of social support can cause the impact of an undesired relation-
ship to spill out into other parts of a social network. Involving others in the
matter may change their relations with those parties, and may even create
challenging situations when the involved third parties must interact with
the recipient of the disinterest.
114 -c=+ HESS

Distance. The other behavior that seems to be universal in undesired

relationships is effort to distance oneself from the unwanted partner. Dis-
tance can be seen as a coping behavior, because people use it to reduce
stress (e.g., Hess, 2000). H owever, it is addressed separately from coping,
because distancing can result from causes other than stress.
People seeking greater separation reported many ways of distancing
themselves from the relational partner (Hess, in press). Some of these
were avoidant strategies, such as making interactions shorter in duration,
staying away from the other person as much as possible, or simply ignoring
the other. When avoidance was not an option, people reported trying to
make the interaction as disengaged as possible. For example, people re-
ported using nonverbal cues that indicated dissociation (e.g., less smiling,
standing further away, less eye contact, less touch), restricting the amount
of information they shared about themselves, or focusing their attention
away from the disliked partner. Finally, people indicated that sometimes
they simply tried to alter their perceptions of the interactions, such as by
feeling detached or by mentally degrading the person (Hess, in press; see
Table 5.1). Wiseman and Duck (1995) f ound that people preferred avoid-
ance whenever possible when dealing with enemies, but also used disen-
gaging behaviors when necessary. For example, people reported disclosing
less information, becoming involved in different social circles, and trying to
show the enemy that they have less in common with each other. Interest-
ingly, few people reported trying to resolve differences with their enemy.
The challenge people face in these circumstances is that a certain degree
of relational closeness is necessary to maintain the relationship. So, people
must find ways to achieve distance without sacrificing the minimal levels
of closeness required to sustain the relationship. In some cases, such as
with disliked relatives, avoidance might often be a feasible distancing be-
havior. But in a case such as a blended family where siblings might dislike
step-siblings who live in the same household, avoidance can be difficult to
do. In cases such as those, dissociative behaviors or even just perceptual
strategies might prove most effective.

Antagonism. One interactive behavior that warrants attention in the

study of unwanted relationships is antagonism. Antagonism can range from
negative remarks or jokes at another expense to verbal and physi-
cal abuse. Although justified revenge is sometimes socially sanctioned
(Axelrod, 1984; Tripp & Bies, 1997), overt and ongoing hostility is rarely
acceptable unless the relationship involves members of hostile social
groups, in which case hostility against the outgroup is approved by ingroup
members (although not necessarily by third parties). Despite the general
disapproval of antagonism, such behavior is quite common in our society.
Many scholars talk about the prevalence of relational or family violence
(e.g., Johnson, 1995; Rusbult & Martz, 19951, and Berscheid (1983) con-
Distancing Tactics ldent&ed by Hess (in press)

Tactic Definition

Avoidance Trying not to be in the presence of the other person

Deception Lying to or misleading the other person on

information about oneself

Degrade Perceiving the other person as less than human,

such as by ignoring her/his feelings, or seeing the
other person as incompetent

Detachment Perceiving or feeling a lack of attachment with the


Discount message Disregarding or minimizing what the other person


Group interaction Avoiding one-on-one interactions with the person

Humoring Considering the other person to be eccentric and

someone just to be tolerated, but not taken

Ignoring Acting as if the other person is not there

Impersonal Treating the other person like a stranger; that is,

interacting with her/him as a role rather than as a
unique individual

Inattention Giving as little attention as possible to the other


Nonimmediacy Displaying verbal or nonverbal cues that minimize

closeness or availability

Reserve Being unusually quiet and uncommunicative when

with the other person

Restraint Curtailing social behaviors that one would

normally do, which (if done) would have led to
greater relational closeness

Restrict topics Limiting to conversation to topics that are not


Shorten interaction Doing what it takes to end the interaction as

quickly as possible

tended that the family is one of the most violent institutions an ordinary
person is likely to encounter. Berscheid claimed that most of the anger and
hostility people experience in daily life is directed toward a relative.
Well-documented communication behaviors that are antagonistic or hos-
tile include chronic disconfirmation and double-binds (Watzlawick et al.,
1967), verbal aggressiveness (Infante & Wigley, 1986), and boundary vio-
lations (Peterson, 1992).
One study on the maintenance of relationships with disliked partners
found that all respondents reported using hostile tactics from time to time
(Hess, 2000). Although most people reported antagonizing their disliked
partners only occasionally (possibly only when most frustrated or when an
enticing opportunity presented itself), a few respondents indicated favor-
ing antisocial tactics more often. Research suggests that such behavior will
often invite counterattacks and escalation (DeRidder, Schruijer, &
Rijsman, 1999), w h ic h means that it is not usually the most rational inter-
action strategy. So, it may be that people interact this way when they feel
immune to retaliation or when they cannot control their anger. It is also
possible that some people use antisocial acts as a way of expressing or
achieving control, as is often the case with abusive relationships (Johnson,
1995). Closer examination of these relationships might reveal the causes
of hostility and the effects it has on the people involved. Although the re-
search on verbal and physical abuse makes it clear that such behavior has
detrimental outcomes in relationships (Cahn, 1996), the range of impacts
that small to moderate degrees of nonabusive hostility has in unwanted re-
lationships is less clear.

Communication and Self-Image. Another factor that seems likely to

have an important impact on communication in unwanted relationships is the
management of meaning related to self-presentation and self-image. Because
unwanted relationships put people into situations that contradict their
interactional preferences, they may face situations that test their
self-concepts and pose difficulties with presentation of face more than in ordi-
nary relationships. These situations can entail contradictory goals or feelings,
and they impact how people communicate with each other. People who con-
sider themselves good people but act antagonistically toward an undesirable
person, people who consider themselves tolerant but find themselves being
short with an unwanted co-worker, or people who consider themselves loving
but find themselves stewing in anger at an annoying relative all may face cogni-
tive dissonance about their own definition of self. The challenge to manage
meanings in these circumstances may impact the communication that hap-
pens between the actor and the undesired relational partner. As Duck (1994a)
noted, “the disembodied social psychological concepts that we read about as
impression management, self-disclosure, interdependence, and social ex-
change are also created or served mostly in talk” (p. 10).

Task and Social Balance. One aspect of undesired relationships that

seems especially salient in the workplace is the difficulty of maximizing
task effectiveness when that task forces participation in an unwanted rela-
tionship. Unpleasant peer relationships in the workplace interfere with
successful task outcomes (Fritz & Omdahl, 1998). A case could be made
that this outcome should not necessarily follow, because keeping interac-
tions focused on task, rather than relational issues, is one way people create
distance (Hess, 2000). However, simply interacting on a task level is im-
possible. First, the general consensus among scholars is that virtually all
communication involves both content and relational information, so it is
impossible to remove the relational component from a communicative ex-
change (e.g., Burgoon & Hale, 1984; Watzlawick et al., 1967). Second, ef-
fective social interaction is a contributing factor in task success (Bormann,
1990). research shows that groups that tried to focus exclu-
sively on task concerns and eliminate any social dimension to their interac-
tion were less effective than counterpart groups that effectively balanced
task and social elements in their work. So, to maximize task success,
interactants in undesired relationships must find a balance between social
interaction and disengagement.

Multiple Audience Problem. The multiple audience problem is a

challenge for relational communication, whether the interaction happens
in the workplace or a social setting. It refers to a communicative situation
in which a speaker needs to simultaneously meet different, and usually
mutually exclusive, purposes with a single message (Fleming & Darley,
199 1; Fleming, Darley, Hilton, & Kojetin, 1990). The challenge is to ad-
dress the conflicting purposes in message construction so that all parties
are treated in ways that meet the social goals. Although this prob-
lem is not unique to undesired relationships, it is likely to present itself
when a mutual acquaintance is present for whom the relationship with
the target person is desired. In this case, a person may want to distance
herself or himself from the undesired partner without simultaneously
suggesting a desire to do so to the favored relational partner. The reverse
can also occur. If a third party is present who considers a relationship with
the target person unwanted, an individual may wish to show the third
party their dissociation from the target person (to avoid perceptions of
affiliation) while concealing that message from the target. Researchers
have found many creative ways that people attempt such deceit. For ex-
ample, people can word messages in a way that the target and the third
party would interpret differently, display nonverbal cues visible only to
the third party, or convey relational messages using indirect references
that the target person could not interpret (e.g., Clark & Schaefer, 1987;
Fleming & Darley, 1991).
118 -E=+ HESS



Undesired relationships present a challenging context for communication

because they force people into situations that are uncomfortable at best,
dangerous at worst. Negotiating the competing tensions of contradictory
goals, emotional temptations, and social constraints requires successfully
dealing with complex challenges in relational communication. So many
variations in relational definitions and demands, personality traits, and so-
cial demands exist that it is difficult to propose a small set of conclusions
about such relationships or recommendations for productive actions.
However, one conclusion seems reasonable: that these relationships bring a
greater than average share of communicative challenges. Thus, they should
be a rich ground for extending our knowledge about the communicative
phenomena that can be observed there.
What we do know about undesired relationships can be summarized as
follows. They may be caused by obstruction of goals, negative affect, or
both. People see them as essential to maintain despite their undesirability
due to barriers that arise from external forces, internal forces, or both. Un-
wanted relationships cause stress to those people who would prefer not to
maintain them. Although people are likely to act antagonistically at least
some of the time, distance is the primary way people cope with the stress
these relationships create, and thus, sustain the relationship. Other com-
municative aspects of these relationships vary widely, but such issues as
image management, task-social balance, and multiple audience problems
seem to be likely tensions for a person to face. The combination of input
variables (personality traits and the conditions making a relationship both
unwanted and nonvoluntary) and process variables (interactive behaviors
by the two people) determine the personal and social outcomes from the
relationship. Closer examination of these issues seems to offer the possi-
bility of improving the quality of lives. How, then, might research
best proceed?
One of the important contributions the study of undesired relationships
can make is to create a better understanding of what communication be-
haviors best contribute to the well-being of those involved, and what peo-
ple must do to achieve that type of communication. Such communication
not only benefits psychological and physical health (Gottman,
1994), it also reduces the chances of negative experiences leading to in-
creased hostility among the partners or others in their social networks
(Berscheid, Boye, & Walster, 1968). Th us, a useful first step in research
would be identification of what communication behaviors are associated
with relational health or dysfunction in these relationships. Wright and
Wright (1995) did this type of work for the study of codependent relation-

ships. They argued that although codependency is usually studied as a per-

sonality syndrome, it is more useful to study codependent interaction as it
exists within a certain relationship. Although certain people might be more
predisposed to enter codependent relations (valuable information in its
own right, they noted), it may be more informative to first understand
what makes a relationship codependent. Such knowledge can help people
identify and change the behaviors that cause unhealthy outcomes. The
same approach could work well with undesired relationships. Are there
identifiable patterns of communication that are common to such relation-
ships, perhaps associated with certain causes of the undesirability or rea-
sons for maintenance, that signal problematic outcomes? If so, identifying
them will have both practical and theoretical benefits.
Another avenue of research that could be productive is to identify per-
sonality traits that are associated with either the likelihood of maintain-
ing undesired relationships or the enactment of certain communication
behaviors. Several factors seem ripe for investigation. For example, hav-
ing an external locus of control may predict the likelihood or prevalence
of undesired relationships in a social life. People who have an ex-
ternal locus of control see themselves as being helpless to control many
things that happen to them (Hewitt & Flett, 1996; Rotter, 1966). So,
these people are less likely to pursue some valued goals, and research sug-
gests that they have less ability to cope with stressful experiences in their
lives (Lefcourt, 1991).
A factor that might predict a propensity to stay in an undesir-
able relationship is risk aversion (Kahneman & Tversky, 1984). Research
has suggested that high aversion to risk taking may prompt people to com-
promise their relational desires (e.g., as in maintaining a platonic relation-
ship; Messman, Canary, & Hause, 2000). For some people, the safety and
security of what is known may form an internal barrier, causing them to
stay in undesired relationships, despite any negative outcomes that result.
Emotional intelligence is another personality trait that may relate to how
people respond to undesired relationships. Salovy, Bedell, Detweiler, and
Mayer (1999) argued that people with higher emotional intelligence can
cope better in relationships and may be less stressed than those with lower
emotional intelligence.
Although these personality traits seem theoretically justified as factors
that impact unwanted relationships, such a conclusion is premature with-
out empirical evidence. Levitt et al. (1996) examined personality traits
such as self-esteem and attachment style in relation to troublesome rela-
tionships and found that those traits “were generally associated more
strongly with modes of coping than with whether or not the individual had
had a difficult relationship” (p. 533). So, both theoretical and empirical ev-
idence must be examined before drawing conclusions about the impact of
120 -e=s HESS

personality traits on the likelihood of developing unwanted relationships

or the manner in which a person maintains them.
A third avenue of research that might provide useful information is an
examination of whether certain social behaviors can reduce
chances of finding themselves in undesired relationships. In their exami-
nation of coping, Pierce et al. (1996) asked why researchers seem to fo-
cus more on how people handle difficult situations than on why some
people find themselves in dire straights more often than others. Cer-
tainly, personality traits and bad luck are factors. But, Pierce et al. noted
that the own behaviors can also play an important role. For
example, if one person fears a depression and saves money whereas an-
other spends it freely, these people would face different situations in an
economic downturn. They noted that “coping researchers investigating
only those persons who have faced or are facing major economic hardship
would identify only the latter person, thus overlooking that the former
person avoided the problem by with the event prior to its occur-
rence” (p. 434). Analogously, some people might find themselves in more
undesired relationships than others in part due to social choices they
made prior to such relationships forming or becoming undesirable. Re-
searchers might be able to determine whether behaviors can
actually affect the number of undesirable relationships they face, and if
so, what behaviors those are.
One way that behaviors might affect their propensity to find
themselves in undesired relationships relates to satisfaction of needs.
Drigotas and (1992) argued that people stay in unsatisfying rela-
tionships to the extent that they depend on that relationship to meet cer-
tain needs (e.g., emotional involvement, sex, companionship). It may be
that some people invest too heavily in certain relationships (perhaps ignor-
ing warning signs that others would observe) and allow such relationships
to become the only channels for meeting those needs. Doing so could make
such relationships nonvoluntary to them because of their inability to meet
their needs without it. If the relationship later becomes undesired, the per-
son feels trapped. People could avoid the problem by cultivating additional
relationships that meet the same need, that is, by creating a “need satisfac-
tion redundancy” across relationships. Of course, while doing so can insu-
late a person from becoming trapped in certain unwanted relationships, it
risks reducing a ability to maintain extremely close relationships.
Making a relationship ordinary and replaceable as a way of keeping oneself
“safe” from becoming trapped makes the relationship less special because
uniqueness and irreplaceability are hallmarks of close relations. So, people
who wish to avoid becoming entrapped in a relationship that cannot be re-
placed must be careful that their strategies do not subvert their ability to
maintain close and meaningful relations.

Undesired relationships are, and always will be, one of the more diffi-
cult relationships that people encounter. Because they are an inevitable as-
pect of social interaction, everyone must face such relationships
throughout the course of their lives. It is for challenging relations such as
these that the relational research holds much promise. Learning how to
manage such relationships in productive ways provides benefits for theory
construction and for practical application.

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Contextual Variations
in Maintaining RelationstfiPs
M -+
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+” * +“:,


Maintaining -Distance
Relations a $35

Brooks A. Aylor
La Salle University

he majority of relational maintenance research has focused on behaviors

enacted to maintain geographically close relationships (GCRs); that is, rela-
tionships in which the partners are able to see each other, face-to-face, most
days. Long-distance relationships (LDRs), in which daily face-to-face con-
tact is not possible, are increasingly common in the United States, yet we
know relatively little about the processes used to maintain these relation-
ships. The study of LDRs holds the promise of extending previous relational
maintenance theory and research in this important relational context.
Reviewed in this chapter is the small but growing body of literature exam-
ining maintenance processes in LDRs. Although long-distance friendships
have received some attention in this literature (for a review, see Rohlfing,
1995), the focus here is on romantic LDRs; individuals who define their re-
lationships as casually dating, seriously dating, engagement or married.
There are many reasons to extend our study of relationships to distance
relationships. Among these are the growing number of distance relation-
ships, the disproportionate number of college students in LDRs, and the
unique characteristics of distance relationships relative to geographically
close relationships. Accordingly, this chapter first describes the growing
number of LDRs, unique characteristics of LDRs, and competing defini-

128 -e- AYLOR

tions of distance relationships. Further, work on relational characteristics

of satisfaction, commitment and trust in LDRs is reviewed. Taken as a
whole, this work suggests a paradox in LDRs, a picture of partners report-
ing comparative levels of relational satisfaction as their GCR counterparts,
yet simultaneously facing the very real challenges inherent in distance rela-
tionships. The final focus of the chapter is to help explain this paradox via
research on relational maintenance and communication modes in LDRs,
while offering future research directions.


Distance relationships have become increasingly common in this country.

Research suggests that as many as 1 million people annually report being in
a long-distance romantic relationship (Maines, 1994). Armour (1998)
noted that changes in technology and the workforce have led to record
numbers of commuter marriages and other types of distance relationships.
Armour presented a 1998 report from the Employee Relocation Council
showing that approximately 10% of all job relocations in the United States
resulted in LDRs, and 52% of employers in 1998 expected to see the num-
ber of job transfers increase.
Distance relationships are particularly prevalent among college stu-
dents. Nationally, 25% to 40% of college students reported being in a LDR
(Dellman-Jenkins, Bernard-Paolucci, & Rushing, 1993). Studies of
first-year college students suggest that LDRs are even more common
among these students, with as many as one half of first-year students in
LDRs (Knox, 1992). My ongoing work with Marianne Dainton further
supports the idea that distance relationships are prominent in college pop-
ulations. In our samples, we have consistently found that approximately
one third of dating college students consider their relationship to be long
distance, and about one half of first-year students report being in a roman-
tic distance relationship. This work is also consistent with Stafford, Daly,
and (1987) c 1aim that “as many as one third of premarital relation-
ships in university settings may be long-distance ones” (p. 274).


It is my contention that LDRs are qualitatively different from GCRs and

present partners with unique challenges to maintain such relationships. By
definition, partners in LDRs face geographic separation and lack of
face-to-face contact. Rohlfing (1995) reviewed research by Westefeld and
Liddell (1982) suggesting the following unique challenges for those in dis-
tance relationships:

l Increased financial burdens to maintain distance relationships.

l Difficulty defining and negotiating “in-town” (i.e., geographically
close friendships) relationships while maintaining a long-distance ro-
mantic relationship.
l High expectations by partners for the quality of limited face-to-face
meetings afforded in the relationship.
l Difficulty assessing the degree and state of the relationship from a
l More extreme range of emotions experienced by partners in distance

In addition, it should be noted that the financial burdens and geographic

separation in LDRs often lead to a greater reliance on mediated communi-
cation (Aylor & Dainton, 2002; Canary, Stafford, Hause, & Wallace, 1993;
Gerstel & Gross, 1984; Stephen, 1986). Further, Ficara and Mongeau
(2000) suggested that the physical absence of relational partner may
increase levels of general and relationship-specific uncertainty relative to
GCRs. Rohlfing (1995) correctly noted that married couples that are sepa-
rated geographically may face the unique challenge of cultural expecta-
tions to live together and sacrifice personal goals for the relationship.
Given these characteristics, it is important to examine the way research on
LDRs has been conducted and what information we currently have about
relational maintenance processes in distance relationships.

Controversy exists concerning how to measure distance relationships.
Those studying LDRs have generally taken one of three approaches to de-
fining them. The first approach is to use the number of miles separated to
distinguish between distance and geographically close relationships. That
is, researchers have established a minimum number of miles necessary for
a relationship to be operationalized as a distance relationship.
For example Carpenter and Knox (1986) operationalized LDRs as part-
ners separated by more than 100 miles, but Schwebel, Dunn, Moss, and
Renner (1992) established a criterion of only 50 miles separated. Still oth-
ers (e.g., Stafford & Reske, 1990) reported the average number of miles
separating partners in LDRs, yet did not report how they distinguished
LDRs from GCRs.
Others have specified geographical boundaries (e.g., state lines) to de-
fine an LDR. Instead of the miles that separate residences, these research-
ers have focused on the city or state of residence as the criterion to
determine distance relationships. Helgeson (1994), in her examination of
relational dissolution in LDRs, defined an LDR as one in which one partner
130 -t++ AYLOR

lives outside the city limits of the other residence, whereas Ste-
phen (1986) re q uired that partners live in different states or different
parts of the same state. Canary et al. (1993) defined LDRs as relationships
in which the partners lived in separate towns.
A third school of thought has been to allow respondents to define if the
relationship is a distance relationship, regardless of the number of miles or
geographic boundaries that separate partners. Some studies (e.g., Dainton
and Aylor, 2001) h ave included a question similar to the following:

A geographically-close relationship is one in which partners are able to see each

other, if they choose, face-to-face, most days. A long-distance relationship is one
in which both partners are not able to see each other, face-to-face, most days.
Would you consider your relationship a distance relationship?

A version of this approach was used by Ficara and Mongeau (2000). They
asked respondents to indicate if they were not able to see each other “as
much as they would like primarily due to geographic separation.” Maguire
(1999) allowed respondents to indicate “if they were unable to see each
other on a regular basis (e.g., daily or weekly) due to time and/or distance
constraints.” Guldner and Swensen (1995) posed the statement, “my part-
ner lives far enough away from me that it would be very difficult or impossi-
ble for me to see him or her every day.”
Researchers such as Dellman-Jenkins et al. (1993) argued that allowing re-
spondents to define if their relationship is a distance relationship is more valid
than “miles separated” or “geographic boundary” standards because a
self-defined approach “is based on definitions, and their own
sense of reality in dating situations. To paraphrase W I. Thomas: If people de-
fine a situation as real, it becomes real in its consequences (p. 2 13) .” As was
previously noted, “miles separated” standards vary considerably across stud-
ies. Additionally, respondents often have difficulty accurately reporting the
number of miles separating themselves. Thus, a strict application of a “miles
separated” criterion may not accurately measure all distance relationships.


Because a common conceptualization of relational maintenance includes

efforts to continue a relationship in a particular state or condition
(Dindia & Canary, 1993), much research on relational maintenance has fo-
cused on perceptions of satisfaction with and commitment to the
relationship. The majority of research on geographically close relationships
has established clear relationships between relational maintenance behav-
iors and relational satisfaction, and between commitment and relational
stability (see e.g., Dainton, Stafford, & Canary, 1994; Lund, 1985;
Stafford & Canary, 1991).

Although most of this research has focused on GCRs, some research has
examined these characteristics in LDRs. Taken together, these findings
suggest that, contrary to popular opinion, individuals in LDRs experience
the same or even greater levels of satisfaction and commitment relative to
their GCR counterparts.
For example, Guldner and Swensen (1995) found no differences be-
tween those in LDRs and GCRs on satisfaction or commitment. Similarly,
Govaerts and Dixon (1988), in their study of commuter marriages, found
no significant differences in satisfaction between the two groups. Stafford
and Reske (1990) reported that individuals in LDRs were more satisfied
with and committed to the relationship (defined as more in love) than their
counterparts in GCRs. They argued that this might be explained by the
tendency of those in LDRs to idealize their partners due to restricted
face-to-face communication.
Although the majority of studies seem to suggest that LDR partners ex-
perience the same or greater levels of satisfaction and commitment, an ex-
ception was the work of Holt and Stone (1988). They reported negative
relationships between both distance apart and satisfaction and time be-
tween visits and satisfaction. Additionally, in a longitudinal study of
long-distance and geographically close marriages, Rindfuss and Stephen
(1990) found that couples that were geographically separated at the time
of the study were significantly more likely to be divorced after 3 years. It
should be noted, however, that the generalizability of these findings has
been questioned because much of the sample consisted of military cou-
ples, a population that experiences higher divorce rates than the general
population (Guldner & Swensen, 1995; Rohlfing, 1995).
In addition to satisfaction and commitment, Dainton and Kilmer
(1999) argued that trust is an important relational characteristic, particu-
larly among partners who are geographically separated. Less attention has
been given to trust relative to satisfaction and commitment in geographi-
cally close relationships, but research does suggest that trust is critical to
relational quality (Canary & Cupach, 1988) and is positively related to re-
lational maintenance (Canary & Stafford, 1993). Interestingly, as Dainton
and Kilmer (1999) noted, trust has rarely been a focus of studies of LDRs.
Westefeld and Liddell (1982), in their qualitative analysis of coping strate-
gies of partners in LDRs, did imply that trust was critical for the long-term
success of LDRs. But this relationship has not been empirically tested. This
is particularly puzzling given the geographical separation and increased un-
certainty levels in distance relationships.
In summary, research on relational characteristics in distance relation-
ships suggests an interesting paradox. On the one hand, LDR partners face
the previously mentioned challenges and unique relational demands rela-
tive to their GCR counterparts based on the nature of a distance relation-
ship. On the basis of this research, one might conclude that distance
132 +==+ AYLOR

relationships often require more effort to successfully maintain relative to

geographically close relationships. On the other hand, however, most stud-
ies suggest few if any differences between partners in LDRs and GCRs on
satisfaction or commitment, and some research suggests greater levels of
satisfaction and commitment among those in LDRs. The rest of this chap-
ter is devoted to this paradox as research on maintenance processes, com-
munication channel use, and partner expectations is examined.


One of the first investigations of strategies used to successfully maintain

LDRs was the work of Westefeld and Liddell (1982). Their report was the
product of workshops conducted at Iowa State by the student YWCA and
counseling services program designed to explore the nature of romantic
distance relationships. Participants in the workshops were students cur-
rently involved in LDRs. From conversations with workshop participants,
Westefeld and Liddell reported nine maintenance strategies commonly
used to maintain successful LDRs. Rohlfing (1995) summarizes these:

Recognizing the prevalence of LDRs.

Developing support systems for partners who are separated.
Developing alternative ways to communicate, including sending
gifts, videotapes, and audiotapes.
Discussing relational expectations and relationship “ground rules”
prior to separation (e.g., will we date other people, how often will we
spend time with friends, how will we communicate with each other).
Using face-to-face time wisely by dealing with affection and other
Being open and honest with their partner.
Developing and maintaining trust.
Focusing on positive aspects of LDRs.

Some years later, Holt and Stone (1998) and Wilmot and Carbaugh
(1986) performed quantitative examinations of the effectiveness of cer-
tain behaviors in LDRs. Holt and Stone suggested that two strategies were
effective in maintaining LDRs, including frequent visits and visualizing
(i.e., daydreaming about the partner). They noted that visualizing posi-
tively affected relational satisfaction among partners with a “preference
for visual or verbal response modes of cognitive processing” (p. 137) but
that frequent visits benefited partners regardless of processing modes.
Although more empirical in nature than the typology offered by
Westefeld and Liddell (1982), the scope of this investigation was limited
to two behaviors. It can also be argued that visiting partner is a general

behavior as opposed to specific maintenance activities that may or may not

be performed during those visits.
Wilmot and Carbaugh (1986) examined strategies used by partners in
LDRs to deal with physical separation. The coping behaviors reported are
typically distinguished from maintenance behaviors in that coping behav-
iors tend to focus on one partner, whereas maintenance behaviors are more
interactive in nature. These researchers identified self-development, inde-
pendence, adopting a religion, and high levels of self-disclosure as strate-
gies used to cope with physical separation.
Canary et al. (1993) conducted a study using subjects in romantic, platonic
and family relationships. Forty-two percent of their sample consisted of sub-
jects in LDRs, and the researchers analyzed open-ended responses concerning
strategies for maintaining various relationships. Subjects responded to the
question, “What are the communication behaviors that I use to maintain my
various relationships ?” They were required to address three different types of
relationships and to address both positive and negative behaviors used.
In all, 10 maintenance strategies were reported including positivity, open-
ness, assurances, sharing tasks, social networks, joint activities, cards/let-
ters/calls, avoidance, antisocial, and humor. This study did not, however,
distinguish between LDR and GCR partners in frequency of use of each
strategy. This inductive analysis supplemented previous work (Stafford SK
Canary, 1991) and f o 11owed an original flurry of work on relational mainte-
nance in geographically close relationships by communication scholars in the
1980s and early 1990s (see, e.g., Ayres, 1983; Bell, Daly, & Gonzalez, 1987;
Dindia & Baxter, 1987; Duck, 1988; Shea & Pearson, 1986).
More recently researchers have used the Canary and Stafford typology
of maintenance strategies to examine relational maintenance in LDRs. For
example, Ficara and Mongeau (2000) used an uncertainty reduction
framework in their examination of maintenance in LDRs. They focused on
the relationship between relational uncertainty and the use of three of Ca-
nary and maintenance behaviors, including positivity, assur-
ances, and openness. All three strategies were significantly and negatively
related to relational uncertainty in this study. Of the 170 subjects in this
study, however, only 55% were currently in an LDR. The remaining 45%
reported having terminated an LDR within the past 6 months.


Most studies of LDR maintenance acknowledge that restricted communi-

cation and geographic separation lead partners to rely more on mediated
communication relative to their GCR counterparts. Stephen (1986) was
among the first to note that if either verbal or nonverbal communication is
restricted, relational maintenance should be primarily dependent on the
134 w AYLOR

unrestricted channel. In the case of distance relationships, the unrestricted

channel is verbal communication, and geographic separation dictates that
the majority of this must be mediated. Given the obvious importance of
channel use in any relationship, particularly distance relationships, re-
search on channel use in LDRs is reviewed separately here.
Generally, previous literature suggests that phone calls are the most
important mediated form of communication to partners in distance rela-
tionships (Carpenter & Knox, 1986; Gerstel & Gross, 1983; Stafford &
Reske, 1990). These studies also indicate the importance of cards, let-
ters, audiotapes, and videotapes. More recently, LDR scholars have ex-
amined the use of computer mediated communication to maintain
distance relationships (Aylor & Dainton, 2002; Maguire, 1999). Al-
though by definition distance relationships provide limited face-to-face
communication, the face-to-face contact that is afforded has emerged in
almost every examination of LDRs as a critical channel.
In my recent work with Marianne Dainton (Aylor & Dainton, 2002)
we found that face-to-face contact is not only a critical communication
channel in LDR maintenance, but can also differentiate between types
of distance relationships and can serve as a moderating variable for im-
portant relational outcomes. For example, in our study of jealousy expe-
rience, expression, in LDRs, we asked 114 individuals currently in
LDRs indicated how much face-to-face contact they had during a typi-
cal week. Thirty-three percent of participants reported no face-to-face
contact, whereas 67% reported periodic face-to-face contact with a
mean of 1 to 2 days.
This variable was instrumental in differentiating between distance re-
lationships with regard to jealousy experience, expression, and goals that
partners had in jealousy situations. When we compared LDRs as a whole
to GCRs, we noted few differences in jealousy experience, expression, or
goals. However, we found significant differences between GCRs, LDRs
with no periodic face-to-face contact, and LDRs with periodic
face-to-face contact. The pattern was for those in LDRs with no face-to-
face contact to experience more jealousy than those with periodic
face-to-face contact or those in GCRs.
Further, in our examination of the relationships between mediated
communication and maintenance behaviors in LDRs (Aylor & Dainton,
2002), individuals with periodic face-to-face contact used three of five
maintenance behaviors (shared tasks, positivity, and assurances) more fre-
quently than individuals with face-to-face contact or in geographically
close partners. Those without periodic face-to-face contact were more
likely to use the Internet to communicate with their partner, and the use of
computer-mediated communication was a significant predictor of trust for
these individuals but not for those with periodic face-to-face contact.

We also found the presence of periodic face-to-face contact to be an im-

portant factor in the satisfaction, commitment, and trust of LDR partners.
Those in LDRs who experienced periodic face-to-face contact reported
significantly higher levels of satisfaction, commitment, and trust than did
those with no face-to-face contact. We found no differences in satisfaction,
commitment, or trust when we compared distance relationships as a whole
with GCRs.
It seems then that the presence of some face-to-face interaction may be
one explanation for the paradox noted earlier; namely that individuals in
LDRs encounter more difficulties and challenges to relational survival, yet
report similar or higher levels of satisfaction and commitment as their
GCR counterparts. Distance alone should make LDRs less likely to suc-
ceed, as relationships that are more difficult to maintain are morelikely to
be terminated (Lloyd, Cate, & Henton, 1984). Yet previous research sug-
gests that LDRs are not terminated sooner than GCRs.
The previous studies did not distinguish between types of distance rela-
tionships. Distinguishing between those with face-to-face contact and
those without is consistent with (1999) argument that distance
relationship should not be viewed as homogenous relational types.
Another effort to explain this paradox comes from the work of Dainton
and Kilmer (1999). They posited that the differing expectations of rela-
tional partners in LDRs and GCRs might help explain the longevity of dis-
tance relationships. Their study of 485 subjects suggested that those in
LDRs and GCRs have similar expectations for the relationship and that hav-
ing these expectations met predicted satisfaction, commitment, and trust in
LDRs and GCRs. However, those in LDRs met or exceeded expectations
for relational maintenance to a greater extent than those in GCRs. The au-
thors noted that it is unclear if this finding suggests that LDR partners work
harder to meet expectations or if, as Stafford and Reske (1990) claimed, in-
dividuals in distance relationships tend to idealize their partners.


Relational maintenance researchers have taken important first steps to-
ward a better understanding of the maintenance processes enacted in dis-
tance relationships. This chapter reviewed this work, including research on
the unique challenges of LDRs; relational characteristics of satisfaction,
commitment, and trust among individuals in LDRs; maintenance behav-
iors and channel use critical to maintaining LDRs; and partner expectations
for those in LDRs. Several avenues are worthy of future examination in an
attempt to further this growing body of research.
First, and most obviously, it is important that more maintenance re-
search focus on distance relationships. The increasing numbers and
types of distance relationships alone should encourage more research in
this context as we increasingly view knowledge of relational processes
in LDRs as an important extension of previous work on geographically
close relationships.
Second, it is important that researchers not consider distance relation-
ships as homogenous relational types. Research noted previously in this
chapter suggests that face-to-face contact is one variable that distinguishes
types of distance relationships. Others have argued that the reasons part-
ners separate (e.g., attending college, starting a new job, enlisting in the
military) make certain types of distance relationships qualitatively differ-
ent (Rohlfing, 1995; Sahlstein, 1999). Further, partners who have a defi-
nite idea of how long they will be geographically separated may differ in
maintenance processes relative to LDR partners who have no idea when, or
if, they will unite permanently. Clearly, distinctions do exist within dis-
tance relationships; all LDRs are not the same type of relationship. Many of
these differences seem significant and should be recognized in future re-
search if our examinations of maintenance processes are to be as produc-
tive as possible.
Third, more research needs to focus on communication channel use in
LDRs, particularly the use of computer-mediated communication, and the
relationships between channel use and maintenance behaviors in LDRs.
Many of the studies that have examined channel use predate the explosion
of the Internet. Today, more people have knowledge of, and access to, the
Internet and e-mail than ever before. As Clemente (1998) noted, more
than 50 million people use the Internet worldwide and 91% use the
Internet for personal reasons. Clemente also noted that 8 7% of users com-
municate via e-mail, and 44% have multiple e-mail accounts that are simul-
taneously active. Stafford, Kline, and Dimmick (1999) found that 61% of
home e-mail users reported using e-mail specifically for relationship main-
tenance purposes.
In addition to the use of conventional, asynchronous forms of com-
puter-mediated communication such as e-mail to maintain LDRs, it will
become increasingly important to examine geographically separated
use of synchronous computer-mediated communication (e.g.,
instant messaging, computer conferencing, real-time chat rooms). In-
creasingly individuals are able to use their computers in a way that pro-
vides instant feedback and more closely mirrors the dynamics of
face-to-face interaction.
Finally, not enough attention has focused on expectations of LDR part-
ners. The work of Dainton and Kilmer (1999) in this area is rare and to be
applauded. Relational maintenance researchers, particularly those guided
by a social exchange perspective, have long acknowledged the importance
of relational expectations in relational maintenance and development. One
might argue that partner expectations may be even more telling in distance

relationships. Although distance relationships are gaining in popularity, the

majority of popular and academic information regarding relational mainte-
nance focuses on geographically close relationships. Because information
sources are less prevalent for those in LDRs, own experience in a dis-
tance relationship becomes increasingly important in explaining
maintenance activities and relational perceptions. Future examinations of
LDRs should examine a previous experiences with distance rela-
tionships, the outcomes of that relationship, and the expectations they
hold based partially on those past experiences.
In summary, as the number of distance relationships in this country
continues to increase, we understand more about these relationships
than ever before. Using a variety of theoretical frameworks, we have be-
gun to explore the unique nature and demands of LDRs; per-
ceptions of satisfaction, commitment and trust; maintenance behaviors
used to successfully maintain distance relationships; communication
channel use in LDRs; and relational expectations for those involved in
distance relationships. It is my hope that as the number and types of dis-
tance relationships increase, so too will serious empirical examinations of
the communication processes that facilitate the maintenance and devel-
opment of these relationships.
Indeed, it is hoped that rather than distance making the heart grow
fonder, in this case, distance will make the researcher work harder.

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Compute Mediated
Communication IEFfects
on Relationship
I Formation
an d Maintenance

Michael K. Rabby
The University of Central Florida
Joseph B. Walther
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

ethnology affects lives in both predictable and unpredictable

ways. When one considers the influence that computers have (and will
have) on the way people engage in relationships, it is important to under-
stand that people are just starting to assimilate them into their daily lives.
People have only begun to scratch the surface of the extent to which com-
puters will affect their lives and the relationships within them.
Today, computer-mediated communication (CMC) has infiltrated a va-
riety of aspects of lives. People use it to communicate with each
other at work (Constant, Sproull, & Kiesler, 1997), in educational settings
(Brandon & Hollingshead, 1999), in friendships (Parks & Floyd, 1996),
and in romantic relationships (Merkle & Richardson, 2000). Negroponte
(1995) made perhaps the strongest claim for the importance of one type of
CMC, electronic mail (e-mail),
. < when he asserted that it will be the domi-
nant interpersonal telecommunications medium, approaching if not over-

shadowing voice within the next 15 years. Yet communication via e-mail
seems exotic to those just discovering it, banal to those who have used it for
a while, and acts as a lifeline to those who use it on a daily basis to commu-
nicate with others at work and home.
Although e-mail has not achieved the universality that the telephone
has, the signs point to a similar pattern of assimilation. For example, people
presumed both would have dehumanizing effects at first, but that has not
proven to be the case. As Mitchell (1995) noted, “Telephony did not re-
place face-to-face contact.. . . Rather, it created a new form of contact; it
extended and redefined the sphere of interaction and cohabitation” (p.
35). Scholars are only starting to construct the introduction in the tome of
research on CMC. As with the telephone, early theories about CMC, such
as the cues-filtered-out approaches (Culnan & Markus, 1987), assumed
that CMC would be less socially oriented and personal then face-to-face
communication. However, this has not proven true. In fact, communica-
tion via the Internet often reaches levels referred to as hyperpersond com-
munication: communication that is more intimate and sociable than that
found in equivalent, offline interactions (Walther, 1996).
With the movement toward increasing use, CMC has proven to be a valu-
able tool for many people to initiate, develop, and maintain relationships.
CMC offers people a venue through which they can meet new people with
whom they share similar interests (Rintel & Pittam, 1997). Often, people
meet and form relationships online that hold great importance in their lives
(Turkle, 1995). CMC h as also provided a new forum for people to maintain
previously established relationships with friends and family (Rabby, 1997).
This chapter focuses on the ways that CMC affects personal relation-
ships. We will review how CMC affords new ways to meet people to form
relationships, and affects the way they come to know one another. The
manner. in which relationships develop is subject to some similarities and
some differences than the trajectories of face-to-face dynamics, which
some research has described, although not in ways that entirely fit with a
focus on personal relations. Finally, this chapter examines how CMC may
be used in the maintenance of ongoing relationships-its role and
evaluation of its potency-and in social support online.


Computer-mediated communication represents the wide spectrum of me-

dia that use some form of digital encoding, and in many ways, it is a misno-
mer to discuss CMC as a unifying concept. Most studies exploring CMC
focus on a single aspect or context, such as newsgroups (Parks & Floyd,
1996), Multi-User Dungeons, or MUDS (Curtis, 1997; Utz, 2000),
Multi-User Dungeons, Object-Oriented, or MOOS (Parks & Roberts,

1998), e-mail (Stafford, Kline, & Dimmick, 1999), and Internet Relay Chat
or IRC (Rintel & Pittam, 1997). One distinction that can be made among
these forms is that some are asynchronous and others are synchronous.
Asynchronous forms are those in which the message sender and message
reader are not online at the same time, where there is some kind of
store-and-forward capacity. The most common of these is e-mail, a comput-
erized letter delivered instantly to another person at the choosing,
but that is read by the receiver at his or her convenience. Usenet
Newsgroups are a second type of asynchronous channel. These consist of a
series of electronic bulletin boards that enable people to post messages on a
wide variety of topics, which can be read by as many as thousands of other
people. To communicate on Usenet, instead of communicating to specified
addressees, one posts a message to the topic, that is, for anybody who can ac-
cess it in a public forum. Other types of asynchronous bulletin boards are be-
coming common via Web sites, for facilitating group discussion.
Synchronous, or real-time CMC, includes chat rooms and MUDS/
MOOS. Like newsgroups, chatrooms remain open to anybody who can ac-
cess them, may be topically organized, and are text-based. Chatrooms ap-
pear in a variety of forms, such as IRC and in proprietary systems like
America Online. As a user types a message on the screen, and sends it to
the system, the message appears to all others connected to the same virtual
space. MUDS are game-oriented participatory chats, with rich text-based
descriptions of rooms and scenes. They feature programmable objects
(represented in text), and text-based descriptions each player selects as
users compete or socialize with one another. MOOS, similarly, feature de-
scriptions of architecture and decor, as well as other players, although
MOOS tend to be more oriented to socializing than game playing.
Instant messaging services represent a recent addition to the family of
synchronous CMC media. Popularized by the ICQ network and the AOL
Instant Messenger service, instant messaging combines features of e-mail
and chatrooms. Instant messaging is frequently used as a one-to-one me-
dium. Like a chatroom, communication occurs in real time if both parties
are present. Instant messaging lets users know instantly when messages ap-
pear for them, allowing them to respond to partners immediately. It also
lets one know who among friends are online at a given time.


Not all of these types of CMC are the same, although research has paid insuf-
ficient attention to the effects that the differences among them may have (see
Nass & Mason, 1990). One distinction mentioned earlier is the degree of syn-
chrony and asynchrony. Although more research is needed, one study has
found, insofar as relational communication is concerned, that synchronous

CMC and face-to-face discussion resemble one another, whereas asynchron-

ous CMC, and (asynchronous) paper-and-pencil exchange resemble each
other, in their sensitivity to relationship longevity and other factors (Walther,
2001). Another distinction exists in the audience of the message. In e-mail,
the user controls who will receive the message (at least at first), knowing who
will read the message. Other forms of CMC blur the line between interper-
sonal and mass media. Newsgroups allow the sender to post to a variety a
board that anyone who has access to it can read. The audience is limitless.
Finally, CMC forms differ from each other-and from Face-to-Face
(FtF) communication-in the extent to which they reveal the user. Most
CMC uses text-based messages, without the nonverbal signals and involun-
tary messages people emit while in the physical presence of another. The an-
onymity and simplicity of text-based messages hold a great appeal to many
people (Cutlip, Friedman, & Wolicki, 1996), and as discussed later, have im-
portant implications for the relational dynamics of online interaction. Other
forms of CMC, however, such as on the Activeworlds site, allow the user to
select an avatar, a graphic object that represents the user. Avatars can take
the form of people, animals, and robots. They move in a simulated
three-dimensional environment (on the computer screen) that people can
create and manipulate. This form gives users a sense of nonverbal space and
placement. Users can also manipulate their avatars to make nonverbal mo-
tions such as waving, kicking, dancing, and jumping. In all of these cases,
there is more or less of a digital barricade: The user is not shown as she or he
appears in real life, and the presentation of self online may be highly selec-
tive (if not, in some cases, downright deceptive).
Invariably, differences in the way people develop and maintain relation-
ships may exist between these technical characteristics, and the social con-
texts with which they are associated (Roberts, Smith, & Pollack, 1996).
With that in mind, the remainder of this chapter focuses on the primary
theories that speak directly to forming and maintaining relationships on
the Internet, unique characteristics of CMC, and future directions for
studying the impacts of CMC on ongoing relationships.


The first role that CMC serves in relationships is that of a medium for ini-
tial exchange. Although many relationships that begin online migrate
offline, the majority of the research in this area has explored entirely pure
virtual relationships. Some scholars such as Wellman (1994) have explored
the possibilities of strong communities rising up in the wake of online inter-
action. Wellman et al. (1996) suggested that the Internet has replaced the
semiprivate meeting spaces of coffee shops, cafes, pubs, and parks. Now,
people interface with each other entirely in private. Entire communities

have formed as a byproduct of the Internet and other types of CMC (e.g.
Baym, 1997; Curtis, 1997; Parks & Roberts, 1998; Sproull & Faraj, 1997).
Within these communities, personal relationships frequently emerge.

Meeting People is Easy

The Internet provides fertile ground for starting relationships. Anecdotal

accounts of spontaneous friendship development are noted in some of the
earliest, pre-Internet CMC studies (e.g., Johansen, DeGrasse, & Wilson,
1978). Because people often encounter each messages within
well-defined topical discussions, there is a well-founded presumption of
similarity. According to Rheingold (199 1) :

In a virtual community we can go directly to the place where our favorite sub-
jects are being discussed, then get acquainted with people who share our passions
. . . Your chances of making friends are magnified by orders of magnitude over the
old methods of finding a peer group. (p. 27)

Willie Nelson fans find other fans on alt.music.willienelson. Movie fans

can gossip about the latest news rumors in the forum pages on the
Web site. People having difficulties with depression can
gather in a variety of places to share and compare experiences. Within this
context, it is easy to take note of attitudes, style, wit, and experi-
ences in a manner that one finds attractive. As Baker (1998) reported from
her interviews with romantic couples who first met online, “What did they
like about each other right from the start? Sense of humor, response time,
interests, qualities described online, and writing style were prominent,
along with having ‘something in Thus, people meet in the same
manner that many people in FtF do-they initiate an interaction because
they have something in common.
However, unlike FtF first meetings, these commonalities and verbal im-
pressions are all that communicators have to go by. Rather than filter
through physically borne indicators of age, physical attractiveness, vocal
characteristics and behaviors, and other ephemera that are part and parcel
of FtF first impressions, currency online may be, as Rice (1987) sug-
gested, the quality of information and the wit with which one pres-
ents it. Some of these relationships are fleeting, and last the duration of a
conversation. Others develop into friendships and romantic relationships.
Everywhere on the Internet, people can meet and form relationships.
Research has documented the course of such relationship developments
in several online arenas. Parks and Floyd (1996), for instance, surveyed
528 users from 24 Usenet newsgroups, receiving 176 responses. They
found that 60.7% had formed a personal relationship with someone they
had met through a newsgroup. More women than men had formed a rela-

tionship in this manner (72.2% vs. 54.5%). The frequency of contributions

to the newsgroups helped predict the relationship formation, again indi-
cating the importance of familiarity with the medium. They further dis-
covered that prospective partners first note each postings in a
newsgroup, then send each other private e-mail; they often call one an-
other on the phone after that, and many then send photographs. A minor-
ity, but a significant proportion, go on to meet one another FtF. These
relationships, according to the research, were as intimate in several dimen-
sions as people commonly experienced in parallel FtF relationships.
Parks and Roberts (1998) extended this research in the context of
MOOS. In contrast to the static, asynchronous messages posted in
newsgroups, MOOS feature synchronous communication. Like the
newsgroup users, the MOO users migrated to other media after getting to
know the other person online. MOO users also reported longer duration of
their relationships. Nearly all of the MOO respondents (93.6%) had
formed an ongoing interpersonal relationship during their MOO interac-
tions. Furthermore, 90% of them had moved that relationship to another
channel in addition to the MOO. Parks and Roberts (1998) speculated that
MOOS are more dynamic and social in nature; unlike newsgroups, MOOS
do not have a set topic. Many MOOS seem to have meeting and socializing,
rather than information exchange, as their primary purpose. Utz (2000)
found, in contrast, that the likelihood of forming a relationship within a
MUD (game-playing) environment depended in part on the expec-
tation that such relationships could be supported by CMC, echoing Jacob-
(1999) findings that some people join MOOS for the technical
challenges, whereas others gravitate to the social challenges.
Another study focused on romantic couples who had met online and
successfully maintained their relationships offline (Baker, 1998). A major-
ity of these couples had first met in some topical discussion group or game
site, rather than in electronic venues devoted to finding partners. The sam-
ple in this study included only couples who did have online-to-offline rela-
tionships, so it is hard to know how critical a factor this is in virtual
relationship formation; as in offline relationships, there are a million rea-
sons not to like someone whom one meets under favorable circumstances.

Communication Dynamics in O-dine Relationships

The presence of online relationship formation is, on the one hand, no sur-
prise; Parks and Floyd (1996) concluded that the Internet provides just an-
other place to meet and talk, like so many venues in the offline world. On
the other hand, it is still a curious idea that people may develop relation-
ships in an environment in which they cannot see, hear, or verify the physi-
cal existence of their partners. Although not theoretically necessary for

relationships to form (Lea & Spears, 1996), physical exposure and

co-presence are so common a precursor to conversation and relationship
initiation that making friends or falling in love without physically meeting
partner is conventionally unthinkable. The question arises, how do
people get to know one another online, and do the mechanisms by which
they do so affect their relationships in unusual ways?
One approach to this process has been articulated in Social Informa-
tion Processing theory (Walther, 1992). This theory assumes that peo-
desires to get to know one another are not thwarted by the lack of
nonverbal cues, but rather, should nonverbal cues be lacking, people
adapt to the medium they have in order to exchange the information they
need to develop impressions. The content, timing, and style of the verbal
message affects impressions, and should they be motivated to
escalate them, their relationships. However, when using text-based com-
munication-especially asynchronously-more time is needed for infor-
mation to exchange and attributions to form. Research has documented
that online interpersonal impressions are slower to form than FtF
groups, but given sufficient time, the depth of these impressions is no less
in CMC than among FtF partners in the end (Walther, 1993). Moreover,
levels of relational intimacy, trust, and informality also accrue similarly in
CMC as in FtF groups over time (Walther & Burgoon, 1992). Other re-
search has found that relational intimacy can start off quite high, when
partners anticipate that for some reason they are likely to continue their
interactions over time, rather than have a chance meeting, never to com-
municate again (Walther, 1994, 1997).
Detailed analyses of how CMC users get to know one another reveals
that the mechanisms they have at their disposal might predispose them
to intimate communication. Tidwell and Walther (2000) examined the
uncertainty reduction strategies available to CMC users and the ways
they were used. FtF partners, on first encounter, have a variety of means
to find out about one another and tend to use the most polite, or unob-
trusive, means to do so-passive observation, and seeing how prospec-
tive partners interact with the physical and social environment (Berger,
Gardner, Parks, Schulman, & Miller, 1976; Berger & Kellermann,
1983). Over e-mail, however, such passive means are unavailable, and
communicators must turn to more obtrusive methods-asking personal
questions, and self-disclosure. In a lab experiment, CMC and FtF pairs
engaged in first meetings, and their comments were recorded and ana-
lyzed. CMC partners exchanged proportionately more self-disclosures
and questions than did FtF partners. Moreover, the questions they
asked were about more personal topics than those that FtF partners ex-
changed. At the same time, the deeper the disclosures and questions
used by partners in CMC, the more effective they were rated by their
partners, in comparison to those who met in FtF discussions. CMC us-

ers have few alternatives when it comes to finding out about each other,
aside from such interrogatives and self-disclosures, although doing so
nevertheless involves a greater degree of intimacy than FtF strangers
have reason to develop. These initial, innocuous exchanges may be the
foundation for the intensity that some online relationships acquire.
Despite the differences in the how people initially meet, if the relational
partners feel close enough to each other they will use a variety of media and
even FtF contact to maintain their relationships. In fact, the development
of relationships online may simply be temporally retarded in comparison
to FtF relationship development. At this point, research on CMC as both a
primary means of communication, and as a supplement, starts to overlap.


Given the shifting dynamics of CMC, it is not surprising that the com-
munication strategies that people use in CMC also vary. The one consis-
tent feature of all types of CMC is the lack of formal rules. Some
informal rules do hold throughout a variety of CMC. For example, when
TERS), it is said to indicate anger. However, other communication be-
haviors do not carry such universal meanings, such as writing in all
lower-case letters. To some, this indicates laziness and powerlessness.
In other cases, such as between two close friends, it translates more pos-
itively. Likewise, the well-known group of emoticons, or typed-out,
sideways representations of facial expressions, are almost universally
described as functioning like nonverbal behavior and substituting for
the comparative lack of nonverbal cues that is part of CMC. Recent re-
search has found, however, that despite highly consensual recognition
among CMC users of the semantic meanings associated with several
emoticons, they have very little syntactic effect on message interpreta-
tion. That is, in combination with affectively valenced verbal messages,
they do not consistently add positive or negative meaning. Rather, a
negativity effect obtains: A negatively-valenced verbal message or a neg-
ative (frowning) emoticon skews message interpretation negatively,
whereas positive emoticons (smiles, winks) have no combinatorial ef-
fect (Walther & 2001). Other language and cue variations
that have potency in the offline world also resonate online. For instance,
Selfe and Meyer (199 1) d emonstrated that the linguistic patterns tradi-
tionally associated with power and status are also conveyed in
text-based CMC. Adkins and Brashers (1995) demonstrated that such
powerful versus powerless speech variations affect interpersonal im-
pressions online. Users of powerless language (operationalized as

hedges, qualifiers, and tag questions) were perceived as less credible, at-
tractive, and persuasive than users of powerful language.
Different politeness, or face-saving strategies are also present in online
discussions (Hiemstra, 1982). Witt, Wheeless, Reyna, and Swigger (2000)
found that variations in verbal immediacy corresponded to ratings of
conversational effectiveness. The time of day at which messages
are sent, and the speediness of replies interact with message content to af-
fect the perceived dominance/submissiveness and intimacy of e-mail ex-
changes walther & Tidwell, 1995). F or instance, an affectionate e-mail
message sent after normal business hours conveys greater intimacy than it
does as if sent during the day, whereas an e-mail task request sent at night
conveys more dominance than a daytime task request.
Perhaps the most distinctive differences in the ways that people com-
municate occur in asynchronous communication and synchronous com-
munication. In asynchronous types of CMC, the user has the
opportunity to carefully construct the message and can even edit and
change it at well before sending it. Thus, e-mail messages are frequently
well organized and contemplated. At other times, they have sentences
that would sound appropriate orally but not written. As one sender
wrote in an e-mail: “On Monday Bob and I are going to the Bush concert
then on Thursday I turn 21 but I really wait for the semester to be
over.” This reflects the conversational tone that many messages take.
Ferrara, Brunner, and Whittemore (1991) identified the tone of CMC
as featuring an emergent register- a hybrid form of language between
spoken and written prose.
In synchronous communication, the rules vary even more. People often
talk in fragments, and ignore punctuation except when they want to indi-
cate emphasis. Rintel and Pittam (1998) published several excerpts from
dialogues in a public IRC room, and discovered numerous instances of this.
In this excerpt, they show an IRC member exiting an interaction:

Big Bunny: well, i got to go . . .

Big Bunny: lots of work to do . . .
Reaper: big: email me someday or something
Big Bunny: email me first
Reaper: big: will do
Big Bunny: then respond to ya (p. 525)

As this example illustrates, the participants ignore conventional gram-

mar, and instead concentrate on firing off quick fragments of dialogue. Un-
like the monologues frequently featured in asynchronous interactions, this
interaction demonstrates the dynamic style frequented by users of syn-
chronous mediated communication.

Other research has revealed that exaggerated intimacy can become part
of the fun of online interaction. Just as flaming may become a norm in some
online groups (Lea, Fung, & Spears, 1992), so may signals of affec-
tion. In the groups studied in Walther and (1992) research, it be-
came common for one group to sign each message with the and
signifying hugs and kisses; another group signed, “Love, Kara,” or whatever
their names were. Although clearly jocular in tone, no such jocular affec-
tion was exchanged in parallel FtF groups. The question arises as to what
effect, if any, these stylistic differences have on relationships. In other
words, how does this tendency to exaggerate emotional messages in CMC
influence the relationship? Although research still awaits, it seems reason-
able to expect some effect. The major theories that describe relational ef-
fects of CMC are consistent with this expectation.

~ociaI I&rrnation and Deindivuduation (SIDE) Theory

The SIDE theory of CMC (Lea & Spears, 1992; Spears & Lea, 1994) ex-
amines the development of relationships online not as interpersonal ones,
but as social relationships. This distinction, which is often overlooked in re-
lationships research (cf. Sanders, 1997), is a fundamental one in SIDE. Lea
and Spears defined interpersonal cues as those cues that distinguish one
person from another. Such cues are most apparent in FtF interaction visu-
ally; that is, when we see another person, it is immediately apparent that
the target person is individually different from oneself. Because CMC is, in
most cases, visually anonymous-that is, it does not present visual, identi-
fying cues-CMC users can become deindivuated online. The
deindividuation dynamic interacts with whatever identity may be most sa-
lient to a communicator. Whether that identity is role-based or based on
some salient social category (e.g., both students, both Dutch, etc.), if it is a
social rather than an individually oriented identity, we experience greater
attraction to others who share that identity. On the other hand, when the
salient identity is individualistic-one is aware of onesself as an individual
and is looking for individual differences in others online-the
deindividuation dynamic is muted, or even leads to dislike or disparage-
ment of the other (since we generally like similar and dislike dissimilar oth-
ers). Moreover, when a common social identity is active, CMC
participants more closely adhere to the norms of the group, and value those
who reciprocate those norms.
The SIDE approach has been used to explain how CMC participants,
especially in groups (and more especially where there is an outgroup as
well as an ingroup) become attracted to one another. It is important to
note, however, that this attraction is considered to be social in nature-so-
cial attraction-rather than interpersonal attraction: One is just as at-
tracted to any member of the group, and the members are essentially

equivalent and substitutable. This attraction, however, may be (falsely)

perceived to be personal in nature-an illusory reflection of interpersonal
love-by the perceiver. Falsely, because it is based in social instead of in-
terpersonal cues. To detect interpersonal differences, even within an at-
traction cycle, would be to undermine and potentially dismantle the very
dynamic that led to the attraction. The theory has also been applied to neg-
ative affect in CMC-flaming (i.e., hostile comments, swearing, and in-
sults)-quite effectively. SIDE theory classifies flaming as a behavior that
can come to be valued in an online group, if that group is cohering along
SIDE principles. Should that behavior become normative, it should be re-
ciprocated by group members, and further valued. Thus a flame war may
become quite common in some CMC associations, yet most uncommon in
others, depending on the norms of the group.

H~perpersona~ CMC

Using salient social identities as a starting point that can lead to an elec-
tronic personal relationship, the Hyperpersonal Perspective (Walther,
1996) draws together several theories to explain how online relations
may become particularly intense and intimate. Acknowledging SIDE
theory, it is expected that users make overattributions about their online
partners, and when facilitating conditions are present (e.g., expected fu-
ture interaction, and some perceived similarity), users “fill in the blanks”
in desirable ways, interpreting messages favorably and constructing com-
mensurate impressions of online partners. When creating messages,
CMC users are posited to engage in selective self-presentation. A wired
variant of normal, offline impression management, the selectivity of
CMC affords communicators even greater leverage than FtF interaction
does. Online one can present oneself as one wishes, withholding or re-
vealing what they want, when they want. Moreover, users may refocus
their cognitive efforts to the task of writing, ignoring the ambient stimuli,
turn-taking, physical self-monitoring, and other tasks that accompany
FtF communication. The channel allows them to stop and choose
phrases, and to edit and rewrite in a way that FtF interaction does not.
Finally, the reciprocal influences of idealized perception and selective
presentation may create a self-confirming prophecy among sender and
receiver, leading to unexpected reward and intensity. This perspective
has received some confirmation in educational and group settings (e.g.,
Chester & Gwynne, 1998; Walther, 1997), and its approach suggests that
it should pertain in dyadic personal relations, albeit empirical verification
in the latter domain still awaits.
A recent test in the context of groups shows promise across domains,
however. Walther, Slovacek, and Tidwell(2001) examined whether CMC

partners sustained greater intimacy and attraction when they got to know
each other over time through electronic text alone, or whether photo-
graphs of their partners either helped or hindered their affinity. Reasoning
that short-term partners needed a head start but that long-term partners
would achieve hyperpersonality via text, half of some long-term groups
and short-term groups were shown photos of one another prior to an online
discussion, whereas the other half of the long-term and short-term groups
saw only text. Results revealed that the short-term partners achieved
greater intimacy and attraction with a photo but that the long-term part-
ners had less. Overall, the greatest affinity was achieved among those
long-term partners who never saw each other. The old aphorism that “a
picture is worth a thousand words” seems not to be the case when it comes
to relationships online.
Although CMC may be surprisingly useful for forming intimacy on-
line, CMC may not seem as useful to those for whom relationships origi-
nate offline. There appears to be a self-serving bias in the evaluation of
CMC as a method to get to know someone, based on where the relation-
ship began. In unpublished research by Dodds, Frost, Knudson, Smith,
and Thompson (1995), a questionnaire was posted for members of an
electronic discussion list for persons in long-distance relationships who
used CMC to keep in touch with their partners. Thirty participants re-
plied, 44% of whom were male, and 56%, female. Two-thirds of the par-
ticipants had first met their partners online, whereas the other third met
offline; all used e-mail as the primary method of communication with
their partners at the time of the study. The way in which the relationship
started had significant effects on evaluation of CMC and
their beliefs about relationships. Those who met their partners via the
Internet more strongly agreed with the statement, “on-line relationships
feel just as real as relationships I have had off-line,” than did those who
met offline. Likewise, they felt more strongly that “it is good that e-mail
offers the opportunity of getting to know character before any
physical involvement, ” than did those who met conventionally. Those
who met online were more likely to disagree with the statement, “you
cannot realistically say that you love someone who you have never met in
real life.” Ironically, the origination bias seemed to drop when asked
about the potential for misunderstanding: It was those who had met FtF
who more strongly agreed with the statement, “there is more opportu-
nity for misunderstanding in the physical presence of a loved one than
there is via E-mail.” These responses suggest that the hyperpersonal at-
traction potential of CMC may not be universal, but tightly bounded to
strictly or originally virtual relationships. To the extent that it brings
added dimensions to the maintenance of existing relationships is unclear.
At the same time, the message management aspects of CMC appeal to
those in a variety of relational contexts (see also Walther & Boyd, 2002).


These theories demonstrate the various implications of CMC for forming

relationships. But CMC generally serves one of two capacities in a relation-
ship. In most cases, people use it as a supplement to FtF conversation. It
functions alongside phone calls, letters, and FtF interactions to keep the
relationship going. What does a relationship maintained using CMC look
like? Although relationships that begin online may feature different bases
of attraction or evolution than do FtF relationships, research is mixed with
respect to whether maintenance behaviors really differ much from the
standard repertory of maintenance behaviors discovered in other contexts.
CMC serves as a supplemental medium that allows relational partners
familiar to each other in a variety of contexts to stay in touch. As men-
tioned earlier, e-mail represents the most popular type of CMC. Friends,
family members, and romantic partners use e-mail as a means of staying in
touch with each other between face-to-face meetings and phone calls.
E-mail messages (and other types of CMC for that matter) facilitate rela-
tional maintenance on three different levels. First, the simple act of send-
ing a message helps keep the relationship in existence. It lets the other
relational partner know that he or she is in the other mind. Sec-
ond, each message can be considered as an attempt at openness. In an
e-mail message, the author tells the reader about something that is on his or
her mind. At a third level, one can look at the function of this openness, or
what the communication act appears to accomplish. In other words, the
purpose of each message (or the sentences and phrases therein) can be ana-
lyzed to determine its maintenance strategy.
E-mail messages often contain statements that hint at the importance of
nonvirtual contact. Indications of past contact (“oh, by the way, i just
wanted to tell you that i am really proud of how mature you were last night
when I told you about this guy . . . “) as well as future contact (“Maybe I can
even meet you at the train station. talk to you about it more tonight”)
abound (Rabby, 1997). Th e issue is not if CMC helps to maintain relation-
ships (it does). Instead, more pertinent questions reside in the types of be-
haviors that people exhibit there.
One glimpse into the maintenance communication partners exchange on-
line is found in a content analysis of e-mail messages among ongoing couples
(Rabby, 1997). The study employed Canary, Stafford, Hause, and
(1993) typology to explore relational maintenance strategies exhibited in
electronic mail messages. That typology included the categories positivity,
openness, assurances, shared tasks, social networks, joint activities, cards/let-
ters/calls, avoidance, antisocial, humor, and miscellaneous. A twelfth cate-
gory, narratives, was added to the typology to indicate the sharing of stories

and objective descriptions of everyday life. Duck (1994) suggested that

these day-to-day, banal conversations bind relationships together.
With the addition of the category of narratives, 100% of the data could
be categorized as a specific relational maintenance strategy, with less than
0.1% coded as miscellaneous. Overwhelmingly, the messages contained
openness (38% of the total thought units) and narratives (22% of the total
thought units). In essence, both of these categories involved the sharing of
self, with openness covering the subjective observations and narra-
tives covering the objective observations. Openness includes subcategories
such as self-disclosure, metarelational communication, advice, and opinion
expression. Narratives includes generic mentions of topics such as school,
work, going to the store, and other routine activities.
Perhaps the most interesting results come from the maintenance strate-
gies not used. The messages contained only a small percentage of negative
thought units (avoidance had 1.7%, antisocial had O.O%, and negative hu-
mor had 0.5%). These low frequencies exist largely because of the nature
of the medium studied. To compose a message to another person contra-
dicts the intention of avoiding him or her or being antisocial. Although
these behaviors are negotiated both directly and indirectly in face-to-face
interactions, relational partners negotiate them indirectly via e-mail, usu-
ally by responding infrequently or not at all. In a few instances, individuals
used the nature of the technology as an excuse for avoidance. “I
checked my e-mail in a long time” and “I never received that message” have
become common excuses in our day and age. Another report of this behav-
ior can be seen in the following excerpt from the data sample:

[ G]uess what I got in the mail yesterday? it was an easter card from me to richard
in san francisco. it was return to sender - wrong address. that really sucks. i re-
cently asked him if his address was still the same and he told me it was. i try to
keep in touch and look what happens? i think i am going to write you any-
more either . . . just kidding?

Simply put, people avoid each other by not communicating, which then
signals avoidance and antisocialness.
This emphasis on the positive, proactive relational maintenance strate-
gies also comports with (1986) study, which suggests that peo-
ple tend to idealize their long-distance relationships. The potential for the
distanciation imposed by CMC has a similar effect, at least in personal rela-
tionships. When one communicates largely through e-mail he or she loses
the sense of that bad manners, slow speech, frequent cursing, and
other undesirable habits.
In essence, the content of these messages held no real surprises. In these
cases the messages used in CMC resembled the messages used in FtF inter-
actions. The relational partners know each other, they have already formed

an impression of their relational partner, and they typically continue to see

that person in other contexts. Stafford et al. (1999), among others, made
the call to consider CMC as a part of interpersonal relationships, rather
than a false dichotomy between the mediated and the interpersonal. In-
deed, in these relationships CMC simply functions as a tool for relational
maintenance. At the same time, using taxonomies from traditional interac-
tion to analyze electronic exchanges may hide whether novel strategies or
new permutations of maintenance messages may evolve with the medium,
and future research must be alert to such changes. In any case, the differ-
ences in the way people maintain relationships emerges when CMC is the
primary point of contact for the participants.
One indication that CMC alters relationship maintenance is seen in the re-
sults of a recent large-scale survey by the Pew Charitable Trust (2000). Find-
ings indicate that many Americans-women particularly-use the Internet
quite regularly to stay in touch with family members and with friends. Among
the findings are that women feel they can be more honest and direct
with family members online than they would via FtF or telephone communi-
cation, no doubt due to the digital barricade, and the message management as-
pects of the hyperpersonal dynamics previously described.
A final perspective on the role of CMC in relational maintenance is seen
in research by Gunn and Gunn (2000), w h o compared the effects of using
CMC versus other forms of contact on existing long-distance relationships.
Their results indicated that those who used CMC to stay in touch with their
partners reported greater love and closeness to their partners, and less rela-
tionship insecurity than those who did not. Although Gunn and Gunn sug-
gested that communication frequency (a factor supported by CMC) is the
key variable underlying these dynamics (a factor supported by CMC), it
would not be surprising to find a hyperpersonal aspect within the findings as
well (i.e. an aspect by which online partnerships are more intimate than par-
allel offline relationships): CMC users also disclosed more to their online
partners. Gunn and Gunn reported that “people who were online preferred
their long-distance relationships to their local (unmediated) relationships,
whereas people who were not online preferred their local relationships to
their long-distance (letter or telephone based) relationships” (p. 2).

Although scholars have only begun to explore relationships that use CMC
as well as the influence it has on relational maintenance strategies, some in-
formation about the nature of CMC interactions and their contributions to
relational maintenance emerges.
First, from one perspective, despite some unique features, there is re-
ally nothing radical about CMC. It simply offers people another opportu-

nity to meet and communicate with others. Given that CMC can often
represent simply another context in which people can maintain their rela-
tionships, it is not too surprising that behaviors do not deviate much from
the behaviors exhibited in other contexts. CMC might be more notable for
its banality than anything else. Very often, the messages contain recount-
ing of daily life, such as in this example: “I am going to one of con-
certs tonight. He plays in the Blue Band and some concert band. Anyways,
the concert is outside and if it rains, which it is right now, we have to
go. Other than that, everything is same old-same old.”
Most CMC interactions in developed relationships tend to involve mi-
nor issues. The evidence thus far indicates that major relational events
(e.g., conflict) are usually reserved for other types of media and FtF inter-
Yet in other respects, CMC turns relationship processes upside down. It
is conventionally inconceivable to start a conversation with a stranger be-
fore having seen the person, at least without some telecommunication.
Well-known theories about impression and relationship formation such as
Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) are premised
in face-to-face contact. The potency of interpersonal revelations and dis-
coveries -whether in new or existing relationships-may take greater
weight online without the usual nonverbal mechanisms to buffer them.
And such surprises may be just as likely constitute enticements as frustra-
tions, as seen in this e-mail message captured midway through a virtual stu-
dent project in Walther (1997):

Hey Mayte, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to compile the reading list
for everyone. By the way, this may sound crazy, but you a guy? We tell
from your name; the “Oliver” part looks masculine, but the “bel” nickname could be
feminine. Sorry for such an offensive question. I guess that when you mentioned
naked, I just stand the suspense any longer. Erica (p. 365)

The adjustment that people make to these ambiguous situations will re-
main a phenomenon to track as researchers continue to unfurl the dynam-
ics of interpersonal relationships.
The specific roles that CMC play in relationships continue to increase
and change. The literature thus far has barely scratched the surface of the
specific role that e-mail and other forms of CMC play in relationships.
Stafford et al. (1999) reported that people use e-mail from home for four
primary reasons: interpersonal relationships, gratification opportunities,
personal gain (e.g., learning and information exchange), and business rea-
sons. Participants in (1997) study noted the advantages of using
e-mail over the telephone. They suggested that the low-cost of the me-
dium was the greatest advantage (52.9%). Other popular answers included
convenience (17.9%), the ease with which it allows one to keep in touch

with people (8.8%), and the ability to manipulate text (5.9%). It is not the
characteristics of the medium that people consider an advantage of using
the medium. Instead, the atheoretical and pragmatic reasons of low-cost
and convenience hold the appeal for most.
The precedent of these pragmatic reasons over preferential reasons is
also visible when researchers have investigated what people would
choose if price was no object. With all things being equal, people tend to
indicate they will choose as rich a medium as possible. Sellen (1995)
noted this when she compared satisfaction with long-distance meetings
conducted using audio and visual communication versus audio-only
equipment. She found that, although both were relatively equivalent in
terms of how people handled interactions when using them, participants
felt the video component was important for conversation, and given a
choice, would choose to include it.
Despite how people say they feel, actual usage may depart from such ide-
als. In other domains of CMC research, participants also consistently rate
face-to-face, or at least the telephone, superior to text-based messages for
interpersonally involving encounters. Yet such findings are consistent only
amongprojective tests, that is, questionnaire studies that ask respondents to
indicate what medium would be best to use, given a full range of choices for
every situation (Rice, 1993). Studies that actually observe media selection in
organizations almost never support what the projective tests suggest (e.g.
Fulk, Schmitz, & Ryu, 1995; Markus 1994a), and find instead that users se-
lect media opportunistically, or based on local social conventions that
emerge in specific relationships. Where a medium might be lean, they work
to make it richer (e.g. Markus, 1994b). M oreover, studies of personal media
such as the AT&T Picturephone (Noll, 1992) have concluded that, although
people like to see others, they do not like being seen, for routine communi-
cation. There seems to be a symbolic component to what media are best and
most personal-the more cues the better-which does not stand up to the
demands of the moment when people cannot be in each presence,
cannot be available to talk at the same time, or can not afford the gas, time,
airfare, or phone bill that would make such choices actionable.
Ironically, despite the avowed preference for higher-bandwidth media,
CMC may nevertheless contribute to more intimate and satisfying rela-
tionships than richer media or face-to-face conversations. Despite its
lower preference rating, the dynamics of CMC might improve relations,
perhaps unbeknownst to its users. It appears that people, aware of
shortcomings but less cognizant of its benefits, overaccommodate in stra-
tegic and highly coded ways the potential weaknesses of the medium.
Users, not systems, are what make a medium rich or lean.
The contemporary questions have to do with whether the unique prop-
erties of CMC enhance, diminish, or otherwise alter the dynamics of these

relationships through communication. Given the findings in this review,

the preliminary evidence of the role that CMC might play in relationships
indicates it to be a combination between the pragmatic and strategic. It re-
mains to be seen if e-mail becomes the dominant medium Negroponte
(1995) predicted, or simply remains a convenient option.



Future research on relationship formation and relational maintenance in

CMC will reform not only the study of contemporary relationship dynam-
ics, but help to extend our understanding of CMC across a variety of do-
mains. Significant weaknesses exist in the dominant theories that describe
CMC relationships, especially insofar as relationship maintenance is con-
cerned. The SIDE and Hyperpersonal models both fit best when there is ex-
clusivity of channels. That is, each explains particularly well how people
form impressions of each other online and how users come to relate to each
other within the online environment. theoretical assumptions about
missing visual or personal cues, however, dictates that at the point where a
physical encounter occurs, the theory is no longer applicable. In the
Hyperpersonal model as well, reciprocation of flattering cues and relational
escalation are premised on advantageous exploitation of the selectivity that
text-only cues provides. Although purely online relationships may exist for a
time, many cross over into face-to-face encounters; and although many rela-
tionships begin off-line, they are maintained via the Internet.
These theories, although powerful within the boundaries of virtual rela-
tionships, do not explicitly address such movements across modalities.
This is not to say that they cannot pertain, but the extent to which their
theoretical dynamics may come into play at different stages deserves
greater attention. For instance, it may be that couples who have gone for
some time without physical exposure begin to idealize and hyper-
personalize; the results of Gunn and (2000) study of relational
maintenance online would seem to suggest this is so, as would
(1986) and Stafford and (1990) studies of geographically-
separated couples using conventional media. The applicability of these
dynamics as temporary states in ongoing relationships that are
sometimes mediated deserves further study. As such, the question of how
well these theories hold up when relational partners converse through both
mediated and FtF environments remains. Moreover, improvements in our
understanding of impacts in mixed modality romantic relation-
ships may also inform our study of use in other domains-educa-
tion, group work, and organizational relations-in which more and more
commonly people work together both online and offline.

We conclude with a cautionary note. We are often asked whether

CMC relationships, or whether the use of CMC in relationships, is help-
ful or harmful. In the extreme, we are asked whether CMC can really be
adequate for relating to one another, that is, is CMC rather than
face-to-face interaction a critical factor in the success or failure of rela-
tionships (i.e., for relationships to be successful, long lasting, or real). De-
spite the findings reviewed earlier, which suggest, at times, helpfulness or
harmfulness, we believe the process of maintaining relationships over
time is far too complex a process for CMC to shoulder too much of the
burden. We know too little about these media, not because, as some
would say, the media are changing so rapidly, but because the field is very
young and can barely keep up with the normative and innovative uses to
which millions of new users put them. More importantly, however, we
know too little about how people fall in and out of love, manage multiple
commitments, obligations and alternative attractions, and deal with their
relationships over time to predict the critical success factors for any rela-
tionship to succeed, mediated, face-to-face, or mixed. We caution read-
ers, before putting too much burden on CMC to make or break
relationships, to consider the baseline: Most relationships are temporary.
Rather than to look for the drastic changes media are unlikely to produce,
we urge the curious to look for the subtleties, the surprises, the delights,
and fluctuations promise to teach us little about media but a lot about
how humans pursue relationships, no matter how many miles of geogra-
phy or network connections lie between them.

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Relationshi I aintena rice
in 0 rganizational Setti “gs

Vincent R. Waldron
Arizona State University West

I was friends with my supervisor and had a pretty good relationship with this
other employee and his family. We had all worked together for several years,
through some challenging times, helping each other out, kind of like a team.
When he (the other employee) got a bad review and protested it, I was in the
middle and know what to do. Who should I stick-up for? What would the
other employees think if I defended him but not them? I had to be careful be-
cause the supervisor was my friend, but she was my boss too! The other em-
ployee ended up not talking with me anymore. He ended up leaving and partly
blamed me for a lack of loyalty to him. I lost my friendship with him and his wife.
They never even invited me to their house after that. It took a long time for things
to become “normal” again around the office.
--Wald?-on (2002)

his quote, from a state government employee, illustrates the complexi-

ties of relationship maintenance in organizational settings. At work, relation-
ship maintenance efforts must take into account differences in power, the
blending of work and personal relationships, task and role requirements, po-
tential career implications, and third-party perceptions, among other factors.
This chapter begins with a discussion of some of the unique characteris-
tics of organizational settings. Then, selected theoretical perspectives em-
ployed by researchers studying work relationships are briefly reviewed.
Next, research on relationship maintenance tactics and processes is de-
scribed. Both supervisory and peer relationships are considered in this sec-
tion. The fourth section emphasizes the individual, relational, and

organizational consequences associated with relationship maintenance.

Upward mobility and perceptions of sexual harassment are among the con-
sequences addressed here. In a brief fifth section, conclusions are pre-
sented. Finally, directions for future research are discussed. The increasing
prevalence of temporary workers, telecommuting, and team-based orga-
nizing are among the themes discussed in this concluding section.



Work relationships are unique in a number of ways when compared to

purely personal relationships. To illustrate this point, several organizational
characteristics that influence relationships are discussed in this section:
power differences, multiple relationship forms, networks, task character-
istics, and procedural structure.

Power Differences

Power differences are commonplace in work relationships. Those enacting

leadership and management roles bring to the relationship a degree of for-
mally sanctioned position power. Status inequalities also result from differ-
ences in technical knowledge, differential access to key information, and
location in the social network, among other factors. Moreover,
members have a vested interest in the maintenance of relationships with
leaders and other powerful individuals. Most employees are aware that
poorly maintained relationships can eventually result in reduced promotion
opportunities, smaller salary increases, less rewarding work assignments,
and other unpleasant consequences. Even in presumably status-neutral
work teams, members can exert power through peer pressure (what Barker,
1993, called “concertive control”), if not raw coercion, and thus raise the
stakes of the relationship maintenance process. Accordingly, relationship
maintenance in work contexts, at least for the less powerful, may be more
mindful, strategic, and cautious than in the personal realm.

Work relationships take numerous forms. A hypothetical, but not atypical,

employee may tend to relationships with a supervisor, several subordi-
nates, members of a work team, formal and informal mentors, any number
of co-worker peers, customers or clients, suppliers, and so on. Organiza-
tions with complex structures add another level of difficulty to this chal-
lenge, requiring in matrix organizations, for example, that relationships be
maintained with multiple supervisors simultaneously. Of course, many
8. =+- 165

work relationships are personal-professional hybrids, complicating the re-

lationship maintenance picture even further (Sias & Cahill, 1998). The po-
tentially complicated intersections between the personal and the
professional become obvious in some familiar instances, as when an em-
ployee is suspected of gaining undeserved rewards from the boss through
excessive “schmoozing” or when an office romance develops.

Any given work relationship is nested within a complex system of vertical
and horizontal networks. The communication of co-worker peers is influ-
enced in part by their individual relationships with those in power and
their perception of the supervisory relationships their peers enjoy (Sias &
Jablin, 1995). Who is in favor? Who can I trust? Also, the rela-
tionship with his or her leader has consequences for the larger Workgroup
(Lee, 1998a, W aId ron & Hunt, 1992). Will positive or negative career con-
sequences flow from a close association with the boss? Lee (1997) demon-
strated the importance of this updated version of the Pelz effect on peer
communication patterns. Finally, the networked nature of organizational
communication means that relationship maintenance is not merely a
dyadic process; it extends to the maintenance of informal information net-
works and power-enhancing coalitions (Albecht & Hall, 199 1; Waldron,
1999). Employees must tend to a far-flung web of, sometimes, involuntary
relationships, the characteristics of which are determined in part by the
work they do.

Indeed, task characteristics enhance or constrain opportunities for un-
scripted communication (Waldron, 1994). Simple, well-defined, com-
partmentalized tasks (e.g., assembly work) may reduce
motivation and opportunity for relationship-sustaining interaction. Of
course, some manufacturing environments create opportunities for social
interaction as well, particularly if the task lends itself to small talk among
peers (Waldron, Foreman, & Miller, 1993). In contrast, complex, ambigu-
ous, or interdependent tasks can magnify the importance of relationships
with co-workers and supervisors (Thacker &Wayne, 1995). The quality of
maintenance communication, particularly the degree to which it can occur
opportunistically, is a product of work arrangement. In some workplaces
(e.g., credit card processing centers) the ratio of supervisors to workers can
be quite large, and informal relationship talk with supervisor is al-
most impossible. The relationship is instead based on formal reporting
(Waldron, 199 1). Yet, when work is organized around small creative teams
(i.e., advertising agencies), maintenance of relationships is largely infor-
mal, and absolutely critical to team success (Graen & Wakabayashi, 1994).

Procedural Structure

Another unique feature of work relationships concerns the role of proce-

dural structure (formal rules) in the maintenance process. The frequency,
content, and tone of some maintenance communication can be dictated by
formal guidelines (Waldron, 1999). For example, team members may be
required to meet regularly to discuss task coordination, address grievances,
and head-off simmering conflicts. Supervisors may request certain types of
information in weekly status reviews, including feedback about the social
climate of the Workgroup. Some of this required relationship talk overtly
problematizes issues related to relationship maintenance. (“So, how is ev-
eryone getting along this week?“).
Moreover, performance evaluations and 360 degree feedback sessions
involve the formal assessment of relationship management skills (Atwater,
Roush, & Fischthal, 1995). Through this process, employees can be ad-
vised to engage in relational communication that is more or less frequent,
directive, or formal. These assessments not only comment on relationship
maintenance efforts, but also constitute relational communication of a for-
mal kind. So, in work settings, aspects of relationship maintenance activity
are often regulated, compulsory, and subject to scrutiny. In this sense,
maintenance is not simply a dyadic phenomenon but instead reflects a
property of the larger collective. In keeping with structuration theory
(Giddens, 1994), maintenance communication is part expression and part
reinforcement of organizational structures that shape relationships.


The existing research on relationship maintenance processes in the work-

place is fed by at least four theoretical streams. These approaches differ in
basic assumptions about the nature of communication. For example, some
approaches (e.g., leader-member exchange theory) construe communica-
tion primarily as a transaction of social resources. From this perspective,
the behavioral patterns that convey and preserve relational resources come
under scrutiny, as do the rewards accrued by relationship partners. A sec-
ond approach adopts the assumptions and language of systems theory, with
an attendant focus on how communication functions to restore or upset
equilibrium in relational systems. In contrast, a third perspective views re-
lationship maintenance as one of several strategic goals sought by individ-
ual communicators. The communicative plans and tactics used by
individuals to manage these goals are the subject of this research. A fourth
8. -?1- Id7

and final approach concerns the management of identity and social roles.
From this point of view, relationship maintenance is integrated with the
larger process of preserving work roles and avoiding threats to the
self-definitions offered by others. These four theoretical perspectives are
considered in more detail below.

Maintenance as Sociaf Exchange:

Leader-Member-Exchange Theory

Leader-member exchange theory, invoked in the literature for 30 years, is

perhaps the most pervasive of exchange-based approaches (for a review,
see Graen & Uhl-Bien, 1995). Grounded in social exchange and
role-management perspectives, the theory holds, in part, that work rela-
tionships are defined by the quantity and quality of social resources in-
vested by the leader. Leaders are presumed to have at their disposal limited
amounts of time, effort, and communicative resources that must be appor-
tioned among multiple members. Typically, leader-member relations are
stabilized by the formal set of rules and procedures that govern workplace
interactions. For example, task responsibilities and communication rules
(e.g., reporting requirements) are standardized and followed with minimal
variation. Maintenance of such supervisory exchanges is relatively effi-
cient, requiring little negotiation and limited investment of social re-
However, more flexible and resource-intensive leadership exchanges are
developed with selected members, often those the leader regards as un-
usually proficient, loyal, likable, or promising. In these cases, the leader in-
vests considerably more informal communication, shares insider
information, and grants considerable autonomy to the member to shape his
or her role. This role-making process, in contrast to the role taking that
characterizes supervisory relationships, is maintained through more fre-
quent and informal communication between leader and member, discus-
sion of personal as well as task related information, the exercise of mutual
influence, and in general, a more extensive investment of social resources
by both parties.

Maintenance as a Systems Property

Lee and Jablin (1995) ex pl ained workplace relationship maintenance from
a systems perspective. For these authors, work relationships are subsys-
tems embedded within larger organizational systems. Communicative be-
haviors function to maintain the character of the relational system, that is,
to maintain a steady state, particularly during times of system disturbance
(entropic moments). Efforts by one party to accelerate or deaccelerate the
lo8 +== WALDRON

relationship represent moments of this kind, as when a member tries to be-

come more personal in his or her interactions with the supervisor. Invoking
the systems metaphor, Lee and Jablin drew on the idea of requisite variety
to explain how multiple forms of communication behavior can maintain
relationship equilibrium, depending on the nature of the disturbance.

Maintenance as an Interaction Goal

Researchers use the concept of interaction goals to explain the relation-

ship maintenance practices of members and leaders (Waldron, 199 1).
Organizational researchers too often assume that task objectives, like
obtaining influence or sharing information, are the primary objectives of
workplace communication. From this perspective, task objectives are
interdependent with, and sometimes subordinate to, the maintenance
of acceptably defined relationships and work identities. In cases where
status differences complicate the efforts of members to achieve task
goals, maintenance behavior is thought to be crucial in reducing (or
magnifying) relational threat. For example, members of a supervisory
dyad that is maintained through chronic avoidance will find open shar-
ing of negative performance feedback highly threatening. In contrast, a
history of more explicit talk about relational expectations might mini-
mize threat perceptions. This line of research continues to examine the
conceptual and empirical connections between maintenance behavior
and other forms of potentially threatening workplace communication,
including the expression of emotion and upward influence tactics
(Waldron, 1994, 1999, 2000).

Maintenance as the Management of Social Identity

Relationship maintenance processes are also implicated in a loosely con-

nected set of theories concerned with the management of work identities
through relational communication. In general, these approaches suggest
that relational upset can be managed by anticipating and avoiding messages
which threaten the identity of the self or the co-worker. For example,
Larson (1989) argued that employees take advantage of reluc-
tance to deliver negative performance feedback. Supervisors sometimes
fear the relational consequences of negative evaluation. By cautiously and
selectively seeking positive or vague feedback and by asking for advice
rather than inviting criticism, members reinforce positive relationship def-
initions. Over time it becomes increasingly inconsistent and face threaten-
ing for the supervisor to offer highly negative feedback within this
mutually constructed and apparently positive relationship. The mainte-
nance of the relational status quo is a side-effect of this identity manage-

ment dilemma. According to Larson, apparently cordial relations

persevere under these conditions but so does poor performance. Em-
ployees are ultimately surprised when negative performance feedback can
be delayed no longer.


Research on maintenance communication traditionally has focused on ver-

tical (supervisory) relationships, with peer relationships becoming impor-
tant only in recent years. This section examines studies of both relationship
types. In addition, it seeks insight from research on forms of workplace
communication that have obvious relevance, but have yet to be conceptu-
alized as relationship maintenance by researchers.

Maintenance Communication in Supervisory ReIationships

In an early case study set in a communal setting, Kaplan (1978) conceived

of relationship maintenance as largely a matter of expressing or suppress-
ing feelings or perspectives. In subsequent studies, researchers have made
finer distinctions among tactics and the circumstances under which they
are used. Several authors, acknowledging the status differences inherent in
most leader-member relationships, have described the upward mainte-
nance tactics initiated by members (see Table 8.1). Waldron (1991, 1997;
Waldron & Hunt, 1992, Waldron, Hunt & Dsilva, 1993) inductively de-
rived a four-factor taxonomy from a survey of 5 18 working adults. Direct
tactics are communicative actions that overtly comment on relational ex-
pectations, question relationship injustices, and invite discussion of rela-
tionship status. Regulative tactics are defensive in nature. They involve
careful management of impressions, messages, feedback, and emotions.
Contacts with the leader are minimized and characterized generally by
avoidant, superficial communication.
Persond/InformaZ tactics appear to foster friendship ties with the super-
visor. Frequent informal chat, personal content, sharing of jokes and sto-
ries, compliments, and small talk define this relationship maintenance
approach. Finally, contractual communication involves rule following, clar-
ifying performance expectations, advice seeking and accepting, and abid-
ing by informal and formal agreements.
In the management literature, Tepper (1995) confirmed these four tac-
tic types and identified a fifth. An extension of contractual cate-
gory, these extracontractual tactics communicate the
willingness to exceed relationship and role expectations. They communi-
cate unexpected levels of accessibility, personal investment, and commit-
ment to the relationship.
Categories of Maintenance T&tics with Behavioral ExampIes

Author [Date) Category/Subcategory Behavioral Examples

Waldron (199 1) Personal/Informal 1. We share small talk

2. I treat him/her like a friend

Contractual 1. I am careful to follow the rules he/she has established

2. I remain polite toward him/her

Regulative/Defensive 1. I sometimes stretch the truth to avoid problems with him/her

2. I make sure the supervisor is in a good mood before discussing important
work matters with him/her

Direct 1. I speak up when I feel I am treated unjustly

2. I frequently offer my opinions

Tepper (1995) Extra-contractual 1. I try to exceed what is required of me at work

2. I offer to relieve burdens on my boss

Escalating Situations

Lee & Jablin (1995) Avoidance of 1. I sit as far away as possible in meetings
Interaction 2. I Plan my schedule so as not to encounter him/her

Conversational 1. I try to focus my conversation with him/her on work-related issues

refocus: indirect 2. I sometimes act like I do not know what he/she is talking about
Conversational refocus: 1. 1 tell him/her that I do not want to discuss his/her personal life
direct 2. I tell him/her not to talk so much about me in public

Openness 1. I express my feelings in a forthrightly manner

2. I discuss what I perceive to be important aspects of my work

Procrastination 1. I tell him/her that I need more time to think about a matter
2. I tell him/her when it is not a good time for me to help him/her


Direct/Open 1. In a nonthreatening manner, I let him/her know that there will be negative
consequences if things change
2. I speak up when I felt treated unjustly

Creating closeness 1. I talk to him/her as I would a good friend

2. I express my willingness to help him/her out

Deception/Distortion 1. I pretend that a dissatisfying work situation with him/her is over

2. I withhold communicating undesirable information to him/her

Circumspectiveness 1. I avoid saying anything that may embarrass him/her

2. I avoid the expression of extreme negative emotions toward him/her

Self-Promotion 1. I make sure that he/she knows how hard I am working

2. I let him/her know about my past successes on the job

(Continued on next page)

TABLE 8.1 (Continued)
Categories of Maintenance Tactics with Behavioral BarnpIes

Author (Date) Category/Subcategory Behavioral Examples

Routine Situations

Avoidance 1. I avoid delivering bad news to him/her

2. I try to look busy when he/she is around

Supportiveness 1. I encourage him/her to discuss problems he/she is experiencing

2. I inquire about his/her progress on the job

Positive regard 1. I remain polite toward him/her

2. I am honest in what I say to him/her

Restrained expression 1. I do not interrupt when he/she is engaged in conversation

2. I avoid appearing too anxious when we talk

Small talk 1. I engage in small talk with him/her

2. I ask him/her how things are going

Lee (1997,1998a, 1998b; Lee & Jablin, 1995) examined tactics used in
deteriorating, escalating, and stable supervisory relationships. As can be
seen in Table 8.1, these two independent lines of research yield fairly con-
sistent tactic categories. However, list of tactics is more extensive
and reported at a finer level of granularity. Such tactics as conversational
refocusing, distortion, and circumspection (Lee & Jablin, 1995) add be-
havioral detail to the Regulative category proposed by Waldron (199 1). As
is common in taxonomic research, differences in grouping terms and level
of analysis account for much of the variance in maintenance behaviors re-
ported in these studies. For example, Small Tulle tactic resembles one
of the behaviors associated with PersonaZ/Informal category.
work makes clear that the occurrence of certain maintenance tactics
depends on the state of the supervisory relationship and the re-
lational intentions. For example, in escalating situations, in which a super-
visor sought to personalize the relationship beyond the
comfort level, a distinct set of tactics emerged. In such cases, the members
forestalled escalation through procrastination and conversational refocus-
ing. These tactics were less evident when the relationship was perceived to
be stable or deescalating.

Maintenance in Peer ReIationships

Relationship maintenance in peer relationships has received less explicit

attention from researchers, although the importance to workers of peer re-
lationships is often noted in the literature (Kram & Isabella, 1985; Odden
& Sias, 1997). Using a revised version of a survey reported by Ayres
(1983), Shea and Pearson (1986) examined maintenance tactics used by
370 working adults in their relationships with friends, acquaintances, and
co-workers. Ayres originally suggested three types of maintenance tactics
among friends. Avoidance tactics attempted to control behavior that might
harm the relationship. Balance tactics compensated for relational prob-
lems. Direct tactics explicitly commented on relationship expectations. A
factor analysis by Shea and Pearson confirmed the three-factor structure.
The study found no difference between the relationship types. However,
due to methodological limitations, these groundbreaking studies left room
for considerable refinement in methodology and conceptualization. The
original Ayres taxonomy was not developed inductively. Students rather
than workers were the participants. As Shea and Pearson noted, their re-
sults were influenced by the potentially overlapping relational status of
friends and co-workers.
Recent studies of workplace friendship have made important contribu-
tions, although relationship maintenance behavior has not been the pri-
mary objective of interest. Fine (1986) observed that friendships in the
17-f -e- WALDRON

workplace are characterized by shared humor, extra-organizational activi-

ties, and the equitable sharing of tasks. More recently, Sias and Cahill
(I 998) examined the development of peer relationships in the workplace,
comparing co-workers, friends, close friends, and “almost best” friends.
They stressed that communication with workplace friends was an impor-
tant source of social support and mentoring. Sias and Cahill found that
shared socializing and close proximity were features of workplace friend-
ship, whereas closer relationships were constituted by activities like talk-
ing through important life events (unrelated to work) and sharing major
work challenges. Cox (1999) took a different approach, examining the role
of peer communication in worker decisions to maintain or terminate their
association with the group. Such tactics as encouraging self-evaluation,
criticism, and the reduction of interpersonal support were among the be-
haviors reported by peers.

Related Types OF Relational Communication

Although not explicitly concerned with the process of relationship mainte-

nance, organizational researchers have studied extensively other forms of
interpersonal behavior with obvious relevance. For example, the vast liter-
ature on workplace compliance-gaining tactics (for extensive reviews see
Barry & Watson, 1996) has demonstrated that workers establish condi-
tions of friendliness, liking, and similarity as a relational precondition for
seeking compliance, particularly when the target is a more-powerful per-
son. These behaviors are typically classified as a form of ingratiation
(Gordon, 1996; Thacker & Wayne, 1995). Similar to tactics associated
with personal relationships (e.g., Canary & Stafford, 1994), exchange tac-
tics involve compromise, worksharing, and equitable contributions. These
behaviors may sustain work relationships by creating a sense of mutual ob-
ligation. Consultation tactics, although typically conceived of as a form of
compliance gaining, may also foster commitment to the relationship by ac-
knowledging the potential contributions of the partner and mitigating re-
sentments stemming from status inequality. In each case, these tactics
make salient and reinforce particular relational qualities, typically as a pre-
condition to future requests for behavioral change.
The regulation of emotion has become increasingly important in re-
search on work relationships (e.g., Fineman, 2000). Rules governing emo-
tional display serve in part to stabilize professional relations among
co-workers and with customers. For example, workers sometimes report
editing positive emotions during the performance appraisal process
(Wayne & Kacmar, 199 1). An employee might suppress the joy of an unex-
pected raise in pay to minimize the envy of less fortunate co-workers.
Maintaining good relations with more powerful supervisors may require

the suppression of anger or the false production of enthusiasm (Lee &

Jablin, 1995; Waldron, 1991). Further, team players express or repress
their irritation with other members to sustain group commitment and har-
mony (Barker, 1993). Th e management of emotion is critical in maintain-
ing personal relationships as well. But, as these examples illustrate, it is
complicated at work by emotional strictures built into work relationships,
organizational cultures, and group norms valdron, 1994).


The extent to which employees succeed in relationship maintenance ef-

forts may have personal and career consequences. Several of these are ad-
dressed below.

Career Advancement

At least in the popular imagination of employees, relationship maintenance

behavior is closely linked to career advancement. Above and beyond meri-
torious performance, remaining on good terms with the boss is believed to
be a prerequisite for workplace success. However, the complexity of the
relationship maintenance task is illustrated by the negative slang terms
used to characterize those who sacrifice task performance or personal in-
tegrity in the process. Those accused of “brownnosing” or “sleeping your
way to the top” among other denigrating labels, are thought to have taken a
strictly relational route to career success. Avoiding these negative percep-
tions may require sophisticated maintenance behavior, as employees find
the right mix of tactics. In doing so, they may rely on the behaviors typi-
cally used in supervisory, friendship, and even romantic relationships,
while managing third-party perceptions. This balancing act was noted in
(1991) study of approximately 500 full-time workers. Some
employees appeared to combine informal/personal maintenance tactics
(used to maintain friendship ties with supervisors) with contractual tac-
tics, which legitimized the members access to the boss. These tactics call
attention to the conformity to performance expectations and
role requirements. In this way, employees take advantage of friendship ties
but also minimize perceptions of favoritism. Promotions and other positive
recognition can always be explained to skeptical or jealous colleagues by
referencing the history of meeting expectations and being a
“good soldier” rather than his or her friendship with the boss.
Specific relationship maintenance tactics have in fact been linked to
indicators of upward mobility. For example, behaviors like sharing confi-
dences, expressions of support and similarity, and flattery have been sta-
tistically associated with supervisor evaluations and promotability
176 -c== WALDRON

judgments (Gordon, 1996; Wayne & Kacmar, 1991). Relationally ori-

ented influence behaviors affect performance ratings indirectly over
time, by first establishing negative or positive affective responses in the
target. These subjective reactions subsequently shape evaluations of per-
formance. In addition, the frequent use of exchange tactics in upward in-
fluence situations, which have conceptual similarities to the task sharing
used to maintain personal relationships (Canary & Stafford, 1994), has
been linked with salary attainment in at least one study (Dreher,
Dougherty, & Whitely, 1989).
A skill in maintaining relationships with powerful people may
determine the extent to which he or she will receive opportunities to cus-
tomize the work role, access to resources that facilitate individual or team
success, and presumably, advancement in his or her career (Graen &
Wakabayashi, 1994). M oreover, the benefits associated with the leader-
ship-type relationship are apparently enhanced as the relationship matures
and is maintained over time (Graen & Uhl-bien, 1995). Variation in main-
tenance behavior has been documented not just in formal supervisory rela-
tionships, but also in mentoring relationships, which in turn have been
linked to career success (Tepper, 1995).

Sexual Harassment

The workplace creates opportunities for maintenance behavior to be per-

ceived as intrusive, inappropriate, and possibly illegal. This is most obvi-
ous in cases where apparently inappropriate relational communication
has lead to charges of sexual harassment. One such instance, still part of
the collective memory of many Americans, gained national attention in
controversial nationally televised hearings conducted by the Judiciary
Committee of the United States Senate to confirm the Supreme Court
appointment of Clarence Thomas (see Waldron, Foreman, & Miller,
1993). Senators dissected the relational behavior of Thomas and former
employee Anita Hill, who had charged him with sexual harassment. A
host of third-party witnesses were questioned about the relationship
maintenance practices of Thomas and Hill. Witnesses speculated about
such matters as whether or not Ms. “expectation of access” and
“expressions of admiration” were evidence of proprietary rather than a
professional interest in her boss. relational behavior was subject
to similar scrutiny, and gave rise to questions: Did he raise sexual topics
that were inappropriate in a supervisory relationship? Did he act in other
ways that implied a sexual interest? In essence these questions concern
whether behavior was intended to maintain or alter his profes-
sional relationship with Hill. Because women are more often the victim
of harassment and gender bias, they may work harder to maintain accept-

ably defined relationships, using relationship maintenance communica-

tion more frequently and employing more varied tactics. Waldron et al.
(1993) found that women reported using contractual tactics more fre-
quently than males, apparently as a means of reducing relational ambigu-
ity and the potential for biased perception. Men were particularly careful
not to engage in personal communication when the supervisor was a fe-
male. The result of these patterns of behaviors may be a reduction in rela-
tional risk and generally more cautious communicative climate.

Maintenance communication at work may be associated with personal
well-being, work satisfaction, and a favorable psychological climate
(Odden & Sias, 1997). Stable, supportive relationships with co-workers
can provide a protective buffer when employees are faced with stressful
tasks, personal trauma, burn out, or difficult co-workers (cf., Sias &
Cahill, 1998). The potentially turbulent processes of accepting new work
roles and workplace changes may be eased for individuals who have main-
tained supportive work relationships (K-am & Isabella, 1985; Kramer,
1995, 1996). Indeed, f or some, the maintenance of friendships with
co-workers may be among the most important motives for remaining in a
particular job.

Organizational Outcomes

In addition to personal outcomes, the successful maintenance of work rela-

tionships can have organization-wide effects. For example, when supervi-
sors maintain relationships with subordinates differently, perception of
inequity and dissatisfaction can spread across the Workgroup (Sias &
Jablin, 1995). Th e extent to which personal relationships are maintained
appears to affect the flow of innovative information across an organization
(Albrecht & Hall, 199 1). Employee turnover may be reduced when work-
personal relationship networks are strong. Employees who maintain
regular, informal communication with supervisors are more likely to com-
municate negative information up the chain of command (Waldron, 199 1)
so the organization can react quickly to problems.

The literature reviewed thus far lends itself to several conclusions regard-
ing relationship maintenance tactics and outcomes. After discussing sev-
eral of these conclusions here, directions are presented for new research in
the next sclctinn.
$78 +== WALDRON

Several trends are obvious in the research on relationship maintenance

behavior. First, at least some of the behaviors used to maintain work rela-
tionships, such as (199 1) contractual tactics, vary from those re-
ported in the literature on personal relationships. This is in part due to the
unique features of the workplace, including power differences and formal
role requirements. Perhaps most important, relationship maintenance at
work is conducted in front of an audience of interested peers. Tactics that
manage the perceptions of co-workers (e.g., avoiding perceptions of favor-
itism) become an important part of the maintenance equation. This sur-
veillance factor, when coupled with significant power differences, makes
relationship maintenance at work a mindful and strategic process.
A second conclusion is that relationship maintenance in the workplace
is not entirely a dyadic process. Relationships are maintained in part
through reporting structures, role requirements, and procedures that
compel communication, add stability, and sometimes provide feedback
to employees about the success of their relationship maintenance efforts.
Interestingly, these macrovariables are embedded in the taken-for-
granted business practices and cultural norms that form the backdrop of
organizational life. Employees may not consciously question or even re-
flect on the fact that they are required by organizational protocol to com-
municate with their supervisor in a particular format, using a respectful
form of address, at particular times of the day or week. So, despite the
previously mentioned claim that relationship maintenance at work is po-
tentially strategic and mindful, it may be true as well that the stabilizing
constraints on work relationships remain unnegotiated and predeter-
mined by forces beyond the control of the partners.
A third conclusion is that this area of research is rife with conceptual
overlap. Behaviors and tactics associated with impression management,
upward influence, and emotional regulation, among other processes are
similar to those reported in relationship maintenance taxonomies. Con-
ceptual integration of tactic taxonomies is needed. More important, theo-
retical frameworks are needed to explain how these seemingly related
communication activities function together as work relationships evolve
and stabilize.
A fourth conclusion from this research is that relationship maintenance
behavior has truly important consequences at work, for individuals and for
organizations. The research confirms what many workers know intu-
itively-that tending to their network of relationships is an integral part of
doing the work. The tactics used for this purpose are linked reliably to rela-
tional outcomes and at least indirectly to such factors as performance eval-
uation and upward mobility. Information transfer, the development of
innovation, and workplace effectiveness may be enhanced when work-
place relationships are suitably maintained. The research confirming these
trends provides a most compelling rationale for continued research on rela-
8. WORKSETTINGS -+t- 17~

tionship maintenance at work: It can help improve the quality of

lives and the effectiveness of their organizations.


The pace of research on work relationships is accelerating with the rapidly

changing nature of work in the U.S. and elsewhere. In the future, research-
ers must explain how workers manage relationships that are increasingly
complex, diverse, and fluid. In addition, theoretical perspectives must be
modified to more fully explain the contribution of macro-forces like orga-
nizational structure, economics, and technological trends in maintaining
associations among workers.

TheChangingSocial Contract Between

Organizationand Employee

Work relationships are becoming harder to maintain. Organizations have

been relentless in recent years in their efforts to streamline, outsource, and
otherwise downsize their workforces. At least hypothetically, these steps
allow organizations to respond more rapidly to changes in the external en-
vironment. Of course these moves have significant implications for work-
ers who lose their jobs and for those who remain. Some of these are
economic (loss of income), some physical (longer work hours), and some
psychological (job stress). Of interest here are relational effects.
Consider, for example, outsourcing of work traditionally performed by
in-house employees. Outsourcing increases an reliance on
temporary workers and creates an expanding class of impermanent work
relationships. What are the psychological and behavioral characteristics of
relationship maintenance under these conditions? One effect may be that
temporary employees and those who work with them are increasingly cau-
tious about investing resources in work relationships in which the future is
short-term or unpredictable. Another could be a reduction in the valuable
social support that comes from long-term relationships with co-workers
(cf., Sias & Cahill, 1998). H ow do workers compensate for these relation-
ship-threatening trends? Do they invest relatively more resources in main-
taining familial relationships and personal friendships? Do they manage to
sustain relationships with former co-workers, perhaps through profes-
sional associations or informal professional networks? The communication
patterns of temporary workers have only recently begun to receive re-
search attention (Sias, Kramer, & Jenkins, 1997).
In general, it would appear that the reduced commitment of employers
to life-long employment and the reciprocal reduction in worker loyalty
would dramatically alter and (perhaps) negatively affect maintenance
180 -I+=+ WALDRON

communication. But, well-maintained work relationships may provide

protective effects in stressful and uncertain times. Researchers have barely
begun to address how the changing social contract between employers and
employees affects relationship maintenance behavior. Clearly this is a re-
search area of critical importance for workers and society at large.

The ~oIe OF Communication Technology

In yet another trend, communication technology continues to create im-

proved opportunities for physically isolated workers to maintain relation-
ships with individual co-workers and networks (see Rabby & Walther,
chap. 7, this volume). Indeed, the rise of telecommuting and the advent of
virtual organizations threaten to reinvent the relationship maintenance
process. For example, the potency of dyadic maintenance behaviors like
small talk can be magnified exponentially when shared across electronic
networks. The force of destructive relational behaviors, like the unautho-
rized sharing of confidences, can be magnified in a similar manner.
The capacity to access relational partners is altered in the virtual world
of work. On the plus side, choosing not to read your e-mail from the home
office may be an effective way of avoiding nosy co-workers (especially
when the alternative is an open cubicle in a crowded work area). On the
down side, pagers, e-mail, and cell phones more frequently tether employ-
ees to their work, making it more difficult to maintain social distance be-
tween the individual and co-workers. Relationship maintenance may
necessarily become a more deliberate and mindful process when one is un-
able simply to “drop in” to a physical workspace. Even so,
some of the benefits accrued from opportunistic maintenance may be lost
when face-to-face interaction is minimized. Are informal, unplanned op-
portunities for relationship maintenance, such as small talk around the of-
fice coffee pot, critical in keeping work relationships vital? Is face-to-face
maintenance a better option if one hopes to increase visibility, foster trust,
convey assurances, and ultimately gain the cooperation of the supervisors
and peers who influence career outcomes? These are questions researchers
have yet to address fully.

Increasingly Diverse Relationship Types

The complexity and blended nature of work relationships hinted at in

this chapter will only increase in coming years. The almost exclusive em-
phasis by researchers on maintenance of supervisory relationships must
be altered to acknowledge this reality. Several researchers have examined
the interpersonal communication patterns that characterize peer based
(&am & Isabella, 1985) and hierarchical mentor@ relationships
8. -+ 181

(Tepper, 1995). It is clear even from preliminary studies reported ear-

lier, that peer relationships and the social support they provide are crucial
in work and life satisfaction (Odden & Sias, 1997). This will become in-
creasingly evident as organizations continue the retreat from traditional
hierarchies to decentralized structures based on self-directed work
teams and loosely organized networks. In this environment, strategies for
long-term maintenance of team relationships should become a focus of
communication researchers.
As workplace peers are increasingly of different cultures, ethnicities,
and genders, researchers should also examine maintenance practices in di-
verse relationships (Graen & Wakabayashi, 1994). Moreover, the blurring
boundaries of work and personal life create new opportunities for relation-
ship maintenance failures in one realm to have cross-over effects. The an-
ecdote that introduced this chapter provides an example of just this
problem, as a strained work relationship apparently spread to relationships
with family members.

Theory Development

Waldron (1999) recently urged management researchers to expand their

theoretical perspectives regarding communication in work relationships.
The incorporation of developmental and dialectical perspectives has been
encouraged, in part because these approaches draw attention to
long-lasting patterns of work relationships rather than the less frequent
conflict management and compliance-gaining episodes that have con-
sumed attention to date. As has long been noted by social the-
orists like Giddens (1991), work relationships are embedded within and
reproduce larger social structures. But until recently maintenance re-
searchers have tended to isolate the work relationship as a
microphenomenon onto itself. Theory development in this area needs to
expand beyond the dyad to consider existing research on networks, coali-
tions, and interdependent systems. Network approaches characterize rela-
tionships as nodes in larger social structures or systems designed to
propagate or process information about values, tasks, personal relation-
ships, and innovations. Relationship maintenance can be conceptualized as
a process of stabilizing and reinforcing properties (like interdependence)
of communication systems (see e.g., Harrison, 1994). During times of
change, increased dialogue and connectivity across a network of
co-workers might help reduce uncertainty and increase predictability. Ul-
timately, this may allow the system to sustain itself over time. At the level
of individuals, maintaining central positions in this web of relationships be-
comes critical. Networking is the means by which power, information, new
ideas, and other benefits are sustained.
182 -c=+ WALDRON

Organizational researchers have studied workplace relationships for

many years. But at a time when such relationships are becoming more di-
verse, maintenance researchers can bring a new vitality to this work. As this
chapter makes clear, traditional assumptions about the nature of work rela-
tionships are under scrutiny. Also clear at this juncture is this: Traditional
perspectives on interpersonal communication as strictly a micro-
phenomenon will not transfer well to the study of work relationships. Main-
tenance researchers must take into account the structural, economic, social,
and political forces that affect the character of relations among co-workers.
At the same time, we must acknowledge that the boundary between per-
sonal and work life is in part illusory. Finally, researchers should approach
this area of research with a sense of both excitement and urgency. Arguably,
there has been no time in industrial history when the maintenance of work
relationships has been more challenging, more complex, and more conse-
quential for workers and their organizations.

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Whenpa rs Falter:
Repair After a Transgression

Tara M. Emmers-Sommer
University of Arizona


e might wonder why a chapter addressing relational repair exists

in a book on maintenance in close relationships. Indeed, a close relation-
ship with an intimate partner is something that many people strive for as it
brings fulfillment to their lives (Duck, 1988). Similarly, many theories and
models of relational development address closeness as a desired product in
our relationships (e.g., Altman &Taylor, 1973). In a word, individuals value
and cherish their close, personal relationships. It seems to follow, then,
that examining the maintenance of such valued relationships is in order.
And, it is necessary to examine relational repair within those very same
close, personal relationships. In fact, it might be somewhat more necessary
to examine repair in close relationships, in part because people tend to
treat close relational partners more poorly than they treat complete strang-
ers (e.g., Birchler, Weiss, & Vincent, 1975). Thus, a seeming paradox ex-

The author wishes to thank Rachel Rainwater McClure for her assistance with this chapter and
Dan Canary and Marianne Dainton for their very helpful suggestions on an earlier draft of this

ists: If we value and cherish our close relationships, why would we threaten
their maintenance?
According to Miller (1997), several sources of ammunition exist that in-
fluence engagement in undesirable, adverse behavior toward
their relational partners. These sources of ammunition, if you will, include
use of intimate information against the partner, learning undesirable infor-
mation about the partner, the erosion of illusion about the partner, the loss
of novelty, reduction of maintenance strategies in the relationship, interde-
pendence, loss of gains from the relational developmental period, and ex-
clusion. Miller (1997) furthered that additional elements can fuel negative
behavior in close relationships. For example, the interjection of culture
might affect behavior adversely if partners hail from different cultures
with different cultural values and goals. If opposing goals exist, conflict is
likely to ensue. Similarly, individual differences such as differences in per-
sonality reflected through varied levels of assertiveness, aggressiveness, or
self-esteem (to name a few) between the partners can affect behaviors
negatively. Given that partners do not always treat one another well, the
focus of this chapter is the processes of relational maintenance and repair
in close, personal relationships.
As the truism states, “if it broke, fix it.” Indeed, within on-
going close relationships, the process of maintaining is often not so clearly
recognized as when partners are not maintaining, when aspects of the re-
lationship are broken, distressed, challenged, or the like than when the
relationship is stable. This truism, however, implies that relationships are
self-sustaining and effortless, and that effort is not necessary until a prob-
lem arises. This assumption is problematic, as lack of effort to maintain a
relationship will inevitably result in the need for repair at some point in
time (Duck, 1988; Guerrero, Eloy, & Wabnik, 1993). For this reason, it is
nearly impossible to think of maintenance without considering repair. Al-
though both maintenance and repair are separate constructs, they never-
theless exist within the context of the other. Relational repair can, in fact,
be conceptualized as a type of relational maintenance. For instance,
Dindia (1994) labeled relational repair as “corrective maintenance” (p.
100). The coexistence notion of maintenance and repair is further elabo-
rated later in the chapter.
The purpose of this chapter is to examine: (a) the notions of relationship
maintenance and repair and how the constructs are brought together by the
presence of a relational transgression; (b) assumptions regarding relational
repair in close relationships; (c) communication strategies used to repair
close relationships; (d) conclusions drawn from the extant literature; and (e)
directions for future research. To begin, the constructs of relational mainte-
nance and repair are addressed within a definitional framework. This defini-
tional framework is to be considered for the remainder of this chapter as
issues regarding relational transgressions and repair are addressed.

A variety of definitions of relational maintenance and relational repair

exists. Whereas relational maintenance is often conceptualized as at-
tempts to preserve the relationship in its current state (e.g., Baxter, 1994;
Canary & Stafford, 1992; Dindia & Baxter, 1987; Stafford & Canary,
1991), reZationa2 repair involves partners engaging in behaviors to restore
the relationship to its former condition, which assumes that something has
disrupted the relationship (e.g., Aune, Metts, & Ebesu Hubbard, 1998;
Davis, 1973; Dindia & Baxter, 1987). Repair has been approached in the
literature from both individual and dyadic standpoints (e.g., Duck, 1984;
Roloff & Cloven, 1994) as well as from a position of social networks and
the role they play in enabling the couple repair their relationship (Duck,
1984). For the purposes of this chapter, relational maintenance and repair
is later addressed with a focus on the relational partners. This focus does
not imply that social networks do not and cannot play a salient role in the
repair of a relationship. Indeed, they can and do. However, this
chapter conceptualizes the partners comprising the couple as the primary
unit and the social network as a source of support secondary to that pri-
mary relationship. Given this focus, Roloff and (1994) definition
of relational maintenance (and repair) is most appropriate for the direction
of this chapter. Specifically, this chapter focuses on the partners in the
close, personal relationship and their efforts, both individually or
dyadically, to maintain or repair their close relationship. Second, and as ar-
gued earlier, this chapter conceptualizes maintenance and repair as coex-
isting entities. That is, it is necessary to consider repair within the context
of maintenance and vice versa. Roloff and definition of relational
maintenance best suits the direction of this chapter because it melds the
constructs of relational maintenance and repair, and it recognizes and ad-
dresses the constructs similarly. Further, Roloff and definition of
maintenance focuses on individuals in intimate relationships and identifies
maintenance as an individual or joint activity. Second, Roloff and
definition of maintenance acknowledges the role of relational transgres-
sions as disrupting relational maintenance and recognizes the actions an in-
timate partner or partners take in an effort to repair a close relationship
that has been threatened by a transgression or series of transgressions. Spe-
cifically, Roloff and Cloven defined relational maintenance as, “the individ-
ual or joint approaches intimates take to limit the relational harm that may
result from prior or future conflicts and transgressions” (p. 27). Their con-
ceptualization of relational maintenance is adopted because it involves ef-
forts to correct past problems as well as engage in preventative measures to
keep the relationship going as smoothly as possible. This framing of rela-
tional maintenance closely aligns with Dindia and (1987) research
on relational maintenance and repair, which crafted relational mainte-
nance strategies as composing of corrective strategies (i.e., repair) and pre-
ventative strategies. In essence, preventative maintenance strategies are

affected by prior relational repair episodes. With this framework in mind,

the following section examines a phenomenon that can conjoin the con-
structs of maintenance and repair, relational transgressions.


This section of the chapter addresses three aspects of relational transgres-

sions. First, a higher order discussion of transgressions is presented. It is ar-
gued that transgressions can be incidental or incremental. That is, a
transgression can comprise a single incident or episode or reflect a cumula-
tive process. Second, specific types of transgressions are presented. Third,
responses to transgressions are addressed. To begin, the various forms of
transgressions are presented.
Transgressions can take the form of a social transgression or a relational
transgression (Metts, 1994). Social transgressions involve the violation of
some socially accepted rule, convention, or practice. For example, not ac-
cepting hand to shake when it is extended in a greeting repre-
sents a social transgression. Relational transgressions, on the other hand,
involve the violation of relational rules and expectancies (e.g., Emmers &
Canary, 1996; Metts, 1994; Roloff & Cloven, 1994). Examples of these
rules and expectancies might be explicit or implicit (Metts, 1994). Al-
though certain rules exist that generalize to most close, romantic relation-
ships (e.g., monogamy), other rules can be negotiated between relational
partners that are relationship specific. For example, many couples in close
relationships accept and practice monogamy as rule in their relationships.
Beyond those implicit rules and expectancies, partners can negotiate rules
and expectancies that are specific to their relationship. Examples of such
rules and understandings might include not discussing past partners or re-
lationships, not discussing in-laws, not going to bed angry, or not discussing
relational problems with friends or co-workers. Interestingly, what can be
drawn from the definitions of what constitutes a relational transgression is
that an act or series of acts that might qualify as a transgression need not
necessarily be negative. Indeed, a positive act or event might nonetheless
violate a relational rule and represent a transgression. Research by Afifi and
Metts (1998), f or example, examined relational expectancy violations and
responses to such violations. The authors argued and found that relational
expectancy violations can be positive or negative in valence. They created a
nine-category typology of violations that included both positive and nega-
tive expectancy violations. One category of Afifi and typology in-
volved relational transgressions. The authors noted that their
conceptualization of relational transgressions involved “behaviors that in-
volve a clear violation of taken-for-granted relational rules” (p. 377). Yet,
this author contends that a positive expectancy violation can constitute a

relational transgression. An illustration of this argument might involve a

couple that has negotiated a relational rule to keep things “out in the open”
and to “not have any surprises.” Yet, one partner organizes a surprise party
for the other to celebrate a landmark birthday. Whereas many would per-
ceive such a gesture as kind and generous, the partner on the receiving end
of this gesture might interpret the surprise party as violating the
no-surprises rule. This notion is further addressed in a latter section on
transgression types.

R&tiot-d Transgressions as Incident or Increment

As previously identified, transgressions can take on a variety of forms. It

must also be recognized that transgressions can take the form of a single in-
cident or represent a cumulative process. Duck (1994), for instance, ar-
gued that events can represent ongoing relational processes constituted in
everyday talk. Emmers (1995) f ound that both positive and negative
events in romantic relationships took the form of either an isolated inci-
dent or a process that evolved over time (see Table 9.1 for a listing of
events). Thus, the violation of a relational rule could occur in the form on
an instantaneous behavior (e.g., an act of infidelity). Alternately, a rela-
tional rule could slowly be chipped away over time. For example, assume
that a couple has negotiated the rule to be open and honest with one an-
other. Over time, this rule slowly erodes as disclosures become more infre-
quent and less detailed; this erosion would constitute a relational
transgression. Similarly, research on responses to troubled relationships
also suggests that behavior can be instantaneous or cumulative.
(1984, 1985) research on termination strategies, for example, illustrates
that termination behaviors can be long in the coming (e.g., cost escalation)
or instantaneous (e.g., fait accompli). Cost escalation involves an individ-
ual making the relationship costly over time for the partner. For example,
the individual might become increasingly distant or difficult toward the
partner. Fait accompli, on the other hand, involves ending the relationship
in an abrupt manner. In sum, what can be concluded from the literature on
what instantly affects relationships adversely or what slowly erodes at rela-
tional maintenance is that transgressions can be framed as either an inci-
dent or as an incremental process.
In addition to the violation of relational rules, it is important to note
that the culmination of everyday interaction in close relationships can
also be trying because the interactions are often adverse in some respect
(e.g., Miller, 1997). Similarly, Afifi and Metts (1998) concurred that re-
lational expectancy violations need not necessarily constitute a single
event. Miller contended that the everyday interaction between inti-
mates, although not intentional, can be fraught with unexpected “hassles,
supraordinate and Subordinate Categories of Positive and Negative
Events and Processes

Positive Events

1. Commitment


Future together

Loss of virginity

Commit to each other

Propose/plan marriage

2. Physical Separation

Can manage

Partner is “Mr./MS. Right”

Managed dating others

Balanced relationship, work,



Managed third parties

3. Realize Relationship
is Temporary

Partner is not “Mr./MS. Right”

4. Expression of Feelings

Expressed feelings

Expressed love

5. Acceptance from Network

Family/friends were accepting

6. Break Up/Trial Separation

Broke up

7. Trial separation



Negative Events

1. Substance Abuse

Illicit drugs


2. Deceptive Practices





3. Distance

Physical separation

Psychological separation
(avoidance, ignoring, break up)

Psychological separation
(fear of intimacy)

4. Deviant Behavior

Sexual practices

Personal past

5. Inhibiting emotions


Suspicion/lack of trust
(continued on next page)

TABLE 9.1 (continued)



J,ack of motivation


6. Aggression



7, Third Party

Third party


8. Miscellaneous


No identity





Pet died

frustrations, nuisances, and disappointments that relational partners im-

pose on one another” (p. 14). 0 ver time, these oversights and uninten-
tional behaviors can challenge the preservation of a close relationship.
Indeed, it could be argued that everyday irritants and hassles provide
strong fodder for a transgression to erupt. Similarly, everyday nuisances
could evolve into a transgression.

Types 06 Relational Transgressions

Within the context of personal relationships, a variety of relational trans-

gression types have been identified. Transgressions have been described us-
ing an abundance of terminologies, including uncertainty arousing events
(e.g., Emmers & Canary, 1996; Planalp & Honeycutt, 1985; Planalp,
Rutherford & Honeycutt, 1988), negative events (e.g., Emmers-Sommer,
1999), negative relational turning points (e.g., Baxter & Bullis, 1986), be-
trayals (Jones, Moore, Schratter, & Negel, ZOOO), face threats (e.g., Metts,
1997) relational expectancy violations (Afifi & Metts, 1998), and prob-
lematic events (e.g., Samp & Solomon, 1998), to name a few. Although
various forms of relational transgressions exist, the literature is consistent
in identifying infidelity and unfaithfulness as the most frequently reported
relational transgressions in close, romantic relationships (Metts, 1994).
Indeed, a variety of messages conveyed in our close relationships are
perceived as hurtful (Vangelisti, 1994). In particular, individuals experi-
ence hurt when a person close to the communicates a message that reflects
a devaluation of the relationship (Leary, Springer, Negel, Ansell, & Evans,
1998). Both intentional and unintentional messages hurt, but intentional
messages have more of a distancing effect on the relationship (Vangelisti &
Young, 2000). Research examining intentional versus unintentional trans-
gressions indicates that intentional transgressions are perceived more nega-
tively (e.g., Manstead & Semin, 198 1). The fact that offenders experience
less guilt when their transgression is intentional (vs. accidental) likely adds
to the violated sting (McGraw, 1987). Overall, such behavior
contributes to relational breakdown and the need for reparation.

Responses to Relational Transgressions

Duck (1984) offers two key questions regarding the situations that corre-
spond with relational breakdown and the processes by which individuals
rebuild the relationship: “What breaks down when a relationship breaks
down? How does the answer to that question help to define the corre-
sponding goals of repair interventions?” (p. 163). These issues are impor-
tant when considering responses to a transgression. Specifically, who or
what broke down the relationship in some respect affects goals re-
garding repair interventions (Samp & Solomon, 1998). Similarly, emo-
tional response to the transgression might affect how reparation might be
As noted earlier, transgressions can take a social form or a relational
form (Metts, 1994). Emotional responses to the transgression also vary,
depending on whether the transgression was social or relational in nature.
Specifically, in the event of a transgression, an individual could feel embar-

rassed, could experience guilt or shame, or not really care at all. It is likely
that an emotional experience in light of a transgression will re-
late to how he or she responds to it in terms of reparation.
In a phenomenological examination of guilt and shame, Tangney (1998)
observed the two emotions to be distinct such that shame involved a focus
on the self, and guilt resulted in a focus on particular behaviors. Tangney
also found that motivations in interpersonal relationships differed due to
experiencing either of these emotions, with guilt leading to more adapta-
tion in response to transgressions. In an empirical study, Tangney (1992)
found that guilt was typically aroused by moral transgressions whereas
shame was aroused by both moral (e.g., engaging in deception) and
nonmoral transgressions (e.g., personal failure in a performance situation).
Although both shame and guilt aroused concern about how this
might affect the partner, only shame was related to concern about the part-
evaluation of the offender. This conclusion makes sense given that
someone who committed a moral transgression was not being sensitive to
the feelings in the first place, thus the offender is likely not con-
cerned with the evaluation of him or her. On the other hand, if an
individual commits a nonmoral transgression (e.g., being late in attending
an important occasion for the partner) the individual is likely ashamed for
his or her tardiness and is concerned that the partner will think less of him
or her for the lack of consideration.
In an empirical investigation examining embarrassment, guilt, and
shame, Keltner and Buswell (1996) f ound results similar to
(1992). Specifically, the authors found that embarrassment was most of-
ten associated with transgressions involving social rules and conventions
that guide public interaction. Guilt most often occurred when the trans-
gression involved behaviors that violated responsibilities or behaviors that
harmed others. Similarly, Jones, Kugler, and Adams (1995) found that
guilt was associated with relational transgressions but not nonrelational
transgressions. Finally, shame resulted when the transgression involved a
failure to meet salient personal standards (e.g., being reliable, being
prompt; Keltner & Buswell, 1996). Other research also suggests that asso-
ciating shame with personal failure is consistent across individualistic (i.e.,
values individual goals over group goals) and collectivistic (i.e., values
group goals over individual goals) cultures (Stipek, 1998).
Overall, the emotions experienced by the offender could affect the re-
pair strategies enacted. It appears that experience of shame or embarrass-
ment most often results in the repair of the self. That is, shame results from
a personal failure and embarrassment results from the failure to adhere to a
social convention. Accordingly, personal adjustments must be made so as
not to embarrass or shame oneself. The experience of guilt, however, re-
fleets a situation whereas reparation the partner and repair of the rela-
tionship are in order as guilt is typica experienced due to harm infl icted

on others, also, guilt feelings are abated when the transgression is inten-
tional (McGraw, 1987).
Overall, of the three emotions aroused due a transgression, guilt is
most tied to a relational transgression, although various emotions are ex-
perienced depending on the type of transgression committed. Below, var-
ious repair strategies enacted in response to a relational transgression are


This section focuses on several aspects of repair. First, a variety of relational

repair strategies will be offered. Second, the relationship between the
form of relational transgression committed and repair strategy chosen to
manage the transgression is addressed. Finally, the efficacy of relational re-
pair strategies enacted is reviewed.
Research suggests that if there was ever a relationship type in which
partners need to possess a vast repertoire of repair strategies, close roman-
tic relationships certainly qualify. Specifically, the research is clear that
close relational partners do not treat each other well (Birchler et al., 1975;
Miller, 199 1, 1997). Specifically, close relational partners often engage in
behaviors toward one another that they would make a conscious effort not
to engage in when in the company of nonintimates (e.g., being impolite, in-
sensitive, irresponsible, unreliable). And, despite the obvious need for re-
lational repair strategies, the research indicates that partners possess a
greater array of relational maintenance than relational repair strategies
(Dindia & Baxter, 1987).

Types 06 Relational Repair Strategies

Little exists on relational repair in terms of typologies of relational repair

(Dindia, 1994). D in d ia argued that her and work (Dindia &
Baxter, 1987) as well as (1973) work examined maintenance and re-
pair in the same breath. “Both Davis (1973) and Dindia and Baxter (1987)
defined rekztiond maintenance to include both strategies to maintain the
relationship (preventative maintenance) and strategies to repair the rela-
tionship (corrective maintenance)” (Dindia, 1994, p. 100). Dindia and
(1987) work rendered 11 supraordinate categories of mainte-
nance and repair strategies: changing the external environment, communi-
cation, metacommunication (e.g., relational talk), avoid
metacommunication, antisocial strategies, prosocial strategies, ceremo-
nies, antirituals/spontaneity, seeking/allowing autonomy, and seeking out-
side help. Of these strategy types, prosocial, ceremonial, communication
and togetherness strategies were used most. However, metacom-

munication strategies were used more when partners wanted to repair the
relationship, whereas spontaneity was more prevalent when the
desire is to maintain the relationship.
Although not labeled relational repair strategies per se, (e.g.,
1980a, 1980b) work examined responses to periodic episodes of decline in
close relationships. Inspired by interdependence theory, Rusbult argued in
her investment model of responses to relational decline that partners
choose responses depending on the levels of investment and satisfaction in
their close relationships as well as quality of alternatives to their close rela-
tionship. Collectively, Rusbult argued that these indicators affect an indi-
level of commitment to their partner and relationship. In turn,
level of commitment affects an response to periodic relational
decline. Specifically, in the event of relational decline, a partner can choose
to: (a) voice his or her dissatisfaction, (b) remain loyal to the partner and
relationship, (c) approach the partner and relationship in a neglectful man-
ner, or (d) engage in exit behaviors, which involve actually leaving the part-
ner and relationship or threatening to do so. Rusbult argued that each
response falls onto a constructive-destructive axis and a passive-active axis
at they relate to the preservation of the relationship. In a word, voice in-
volves an active response that is constructive to the preservation of the re-
lationship. Loyalty entails a passive response that is also constructive to the
preservation of the relationship. On the other hand, neglect reflects a pas-
sive response that is destructive to the preservation of the relationship and
exit involves an active response that is destructive to the preservation of
the relationship. It is important to note that the notions of constructive and
destructive within the context of model refer only to the preser-
vation of a relationship. Indeed, in the event of a dysfunctional relation-
ship, exiting might be the most constructive behavior one could enact in
terms of personal well-being. Nevertheless, the action of exiting is destruc-
tive to the preservation of the relationship.

Relational Repair Strateg Selection

A variety of issues affect response choices when a relational transgression

occurs. For example, attributions for the transgression and severity of the
offense are considered when examining response options to a transgression
(Metts, 1994). Similarly, goals after a transgression vary and
such goals affect response (e.g., Samp & Solomon, 1998). Specifically,
Samp and Solomon found that responses to a problematic event in close re-
lationships included maintaining the relationship, accepting fault for the
event, managing positive face, addressing the event, managing the conver-
sation, managing emotion, and restoring negative face. Accepting fault for
the event was the most frequent goal in both friendships and dating rela-

tionships. The authors also found that the goal to accept fault for the event
was intense and frequent, whereas the goal to avoid addressing the event
was not frequent.
As mentioned earlier, Rusbult (e.g., 1980a, 1980b, 1983) and Rusbult
and others (e.g., Rusbult, Drigotas, &Verette, 1994; Rusbult, Johnson, &
Morrow, 1986a; Rusbult & Verette, 199 1) clearly demonstrated that fac-
tors such as relational commitment, satisfaction, and alternatives to the
relationship affect choices partners make in response to a transgression.
Specifically, Rusbult (1987) indicated that partners who experience low
satisfaction, low investment, and a high quality of alternatives are in-
clined to respond to dissatisfaction with the response of exit. Partners
who experience low satisfaction, low investment, but a poor quality of al-
ternatives are inclined to respond with neglect. Conversely, partners who
experience high satisfaction, high investment, and a poor quality of alter-
natives are likely to respond to dissatisfaction with loyalty. Finally, part-
ners who experience high satisfaction with their close relationship, high
investment, and high quality of alternatives are likely to respond to rela-
tional dissatisfaction with voice. It is important to note, however, that the
relationship between quality of alternatives and the responses of voice or
neglect are weak at best (Rusbult, 1987).
Finally, aspects of an personality, such as levels of
self-esteem, affect repair strategies (Rusbult, 1987). For example, asser-
tive individuals are more likely than responsive individuals to assume con-
trol and exercise optimistic strategies when trying to repair a relationship.
Assertive partners were less likely to use sensitivity strategies, whereas re-
sponsive partners were more likely to engage in listening strategies
(Patterson & Beckett, 1995).
Strategies for managing relational problems can also vary by relationship
type (e.g., Canary & Stafford, 1994). For example, Emmers-Sommer
(1999) found that individuals were most likely to use integrative strate-
gies, as opposed to distributive or avoidance (i.e., passive and indirect)
strategies, when their goal was to repair their closest relationship after a
negative event. Integrative strategies involve partners discussing the mat-
ter in a constructive manner, not seeking concessions, and offering a neu-
tral evaluation of the partner. Distributive strategies involve engaging in
destructive behaviors that do seek concessions from the partner and can in-
volve behaviors such as negative attributions or threats. Finally, avoidance
strategies involve not discussing the issue. Sillars (1980a, 1980b), how-
ever, found that individuals in less close relationships (i.e., college room-
mates) were more inclined to use avoidance or distributive strategies than
integrative strategies in response to conflict. Thus, the type of relationship
one is engaged in as well as the importance of that relationship affect rela-
tional repair choices. Specifically, one can choose to begin dissolving the re-
lationship (e.g., Duck, 1984; Rusbult, 1983), to break off the relationship

(e.g., Baxter, 1984, 1985), or to repair the relationship (e.g., Dindia &
Baxter, 1987; Duck, 1984).
Aune et al. (1998) examined a variety of relationship types varying in
closeness and found that repair strategies exercised varied by closeness.
Specifically, in a study of responses to the transgression of deception, Aune
et al. found that close partners (e.g., marrieds) were more likely to engage
in behaviors that communicated the positive aspects of their relationship
in an attempt to repair than were less close relational partners (e.g., co-
workers). Other research also demonstrates that deception is managed dif-
ferently according to relationship type (e.g., Metts, 1989).

Relational Repair Strateg Efficacy

Research on relational repair strategies indicates that partners do not per-

ceive all strategies equally and that some strategies are more effective than
others in remedying the ill brought about by a relational transgression. For
example, research indicates that voicing feelings in a constructive manner
to be beneficial to the preservation of close relationships (e.g., Gottman,
1994). For example, Gottman clearly demonstrated that partners who re-
spond to relational dissatisfaction and conflict in a constructive manner ex-
perience more satisfactory relationships. Constructive conflict
management behaviors include refraining from the use of behaviors such as
defensiveness, criticism, contempt, avoiding the issue, mindreading, or
making negative attributions toward the partner. Instead, Gottman argued
the benefits of engaging in voicing dissatisfaction without blaming, para-
phrasing a feelings to ensure accurate understanding of the part-
perspective, and focusing on behaviors rather than the individual
(e.g., avoiding negative personal attacks).
Other research findings concur that discussing the issues and the rela-
tionship in a constructive manner are beneficial to the preservation of the
relationship. Guided by an uncertainty reduction perspective, Emmers
and Canary (1996) examined what uncertainty reduction strategies (pas-
sive, active, and interactive) were enacted by couples in an effort to repair
their relationship. Interactive strategies involve directly talking to the part-
ner; active strategies involve seeking information from the partner from a
knowing third party or manipulating the environment to observe how the
partner reacts; finally, passive strategies involve observing the partner. The
authors added a fourth strategy category, assumed acceptance, for those
individuals who seemingly accepted the uncertainty arousing event and
made no efforts to reduce uncertainty. The authors found that romantic
couples most often engaged in the interactive communication strategy of
relational talk when the goal was to repair the relationship after
experiencing a negative event. This finding is similar to Dindia and

(1987) finding that couples most often engage in relational talk strategies
when their goal is to repair the relationship. Similarly, Guerrero,
Andersen, Jorgensen, Spitzberg, and Eloy (1995) found that
use of integrative strategies to communicate jealousy resulted in more sat-
isfying relationships. Finally, Courtright, Millar, Rogers, and Bagarozzi
(1990) examined eight couples undergoing counseling due to their dis-
tressed marriages. Following the 6-week counseling sessions and three
taped marital discussions, these researchers found that the spouses who
engaged in direct communication and negotiation behaviors repaired their
marriage. However, the couples that engaged in avoidant, indirect, and de-
creased involvement behaviors terminated their marriages.
use of apologies, excuses, or justifications used in response to a
transgression has also been examined in the literature. Apologies entail the
offender admitting fault and expressing regret for the wrongdoing
(Hunter, 1984). E xcuses involve the offender admitting that the offense
occurred, but not accepting responsibility for the offense. Finally, justifica-
tions involve the offender admitting responsibility for the act, but denying
that the act was an offense (Hunter, 1984; Scott & Lymon, 1968). Hupka,
Jung, and Silverthorn (1987), f or example, found that apologies (e.g., “I
am sorry I was insensitive”) were the preferred response to a transgression,
regardless of intent. Excuses were perceived as weak accounts to a trans-
gression (e.g., been under a lot of stress”). Interestingly, justifications
(e.g., “Everyone loses their temper sometimes and is insensitive, no
different”) were rated the most negatively when the intent was to maintain
the relationship. However, justifications were rated more highly than ex-
cuses when the intent was to terminate the relationship. Transgressors ap-
praised justifications and apologies higher than the violated partners.
Hupka et al.‘s study only examined intent to maintain or terminate the re-
lationship, however, and did not examine when the intent was to repair the
Overall, the prescription appears simple: Be nice to your partner to
maintain your relationship, and if you transgress, engage in prosocial, com-
municative behaviors to repair the relationship. Indeed, the research evi-
dence overwhelmingly suggests that engaging in some type of prosocial
behavior (e.g., being positive, talking about the relationship positively) and
engaging in direct, metacommunicative behavior strongly affects close re-
lationship repair (and maintenance) positively (e.g., Aune et al., 1998; Ca-
nary & Stafford, 1992; Dindia, 1989; Dindia & Baxter, 1997;
Emmers-Sommer, 1999; Emmers & Canary, 1996; Samp & Solomon,
1998; Stafford & Canary, 1991). Yet, we are well aware that relationships
are complex and are constantly evolving. Thus, a simple elixir to relational
problems is nonexistent. Nevertheless, the aforementioned findings do
suggest that certain reparations are more effective than others.


The purpose of this chapter is to examine aspects of relational transgres-

sions and relational repair strategies. In doing so, evidence from the extant
research was presented and some extending arguments were offered. The
purpose of this section is to briefly offer conclusions from what was re-
viewed and presented in this chapter.
First, both relational transgressions and reparation strategies are
prevalent in close, personal relationships. As argued in this chapter, it is
necessary to perceive maintenance and repair in a coexistent fashion as
repair is corrective maintenance and maintenance strategies represent
preventative strategies such that the need for repair is lessened. Despite
many quest to find a close, intimate partner, they nonethe-
less often treat that close partner adversely or insensitively. This nega-
tive treatment often involves one or both engagement in
relational transgressions. Second, what constitutes a relational trans-
gression can be implicit or explicit in nature. That is, a transgression can
involve the violation of an implicit relational rule or expectancy such as
monogamy or an explicit, negotiated relational rule or expectancy (e.g.,
to not keep secrets from one another, to not go to bed angry). Third, and
related, a transgression can constitute a single incident or an incremen-
tal process. That is, a single event might (e.g., an act of infidelity) repre-
sent a transgression. On the other hand, a transgression might represent
the cumulative or incremental process of actions and interactions. For
example, the negotiated rule and expectancy to remain open and honest
with one another erodes over time. Fourth, a transgression can be posi-
tive or negative in valence. That is, an act that might be perceived as pos-
itive in nature might nevertheless violate a relational rule or expectancy
and thus constitute a transgression. Fifth, varied emotional reactions to
the transgressions can be experienced depending on the nature of the
transgression. Specifically, embarrassment is often experienced due to a
social transgression, whereas shame is often experienced due to a rela-
tional transgression due to a personal incompetence and guilt is often
experienced when a relational transgression affects the partner ad-
versely. Sixth, perceptions of the transgression within the context of
the importance of the relationship affect repair strategies enacted. That
is, individuals in close relationships who value and want to preserve
their relationships often engage in constructive, prosocial,
metacommunicative strategies when relational reparation is the goal.
Finally, and related, the efficacy of relational repair strategies varies.
Specifically, admission of fault and willingness to be open in
discussing the problem and the relationship is more efficacious than not
taking responsibility for a transgression and avoiding discussing the situ-

ation. In sum, it is evident that communication plays a central role in the

maintenance and repair processes of close relationships.


Dindia (1994) argued that numerous relational strategies are multiphasic

in nature. That is, certain strategies (e.g., relational talk) are useful during
various stages of relational development (e.g., initiation, development,
maintenance, repair). This contention assumes a phase or stage approach
to relationships. Yet, because relationships do not occur in a vacuum, there
is also movement within stages. Within the context of relational transgres-
sions in close relationships, one future direction of research might want to
examine how relational rules are negotiated and renegotiated over the
course of a relationship. Specifically, this chapter addresses how transgres-
sions occur when a relational rule or expectancy is violated by one or both
relational partners. Given the evolution of relationships, what might have
qualified as a transgression during one phase of a close relationship might
not qualify at a later phase of the relationship. For example, partners might
have negotiated “not talking about past partners” as a relational rule early in
their relationship. However, as the relationship develops and strengthens,
a topic that might have been perceived as a threat is no longer perceived in
that fashion. In fact, partners might eventually refer to past relationships
openly in their present relationship. Future research should examine the
negotiation and renegotiation of relational rules and how that process af-
fects perceptions of transgressions.
Another area worthy of consideration involves the burgeoning area of
new technologies and the onset of online relationships (see Rabby &
Walther, chap. 7, this volume). This new area in the interpersonal litera-
ture provides fertile ground for researchers to test existing interpersonal
theories, models, and typologies in an online environment. Several possible
questions exist that are worthy of exploration. For example, how do online
relational partners negotiate relational rules? How do online partners iden-
tify and manage a transgression ? Also, how do individuals in primary,
face-to-face relationships perceive a “involvement” with some-
one online? Research suggests that whereas some individuals perceive on-
line relationships as real (e.g., Parks & Roberts, 1998), others perceive
them as nonreal (e.g., Walther, 1996). Depending on the nature of the
face-to-face relationship, then, the perception of whether or not a trans-
gression has been committed in the primary relationship due to a
actions in the online relationship will vary. Overall, the development,
maintenance, and repair of online relationships are fast-growing aspects of
society and provide a new environment (i.e., the online domain) in which
to examine relational processes.

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Cultural Variations
in Maintaining ReIationships
+t++ w
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Stephen M. Haas
University of Cincinnati

n the past 15 years, communication scholars have begun to explore the

strategies and behaviors that couples use to maintain romantic relationships
(see Canary & Stafford, 1992, 1994; Dainton & Stafford, 1993; Dindia &
Baxter, 1987; Stafford & Canary, 1991; Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000).
Relationship maintenance in romantic relationships can be understood as
employing communicative strategies and behaviors that prevent relation-
ship dissolution through efforts to sustain a dynamic equilibrium in
their relationship definition and satisfaction levels as they cope with the ebb
and flow of everyday relating” (Baxter & Dindia, 1990, p. 188). The existing
research has done much to increase our understanding of romantic relation-
ship maintenance, but primarily in one demographic group-American,
White, middle class, heterosexual married or dating couples. Many ques-
tions remain concerning the generalizability of this research to couples that
differ by class, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
Gay and lesbian relationships have been recognized as being understud-
ied by researchers across academic disciplines (Huston & Schwartz, 1995;
Ossana, 2000). Clark and Serovich (1997), for example, highlighted that
studies of gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues make up roughly 0.006% of the
family therapy literature. A primary reason for this lack of research is that

gay and lesbian relationships have been viewed as deviant in U.S. society.
As a result, lesbian and gay male couples experience social stigma and dis-
crimination throughout their lives (Goffman, 1963; McWhirter &
Mattison, 1984). Also Huston and Schwartz (1995) observed that:

The lack of institutional recognition for homosexual couples plays a very power-
ful role in their stability. Heterosexual unions are sanctioned by the church and
the state through the marriage ceremony. The state rewards such unions with
family health insurance, property rights when breakups occur, and institutional
prerogatives such as untaxed inheritance and the right to distribute property af-
ter a death. (p. 114)

Four forms of stigma most profoundly affect gay and lesbian relation-
ships: (a) ignorance-a lack of knowledge of gay and lesbian lifestyles, (b)
homophobia-a persistent fear of homosexuals based in ignorance, (c) prej-
udice-forming negative attitudes towards gays and lesbians as a group,
and (d) oppression-legal and social actions that deny equal treatment and
rights to gays and lesbians (McWhirter & Mattison, 1982). All of these stig-
matizing attitudes and behaviors can have a serious impact on the lives of
gay and lesbian couples, such as loss of employment or housing; rejection
from family, friends, and co-workers; as well as, verbal or physical assault.
What can be particularly damaging is when stigma is internalized by lesbi-
ans and gay men (Lynch, 1987; McWhirter & Mattison, 1982).
Self-oppression (learned and internalized antigay prejudice) can result in
devastating emotional effects for gays and lesbians (e.g., low self-esteem,
embarrassment, social isolation, unwillingness to self-disclose, and even a
lack of comfort in their intimate relationships; Laird, 1993; Ossana, 2000).
These forms of stigma may create internal barriers to establishing and main-
taining successful, long-term, same-sex relationships. Also, lacking the legal
and social validation that binds married couples forces same-sex relation-
ships to rely largely on emotional commitment to maintain them.
Moreover, gay and lesbian individuals may refrain from disclosing their sex-
ual orientation to others for fear of rejection. A lack of openness (popularly
referred to as being “in the closet”) can cause particular problems for
same-sex couples in the form of added relational stress and isolation (Berger,
1990; Haas, 2002; Patterson & Schwartz, 1994). Thus, the absence of legal
and social barriers that help prevent relationship termination in marital cou-
ples make relationship maintenance all the more challenging in same-sex re-
lationships (Attridge, 1994; Patterson & Schwartz, 1994).
Because research on relationship maintenance in same-sex couples has
been sparse to date, this chapter first focuses on research that has explored
characteristics of gay and lesbian relationships that impact maintenance
(e.g., relational quality and satisfaction, sex-role ideology, power dynam-
ics, etc.,). In addition, study findings that address societal assumptions
concerning differences between heterosexual and same-sex relationships

are discussed. Furthermore, a discussion of communication-based rela-

tionship maintenance research is addressed; highlighting three recent
studies, in particular, that have explored the communicative strategies and
behaviors utilized in maintaining same-sex relationships. Finally, sugges-
tions for future research on relationship maintenance in same-sex couples
will be proposed.


Early studies viewed gay men and lesbian women as “perverts” and “devi-
ants” within society. It was not until 1973, when the American Psychiatric
Association removed homosexuality from its list of pathological illnesses,
that researchers began to rethink the study of gays and lesbians. In the late
197Os, researchers began to shift their focus away from “studying homo-
sexuality exclusively from the perspective of toward studying
homosexuality as part of work on ‘alternative or ‘sex
(Peplau, 1982, p. 3).
Despite this shift, much of the early research was grounded in
heterosexist assumptions regarding gay and lesbian lifestyles. One assump-
tion was that gays and lesbians were more sexually promiscuous than het-
erosexuals and were unable to establish and maintain meaningful,
long-term, intimate relationships. The language used in early studies to de-
scribe ongoing same-sex relationships was indicative of this underlying as-
sumption. For example, in studies by Saghir and Robins (1973) and Bell
and Weinberg (1978), ongoing same-sex relationships were referred to
merely as affairs. In their survey of 4,639 gay men and women, Bell and
Weinberg (1978) ex pl ained that “virtually all of the male respondents had
been involved in at least one affair (defined as a ‘relatively steady relation-
with another man) [italics added] during the course of their lives” (p.
86). These researchers also considered only gays and lesbians who lived to-
gether to be “coupled,” and even then, they described these subjects as
“roommates” (p. 9 1). In yet another study, Weinberg and Williams (1974)
interviewed 1,057 gay men about their sexual activity but failed to ask if
any of the men considered their relationships to be long-term. Despite the
fact that most gay men and lesbian women in these early studies reported
wanting to establish a relationship (Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Harry, 1982;
Jay & Young, 1977), researchers operated under the assumption that
long-term gay and lesbian relationships were rare.
By the 198Os, researchers began to realize that gays and lesbians do estab-
lish long-term relationships (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek &
Schmitt, 1986b; Mendola, 1980). For instance, in a sample of 405 gay men
and lesbian women, Mendola (1980) f ound that 63% of the men and 70% of
the women reported being in a committed, “marriage-like” relationship.
Peplau and Cochran (1981) and Lewis, Kozac, Milardo, and Grosnick
(198 1) found that gays and lesbians seek out long-term relationships for the
same reasons as heterosexuals: love, commitment, and companionship. Fur-
thermore, Dailey (1979) investigated the heterosexist assumption “that ho-
mosexuals may love each other, but the love expressed is and
really not love at all” (p. 155). Using the Caring Relationship Inventory
(CRI), Dailey f ound no difference between same-sex and heterosexual as-
sessments of love within these relationships. Furthermore, Dailey found
that married heterosexual couples showed greater discrepancy in dyadic co-
hesion than the same-sex couples. Similarly, Peplau and Cochran (198 1)
found that in comparing a sample of 50 lesbians, 50 gay men, 50 heterosex-
ual women, and 50 heterosexual men, there were no differences in feelings
of love or relationship satisfaction. Also, in comparing relationship adjust-
ment and degree of love and liking, again they found no differences (al-
though lesbians and gay men reported higher degrees of positive feelings for
their partners than heterosexuals). In addition, Peplau (1991) found that
gay, lesbian, and heterosexual relationship likes and dislikes were very simi-
lar. In fact, a panel of judges blinded to the sexual orientation of respondents
were unable to differentiate between open-ended responses in this study.
In general, gay men, lesbian women, and heterosexuals have reported fairly
equivalent levels of relational satisfaction on standardized measures such as
Dyadic Adjustment Scale (see Dailey, 1979; Duffy & Rusbult,
1986; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1985-1986, 1986a, 1986b, 1987). Kurdek and
Schmitt (1986b) also found that relationship quality for same-sex and hetero-
sexual couples revolved around similar dimensions: a high level of dyadic at-
tachment, few relationship alternatives, shared decision making, and holding
few beliefs that disagreements are destructive to the relationship. For gay and
lesbian couples, Kurdek (1988, 1989) found that the most important predic-
tors of relationship quality were a focus on trust, similarity, and intrinsic moti-
vation. Emotional expressiveness and equality of power were particularly
important for relationship quality in lesbian couples, but overall, no significant
differences in relationship commitment or quality were found between gay
male and lesbian couples (Kurdek, 1988, 1989).

Sexual PXClUSi”itLJ
The societal assumption that gays and lesbians are more sexually promiscuous
than heterosexuals has been fueled by findings in several studies that some gay
and lesbian relationships negotiate open sexual agreements (Blumstein &
Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1985-1986; Wagner, Remien, &
Carballo-Dieguez, 1998). Sexual exclusivity, or monogamy, has long been ap-
plied as the model for heterosexual relationships by church and state. Despite
this ideal, studies of heterosexual sexual behavior indicate that rates of marital

infidelity range from 26% to 70% for women and from 33% to 75% for men
(Buss, 1994; Fisher, 1987; Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey,
Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953; Shackelford & Buss, 1997).
Like heterosexuals, research has found that many same-sex couples
strive to maintain monogamous relationships as a model (Berger, 1990;
Bell & Weinberg, 1978; Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek, 1986b;
Mendola, 1980; Peplau, 1991). For example, Mendola (1980) found that
83% of the lesbian women in her study reported being monogamous. Simi-
larly, in their study, Fitzpatrick, Jandt, Myrick, and Edgar (1994) found
that “70 percent of gay males and 80 percent of lesbians had never broken
their monogamy agreement” (p. 273). According to Tuller (1978), the
question of whether to maintain a monogamous relationship:

is more likely to come up in a homosexual relationship than in a heterosexual one

because homosexuals have no model to imitate as do heterosexuals. Further, the
socialization process does not teach what a good gay marriage should be like as it
does with heterosexual marriages. Some gay people use the heterosexual model
and remain monogamous; some are influenced by religious doctrines and remain
monogamous; and others simply do whatever works best for their particular rela-
tionships. (p. 336)

Berger (1990) f ound that gay male monogamy may have been increased
by fear of HIV infection since the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Berger
(1990) reported that “Of 83 couples who responded . . . 96.4% described
their relationships as monogamous. This differs from pre-AIDS surveys
which showed that only a minority of gay couples were strictly monoga-
mous” (p. 44). The AIDS crisis has less directly affected monogamy among
lesbian women because they are at lower risk for HIV infection within
their relationships (Carl, 1986; Fitzpatrick et al., 1994). However, AIDS
has lead to the loss of friends and relatives for many lesbian women, and as
a result, AIDS-related causes have become a human rights issue for many
politically active lesbians and gay men in general.
Nonmonogamy has been found to be more prevalent in gay male couples
than lesbian relationships (Green, Bettinger, & Zachs, 1996). In a recent
study of 75 gay male couples in New York City in which one partner was
HIV positive, Wagner et al. (1998) f ound that 50 of the couples (67%) re-
ported engaging in at least one sexual encounter outside of the primary re-
lationship in the last year. Mendola (1980) found that 49% of the gay males
in her study admitted to having an occasional sexual experience outside
their primary relationship, which is quite similar to the 43% of heterosex-
ual married men in Pietropinto and (1979) study who admit-
ted infidelity. Regardless of sexual orientation, studies have found that
some men do not view outside sexual activity as being tied to emotional
commitment to their primary relationship (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983;
Glass & Wright, 1985; Ossana, 2000; Thompson, 1984; Wagner et al.,
1998). Lee (199 1) pointed out that the ability of same-sex couples to ne-
gotiate open or closed sexual agreements may increase levels of trust and
relational satisfaction, as well as helping to reduce feelings of betrayal often
experienced with marital infidelity.
Overall, research is suggesting that the predominant focus by research-
ers on the dichotomy of open versus closed relationships may in fact be of
less significance in understanding same-sex relationships. For instance,
studies on relationship quality have indicated no difference between sexu-
ally-open versus monogamous gay male couples (Blasband & Peplau, 1985;
Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1985-l 986). Spe-
cifically, Kurdek and Schmitt (1985-l 986) found that sexually open and
closed gay male couples were actually more similar than different in psy-
chological adjustment, dyadic attachment, a positive belief in partner
changability, and relationship quality.
Similarly, some studies have shown no difference in relationship satisfac-
tion or stability between sexually open versus closed heterosexual marriages
(Knapp, 1976; Knapp & Whitehurst, 1977; Ramey, 1975; Watson, 198 1). In
investigations of heterosexual couples who “swing” (an open agreement), no
evidence was found that swinging was harmful to marital or family stability
(Cole & Spanier, 1974; Gilmartin, 1972; Paulson & Paulson, 1971). In fact,
when Rubin (1982) sampled 130 sexually open and 130 sexually exclusive
married and divorced individuals, he found that those who were in sexually
open marriages were no more poorly adjusted than those that were not. For
the divorced couples, those who had been in sexually open marriages were
no more unhappy after the divorce than those in monogamous relationships.
Rubin (1982) concluded that “nothing in this data argues for the view that
sexual openness or exclusivity, in and of themselves, make a difference in the
overall adjustment of a married couple” (p. 107).
In general, the research on both same-sex and heterosexual couples pro-
vides evidence that when relational expectations for sexual behavior are
shared by partners, relationship quality and satisfaction are fairly equiva-
lent across sexually open and sexually exclusive couples. Despite societal
assumptions to the contrary, it appears that nonmonogamy becomes prob-
lematic in relationships only when that value is not shared by partners.

Another common assumption pertaining to gay and lesbian relationships is

the belief that stereotypical, heterosexual “hutch-femme” role-playing oc-
curs. The assumption that same-sex couples model themselves after het-
erosexual relationships so that one partner assumes a masculine role and
the other a feminine role has not been supported by research (Kurdek,
1987, 1993; Kurdek & Schmitt, 1985-1986, 1986a; Lynch & Reilly,

19851986). I n reviewing several studies, Peplau (1982) asserted that

“most contemporary gay and lesbian relationships do not conform to tradi-
tional (masculine and roles; instead role flexibility and
turn-taking are more common patterns” (p. 4). Across the studies, Peplau
found that, “traditional heterosexual marriage is not the predominant
model or script for current homosexual couples” (p. 4). In an early study,
Tuller (1978) f ound “all of the couples claimed that they did not have any
hutch-femme roles in their relationships-that, in fact, they shared house-
hold tasks and definitely did not sexually imitate conventional heterosex-
ual roles” (p. 340). In addition, Dailey (1979) found no evidence of
increased cross-gender endorsement in gay male or lesbian couples.
findings revealed that in instances when cross-gender roles were
found, they existed equally across same-sex and heterosexual couples. In
yet another study, Marecek, Finn, and Cardell (1983) found that when
cross-gender roles were present in same-sex couples, the frequency was
lower than within the heterosexual couples in the study.
In general, masculine and feminine sex roles have been found to be
blended in gay and lesbian relationships toward more androgynous roles
(Schullo & Alperson, 1984). In a direct comparison study, Kurdek (1987)
found that lesbian women tended to be more instrumental (task oriented)
than heterosexual women in their sex-role orientation; whereas gay and
heterosexual men were equivalent. Gay men were more expressive than
heterosexual men, but heterosexual and lesbian women were equivalent.
Also, Kurdek and Schmitt (1986a) f ound a fairly random and equal distri-
bution of pairings of gay, lesbian, and heterosexual partners across
sex-role inventory categories of masculine, feminine, undifferentiated,
and androgynous orientations. According to (1974) measure, mas-
culine individuals are more task oriented, hostile, dominant, egocentric,
temperamental, and low in nurturance. Feminine persons are more sub-
missive, dependent, and nurturing. Undifferentiated individuals tend to
be self-centered, withdrawn, depressed, possess underdeveloped social
skills, and are lacking in intimacy. Androgynous persons are more extro-
verted, empathic and flexible in their social skills, and high in
self-disclosure. In addition, Kurdek and Schmitt (1986a) found that an-
drogynous and feminine partners reported the highest levels of relation-
ship functioning in same-sex couples. Couples in which one or both
partners were undifferentiated or masculine reported the lowest relation-
ship quality (Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986a), and Reece and Segrist (1981)
found that more androgynous same-sex couples remained together longer
than those scoring low on cooperation.
Overall, the studies indicate that gay men and lesbian women tend to be
more androgynous in their gender-role orientation, and as such, the
hutch-femme myth in gay and lesbian relationships has not been sup-
ported. Marecek, Finn, and Cardell (1983) asserted that gender roles (e.g.,
instrumental vs. expressive) are likely not linked to biological sex, but
rather lie on a continuum much like personality traits. In a similar vein,
Schullo and Alperson (1984) suggested the need to relabel the poles of this
continuum from sex-related terms (i.e., masculine-feminine) to more ac-
curately reflect the instrumental and expressive qualities being assessed.

Power Dyna rrlics

Gay male and lesbian relationships seem to be based in relational expecta-

tions of equality and reciprocity (Blumstein & Schwartz, 1983; Kurdek &
Schmitt, 1986a; Lynch & Reilly, 1985-1986; McWhirter & Mattison,
1984; Peplau, Padesky, & Hamilton, 1982; Reilly & Lynch, 1990). Because
gay and lesbian relationships tend not adhere to traditional sex roles, issues
surrounding “power imbalances manifested in unequal influence in deci-
sion making, unfair division of household labor, or biased allotment of
rights, resources, and privileges” (Huston & Schwartz, 1995, p. 108) must
be negotiated in same-sex couples. In heterosexual couples, adherence to
sex-based role assignments often serve as relational scripts regarding
power and decision making (e.g., males assume the role of primary finan-
cial supporter and females adopt primary responsibility for household du-
ties). In gay and lesbian relationships, however, roles and relational duties
often are negotiated based on individual desires, skills, and schedule con-
straints (Kurdek, 1993).
Gay male and lesbian couples also have expressed equity in power dy-
namics as a relational ideal (Kurdek & Schmitt, 1986b; Peplau, Padesky, &
Hamilton, 1982; Reilly & Lynch, 1993). Th e means of establishing equity,
however, may differ slightly in gay and lesbian couples. For example,
Blumstein and Schwartz (1983) f ound that mutual dependency and egali-
tarian power sharing were important for relationship quality;
whereas, gay male couples reported that having similar education levels
and values and sharing financial responsibilities were important to their re-
lationship quality. Like heterosexual couples, Blumstein and Schwartz
(1983) found that gay male couples tended to use financial contribution to
the relationship as a guide for establishing decision-making power. They
found that male partners who earned more took on a more dominant role
in the relationship; although gay male couples were not satisfied if earnings
and power dynamics were greatly imbalanced. Additionally, in couples
where one partner was at least 5 years older or more, the older partner
tended to assume more power in couple decision making (Harry, 1982).
In lesbian couples, money apparently does not play as important a role in
determining decision making and power dynamics (Lynch & Reilly,
1985-l 986; Reilly & Lynch, 1990). Lesbian couples have been found to go
out of their way not to construct their relationships based on financial is-

sues. Instead, lesbian couples describe more of a focus on emotional close-

ness (McCandlish, 1982), interdependence of lives, and relational equity
(Lynch & Reilly, 1985-l 986). For example, Reilly and Lynch (1990)
found that power tended to be shared equally by lesbian partners, and in
instances when power imbalances did occur, lesbian couples worked hard
to resolve the issue and reinstate equality.
Regarding issues of power in the distribution of household labor, both gay
men and lesbian women tend to share in household tasks (Kurdek, 1993).
For gay men, McWhirter and Mattison (1984) indicated that couples
tended to distribute household duties based on skill, interest, and work
schedules. Kurdek (1993) f ound that same-sex couples worked to balance
household tasks, but that each partner did not perform every task equally.
Lesbian couples, however, more often were found to attempt to share in
household tasks equally. This emphasis on sharing in all tasks may be related
to the strong emphasis on interdependence in lesbian couples. In addition,
lesbians reported slightly stronger degrees of expressiveness and equality of
power in their relationships than gay males (Kurdek, 1989). Overall, though,
household tasks were negotiated by both gay and lesbian couples on an indi-
vidual basis rather than relying on role-based assignments.

Kelationship Stages

Only one longitudinal study has explored relationship stages in same-sex

couples. Over the course of a 5year period, McWhirter and Mattison
(1982, 1984) d eve 1op e d a stage model from counseling long-term, gay
male relationships lasting between 1 and 3 7 years (average length was 8.7
years). The stage model consists of six stages: (1) Blending, (2) Nesting,
(3) Maintaining, (4) Building, (5) Releasing, and (6) Renewing. According
to McWhirter and Mattison, the stages are dynamic and couples may move
quickly through one, several, or even skip stages. Their stage model may
serve as a useful framework for understanding relationship maintenance in
same-sex couples, therefore, each stage is discussed briefly here.
In the first stage, Blending (first year), partners experience a very in-
tense sense of togetherness. Their similarities draw them together and
they tend to ignore their differences. They spend a large amount of time
together, almost to the exclusion of others. Feelings of falling in love are
very intense in this stage, but vary by individual. Equality is preferred in fi-
nancial concerns and household chores. And sexual activity is frequent,
and almost always sexually exclusive.
In the second stage, Nesting (2-3 years), gay couples turn their atten-
tion increasingly to their surroundings. The desire to establish a home to-
gether becomes a goal. Couples begin to notice each short comings
and discover ways to cope with them, or complement each other to in-
crease compatibility. This stage also involves a gradual decline in the in-
tense feelings of love felt in the Blending stage. McWhirter and Mattison
(1982, 1984) o b served that the combination of searching for compatibili-
ties, and a lessening of intense feelings of love, often create what they
termed ambivalence.
Maintaining (4-5 years) involves couples learning to manage relational di-
alectics of togetherness versus independence. After the intense togetherness
of the blending stage, partners in this stage begin to try to re-establish their
own sense of personal identity within the relationship. Risk-taking begins to
occur-sometimes through outside sexual encounters, more time apart, in-
creased self-disclosure concerning the relationship, and new separate
friends. This increased risk taking often results in high conflict that must be
negotiated and resolved. The quality that seems to maintain the relationship
in this stage is the sense of both time and emotional investment, and the feel-
ing that the relationship had taken on a life of its own. Additionally, it was
found that outside recognition of the relationship by family and friends on
average did not occur until after 3 years together.
During Building (6-l 0 years), gay couples tend to enter a stage of coop-
eration. By this time, the couple has developed a sense of security in the re-
lationship. However, this stage may also bring feelings of boredom and
entrapment. But at this point in the relationship couples have usually de-
veloped coping mechanisms for dealing with these types of relational
threats. Complementarity is successfully managed, and the individualiza-
tion of the maintaining stage is strengthened by partner support.
In stage five, Releasing (1 l-20 years), the couple has established mutual
trust and conviction to the relationship as time has strengthened positive
mutual regard for each other. By this time, partners have merged their fi-
nancial assets and possessions completely. But gay men in this stage express
less caring and concern for both self and other, which sometimes leads to
increased isolation. Also, by this stage, both partners may become guilty of
taking the relationship for granted.
The final stage, Renewing (20 years and beyond), marked a special time
for couples around or beyond their twentieth anniversary. Couples in this
stage experienced a renewal of their relationship. Partners focused on en-
joying each company more. Also, establishing future financial secu-
rity and professional achievements became a focus. These couples
assumed they would be together until death. However, partners did worry
about health, financial security, fear of loneliness, and death of partners or
Overall, gay male couples who worked with McWhirter and Mattison
(1984) were quite satisfied and capable of maintaining long-lasting rela-
tionships. McWhirter and Mattison observed, however, that gay relation-
ships do lack role models and often have expectations based on
heterosexual couples that may cause distress when the relationship does

not match those expectations. There was common curiosity and worry
concerning how other gay couples functioned in day-to-day life and deal
with finances, family, outside relationships, etcetera. Scholarly research-
ers also have become interested in exploring the everyday communication
behaviors and strategies that gay and lesbian couples use to maintain their
relationships. The area of relationship maintenance, as well as, the limited
research on maintaining same-sex relationships, is the focus of the remain-
der of the chapter.


As previously defined, relationship maintenance refers to employing com-

municative strategies and behaviors to prevent relationship dissolution
through efforts to sustain a dynamic equilibrium in their relation-
ship definition and satisfaction levels as they cope with the ebb and flow of
everyday relating” (Baxter & Dindia, 1990, p. 188). Interest in relationship
maintenance in romantic relationships has increased among communica-
tion researchers over the past 15 years. Romantic relationships have been
found to provide particular relational benefits such as love, affection, sex-
ual activity, emotional intimacy, advice, encouragement, as well as social
support (Coyne & Delongis, 1986; Cutrona & Suhr, 1994; Prager, 1995;
Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000). In fact, Coyne and Delongis (1986)
found that other confiding relationships (e.g., parent, sibling, or friend)
could not compensate for the confiding intimacy of a romantic partner.
Social exchange theory has formed the basis of much of the research on
relationship maintenance. According to social exchange theory, a relation-
ship consists of resources that are exchanged between two persons
(Homans, 1950; Thibaut & Kelly, 1959). Preferred resources are consid-
ered to be rewards and lost resources are costs. In its basic form, the theory
proposes that as long as there are excess rewards, or profit, for both part-
ners after incurring relational costs, they will seek to maintain the relation-
ship. In applying social exchange theory, Stafford and Canary (1991;
Canary & Stafford, 1992, 1994) d eve 1oped a typology of strategic behav-
iors that both married and dating couples perceive exchanging in maintain-
ing their intimate relationships. Stafford and Canary proposed five
primary relationship maintenance strategies (defined as purposive mainte-
nance behaviors) resulting from their analysis: (a) positivity (e.g., cheerful-
ness and being positive); (b) openness (e.g., self-disclosure and
meta-relational communication); (c) assurances (e.g., expressions of love
and comfort); (d) shared tasks (e.g., household duties and relationship re-
sponsibilities); and (e) social networks (e.g., seeking mutual friendships
and kinship ties). Two additional behaviors-Advice (e.g., helping a part-
ner problem solve) and Conflict Management (e.g., using empathy and val-
idation behaviors)- recently were added by Stafford, Dainton, and Haas
(2000) in expanding Canary and original typology to include
seven behaviors.
Canary and Stafford (1992) a1so f ound that equity is an important rela-
tional characteristic underlying these behaviors. Equity is relational ex-
change where the overall ratio of each costs to rewards is roughly
equal. Equity was found to be a salient predictor of both personal use and
perception of relationship maintenance behaviors for married cou-
ples. In addition, self-reported and perceived maintenance strat-
egies combined to predict several other relational characteristics.
Positivity was the primary predictor of both control mutuality (i.e.,
amount of agreement on relationship control of partners) and liking of
partner. Perceptions of maintenance behaviors, in general, were
especially predictive of liking, whereas, sharing tasks and social networks
were correlated with commitment to the relationship.
Dainton and Stafford (1993) extended this work by examining behaviors
partners report enacting that may be routine in addition to being strategi-
cally planned. Seven primary routine behaviors (defined as intentional or un-
intentional habitualized maintenance behaviors) emerged: (a) joint activities
(e.g., spending time together and rituals); (b) small talk (e.g., discussing
daily events); (c) affection (e.g., touching, kissing, and sexual intimacy); (d)
avoidance (e.g., avoiding topics and conflict); (e) antisocial (e.g., acting jeal-
ous); (f) focus on self (e.g., watching weight and furthering career); and (g)
mediated communication (e.g., leaving notes or phone calls).
In addition to a social exchange approach, Baxter and colleagues
(Baxter 1994; Baxter & Simon, 1993) have examined relationship main-
tenance from a dialectical perspective. Relational dialectics are tensions
between polar opposites, which are central and necessary within all rela-
tionships. Three primary relational dialectics that occur internally and
externally in relationships have emerged. The internal dialectic of inte-
gration-separation (connection-autonomy) is the tension individuals
feel to establish inclusion in relationships, and at the same time, maintain
a sense of self-identity. The external dialectic of integration-separation is
the conflicting pull a couple feels to maintain outside relationships that
connect them with society, and yet, isolate themselves to increase rela-
tional intimacy. The internal dialectic of stability-change (predictabil-
ity-novelty) reflects the conflicting needs to feel secure in a predictable
relationship, but also, avoid boredom through seeking out novelty.
Externally, the dialectic of stability-change represents a struggle
to mange enactment of cultural norms, and also, maintain a unique rela-
tional identity. The dialectic of expressiveness-privacy (open-
ness-closedness) manifests itself internally as conflicting needs for open
self-disclosure of self, and yet protection of self and other from being
hurt. Externally, in the dialectic of expressiveness-privacy a couple must

manage their privacy from family and members of society, and also, con-
nect with others revealing their life as a couple. Baxter and colleagues ap-
plied a dialectical perspective in analyzing how relational partners
communicatively manage these relational tensions in order to maintain
their relationship over time.

Relationship Maintenance in Same-Sex Couples

Research exploring the communication strategies and behaviors used to main-

tain gay and lesbian relationships has only recently been undertaken. Three
studies specifically in this area will be discussed here. In the first study, Haas
and Stafford (1998) replicated the open-ended questionnaire format of
Dainton and Stafford (1993) to explore the relationship maintenance behav-
iors and strategies of gay and lesbian couples. In a small sample of 15 gay men
and 15 lesbian women, Haas and Stafford found very similar maintenance be-
haviors as those in the Canary and Stafford (1992) and Dainton and Stafford
(1993) studies. Specifically, the behaviors of positivity, openness, assurances,
shared tasks, and social networks were reported as basic maintenance behav-
iors within the gay and lesbian relationships.
In addition, two unique maintenance behaviors emerged in the Haas
and Stafford (1998) study as means for same-sex couples to deal with so-
cial stigma and the lack of wide spread acceptance in society. These behav-
iors included: being “out” as a couple and seeking gay and lesbian
supportive environments. Being “out” as a couple utilizes social network
support for validation and support of the couple relationship. Seeking gay
and lesbian supportive environments was described as seeking social envi-
ronments that are accepting and supportive of gays and lesbians and their
relationships (e.g., gay and lesbian bars, gay and lesbian vacation guest
houses, gay-pride events, and the like). Because same-sex couples cur-
rently cannot obtain legal validation of their relationships (except in the
state of Vermont, but the national ramifications remain unclear at this
time), being open or “out” to the networks and seeking supportive
social environments were described as serving important relationship
maintenance functions in these relationships.
In a second follow-up study, Haas and Stafford (1997) performed a direct
matched-sample comparison between the 30 lesbians and gay men in Study
I and 30 heterosexual married individuals who were part of a larger mainte-
nance study. Participants were matched according to age and length of rela-
tionship (within 2 months). Open-ended responses describing maintenance
strategies and behaviors were compared for similarity and frequency re-
ported. Results indicated that maintenance strategies and behaviors were
very similar across gay, lesbian, and heterosexual participants. This direct
comparison design goes beyond proposing similarities, as in previous studies,
and offers more direct support for the use of basic maintenance behaviors
across relationship types.
A second goal of this follow-up study was to examine the frequency
with which maintenance behaviors were mentioned by respondents. Sev-
eral interesting similarities and differences emerged between the gay and
lesbian and heterosexual response frequency. For heterosexual partici-
pants, the five most frequently mentioned maintenance behaviors were:
(1) Shared Tasks (83%), (2) Positivity-proactive (67%) and reactive
(67%) prosocial behaviors, (3) Positivity-favors and gifts (60%) and
Comfort and Support Behaviors (60%), (4) Openness (54%), and (5) Af-
fection (50%). I n comparison, the five most frequently mentioned mainte-
nance behaviors by gays and lesbians were: (1) Shared Tasks (73%), (2)
Metarelational Communication (53%), (3) Joint Activities (50%), (4)
Positivity-reactive prosocial behaviors (47%), and (5) Assurances (43%)
and Empathetic Behaviors (43%). What is interesting is that both groups
most frequently mentioned engaging in shared tasks as a relationship main-
tenance behavior. Dainton and Stafford (1993) argued that much of main-
taining relationships likely consists of mundane, routine activities through
engaging in relational duties and tasks (e.g., making coffee, taking out the
garbage, buying groceries, etc.). The fact that both lesbians and gay men
and heterosexuals mentioned sharing tasks most frequently provides fur-
ther evidence that these behaviors may be some of the most basic commu-
nicative behaviors in maintaining couple relationships.
Beyond the similarity of using shared tasks, some important differences
emerged between same-sex and heterosexual couples in the most fre-
quently mentioned behaviors. The second most frequently mentioned be-
havior by the lesbians and gay men was metarelational communication (i.e.,
talk about the relationship); whereas a focus on positivity ranked second for
heterosexuals. This finding likely underscores a need of same-sex couples to
continue to discuss the status of their relationships (e.g., the desire of part-
ners to maintain the relationship) to compensate for the lack of legal and so-
cial validation. Married heterosexual couples often may take their
relationships for granted and rely on legal sanctions as a maintaining force.
Thus, married persons likely perceive little need to discuss their desire to be
in the relationship on regular basis. For gays and lesbians, however, there is a
continuing need to validate and confirm both relational commit-
ment through metarelational talk as an important means of relationship
maintenance. McWhirter and Mattison (1982), however, found that some
gay couples may run the risk of over metacommunicating to the detriment
of their relationships. They observed that some gay couples “at times, pro-
cess their feelings and behaviors ‘to causing relationship fatigue and
distress” (p. 88). Therefore, an over-emphasis on metarelational communi-
cation could actually undermine same-sex efforts at relationship
maintenance. Additional research is needed to explore this area further.

Differences also occurred in the third, fourth, and fifth most frequently
mentioned behaviors. Joint activities, positivity, and relational assurances,
respectively, accounted for the next most frequently mentioned gay and
lesbian responses; whereas positivity (favors and gifts, openness, and affec-
tion) were mentioned by heterosexuals. This may indicate that same-sex
couples spend more time engaging in the same activities together and focus
on reassuring their partner through verbal expressions of love and caring.
Heterosexual couples, on the other hand, may place more emphasis on do-
ing favors or giving gifts, engaging in self-disclosure, and showing physical
affection. Due to the small sample size of this study, however, these find-
ings require further replication.
Finally, in a third study of 20 gay male couples (N = 40) in which one or
both partners were HIV positive or had AIDS (Haas, 1999a, 1999b), a
grounded theory of communicative normalization of illness emerged to ex-
plain the process of maintaining relationships dealing with chronic illness.
More specifically, normalization of illness primarily was found to be
achieved in these gay couples through the communicative management of
two relational dialectics: managing HIV-related communication engage-
ment and avoi