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his or her beliefs about the other partner. What happens when one partner, say, gets a
nasty surprise and learns that her spouse, a competent individual in social situations
with people he does not know, is an awkward mutterer with close family members?
Certainly, she may be upset and disillusioned. Past research by Swann (1996) has
shown that when individuals confront evidence that goes against their ¬rmly held views
of themselves, they work very hard to refute or downgrade that evidence. Similarly,
De La Ronde and Swann (1998) found that partners work hard to verify their views of
their spouses. As Drigotas and colleagues (1999) suggested, we often enter into rela-
tionships with people who view us as we view ourselves. Therefore, we and our part-
ners are motivated to preserve these impressions. Therefore, our surprised spouse will
be motivated to see her husband as competent in social situations, as he sees himself,
by suggesting perhaps that there is something about family gatherings that makes him
act out of character.
There seems, then, to be a kind of unspoken conspiracy among many intact couples
to protect and conserve the social world that the couple inhabits. The downside of this,
of course, is when one of the partners changes in a way that violates the expectations
of the other partner. For example, as De La Ronde and Swann (1998) suggested, if one
partner, because of low self-esteem goes into therapy and comes out with a more posi-
tive self-image, the spouse holding the other in low regard in the ¬rst place is motivated,
according to the notion of partner veri¬cation, to maintain that original negative image.
Clearly, that does not bode well for the relationship.
Social Psychology

Comparing what you get out of this relationship with what your partner gets out of
it, how would you say the relationship stacks up?

+3 I am getting a much better deal than my partner.
+2 I am getting a somewhat better deal.
+1 I am getting a slightly better deal.
0 We are both getting an equally good”or bad”deal.
“1 My partner is getting a slightly better deal.
“2 My partner is getting a somewhat better deal.
“3 My partner is getting a much better deal than I am.
Respondents were grouped into three categories: those who felt that their relationship
was equitable, those who felt that they got more out of the relationship than their part-
ners and therefore were overbene¬ted, and those who felt that they got less than their
partners and therefore were underbene¬ted.
The researchers then surveyed 2,000 people and found, as expected, that those
individuals who felt underbene¬ted were much more likely to engage in extramarital
sex than those who thought that their relationship was equitable or felt overbene¬ted
(Hat¬eld, Walster, & Traupmann, 1978). Generally, couples who feel that they are in
an equitable relationship are more likely to maintain the relationship than those who
were less equitably matched (Hill, Rubin, & Peplau, 1976).

Communal Relationships Although the research just reviewed suggests that people
make rather cold-blooded, marketplace judgments about the quality of their relationships,
it is likely that they also have other ways of evaluating relationships. For example, a
distinction has been made between relationships governed by exchange principles”in
which, as we have seen, people bene¬t each other with the expectation of receiving
a bene¬t in return”and relationships governed by communal principles”in which
individuals bene¬t each other in response to the otherʼs needs (Clark, 1986). In communal
communal relationship
An interpersonal relationship relationships, if one partner can put more into the relationship than the other, so be it. That
in which individuals bene¬t is, people may deliberately underbene¬t themselves for the sake of the relationship.
each other in response to each
Love relationships are often governed by communal principles. Clark and Grote
other™s needs.
(1998) reviewed the research concerning how couples evaluate their relationships, and
although some of the results show that costs are negatively related to satisfaction as
exchange theories would predict, sometimes, however, costs are positively related to
satisfaction. That is, Clark and Grote found evidence that, sometimes, the more costs a
partner incurs, the higher the satisfaction. How might we explain this? Well, if we consider
the communal norm as one that rewards behavior that meets the needs of oneʼs partner,
then we might understand how costs could de¬ne a warm, close, and affectionate rela-
tionship. As Clark and Grote noted, it may be admirable, and one may feel good about
oneself if, having helped oneʼs partner, one has also lived up to the communal ideal. By
doing so, the helping partner gains the gratitude of the other, feels good about oneself,
and these positive feelings then become associated with the relationship.
One way to reconcile the different ¬ndings concerning the relationship between
costs and satisfaction is to note that the costs one bears in a communal relationship are
qualitatively different than those we bear in a purely exchange relationship that may be
deteriorating. For example, consider the following costs borne in an exchange relation-
ship: “She told me I was dumb.” This is an intentional insult (and cost) that suggests a
Chapter 9 Interpersonal Attraction and Close Relationships 343

relationship that may be going badly. Compare this to a communal cost: “I listened care-
fully to what he said when a problem arose even though I was quite busy and had other
things to get done.” This communal cost served to strengthen the relationship (Clark &
Grote, 1998). To state the obvious, there are costs and then there are costs.

Love over Time
We have talked about how relationships get started and how the partners evaluate how that
relationship is going. Now letʼs consider what happens to relationships over time. What
factors keep them together and what drives them apart? Sprecher (1999) studied partners
in romantic relationships over a period of several years. The measures of love, commit-
ment, and satisfaction taken several times over the period of the research show that couples
who maintained their relationship increased on all measures of relationship satisfaction.
Couples who broke up showed a decrease in measures of relationship health just before
the breakup. The collapse of the relationship did not mean that love was lost. In fact, the
splintered partners continued to love each other, but everything else had gone wrong.
Sprecherʼs work as well as that of others suggests that intact relationships are per-
ceived by the partners in idealistic ways and that the partners truly feel that their love
and commitment grows stronger as time goes on. Intact, long-term couples are very sup-
portive of each other and that makes it easier for them to weather dif¬cult personal or
¬nancial problems (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). For example, couples
who support each other during times of stress are much better able to survive periods of
economic pressure that tend to cause much emotional distress in a relationship (Conger,
Rueter, & Elder, Jr., 1999).
Some individuals are especially idealistic and af¬rm a belief that they have met
the person that destiny provided. Knee (1998) examined the relationships of those
romantic partners who believed in romantic destiny and those who did not. He found
that he could predict the longevity of the relationship by two factors: One was belief in
romantic destiny and the other was whether the initial interaction was very positive. As
Figure 9.3 shows, individuals who believed in romantic destiny and had that con¬rmed
by initial satisfaction tended to have longer relationships than those who did not believe
in destiny. But if things donʼt go quite so well at ¬rst, those who believe in destiny tend
to bail out quite quickly and do not give the relationship a chance (Knee, 1998).

Sculpting a Relationship
So we see that strong relationships are idealized and are able to withstand stresses
because the partners support each other rather than work at cross-purposes. How do
such relationships develop? Drigotas (1999) and his coexperimenters found that suc-
cessful couples have an obliging interdependence in which each, in essence, sculpts the
other, much as Michelangelo carved David out of the embryonic stone. This Drigotas
aptly called the Michelangelo phenomenon (Drigotas, Rusbult, Wieselquist, & Whitton,
1999). In a series of four studies, these researchers showed that each partner tended to
become more like the ideal self that their partner envisioned for them. In other words,
each partner supports the otherʼs attempts to change. This partner af¬rmation of each
other is strongly associated with ongoing, well-functioning couples.
Of course, one reason that successful couples have similar views of each other
is that individuals tend to search for people who are similar to them. For example,
Klohnen and Mendelsohn (1998) reported research that showed that individuals pair
up with partners of approximately equal value and attributes. Note that this is in line
with exchange theories discussed earlier. Therefore, people with positive self-images
Chapter 9 Interpersonal Attraction and Close Relationships 345

Of course, having negative views of oneʼs partner, as you might expect, is associ-
ated with decreased relationship well-being (Ruvolo & Rotondo, 1998). In fact, some
people have a strong belief that people can change and, to go back to the example used
here, that someone with a negative self-image can change for the better. Ruvulo and
Rotondo (1998) measured the extent to which people involved in relationships believed
that people can change. They found that when individuals had strong beliefs that indi-
viduals can change, then the views that they had of their partner were less likely to be
related to the current well-being of the relationship. This means that if you saw that
your partner had a negative self-image, but you were convinced that he or she could
change for the better, that current image was not crucial to how you viewed the status
of the relationship. However, for those individuals who did not feel that it was possible
for people to change, the views of their partners were crucial to how they evaluated
their relationships. So, if you believed that your partnerʼs attributes and feelings were
forever ¬xed, it makes sense that those views would be crucial to how you felt about the
relationship. But, if things could change, probably for the better, well then these nega-
tive views wonʼt last forever. Therefore, many successful couples behave in a manner
that veri¬es initial images of each other.

Responses to Con¬‚ict
When relationships are deemed to be unfair, or inequitable, the result almost inevitably
will be con¬‚ict. Con¬‚ict also can occur when a partner behaves badly, and everyone
behaves badly at one time or another. The mere passage of time also makes con¬‚ict
more likely. Couples are usually more affectionate and happier as newlyweds than
they are 2 years later (Huston & Vangelisti, 1991). What happens, then, when con¬‚icts
arise? How do people in a relationship respond to con¬‚icts? In this section we shall
look at three responses to con¬‚ict: developing stories to explain con¬‚ict, accommoda-
tion, and forgiveness.

Developing Stories
Satis¬ed couples bias their impressions of their partner in ways that cause idealization
of the partner and increase satisfaction in the relationship (McGregor & Holmes, 1999).
Researchers have discovered that when satis¬ed couples confront a threat in the marriage
due to something the partner has done (say, had a drink with another man or woman
on the sly), individuals devise stories that work to diminish that threat. They construct
a story to explain the event in a way that takes the blame away from their partner. The
story puts the partner in the best light possible. McGregor and Holmes (1999) suggested
that the process of devising a story to explain a behavior convinces the storyteller of the
truth of that story. Constructing the motives of the characters in the story (the partner
and others) and making the story come to a desired conclusion”all of this cognitive
work is convincing to the storyʼs author, who comes to believe in its conclusions.
When reality is complicated, a story that is charitable, apparently, can go far
in soothing both the offending partner and the storytelling partner (McGregor &
Holmes, 1999).
Sometimes, instead of escalating the con¬‚ict, couples ¬nd ways to accommodate
each other, even when one or both have acted in a negative or destructive manner
(Rusbult, Verette, Whitney, Slovik, & Lipkus, 1991). Typically, our initial impulse in
response to a negative act such as our partner embarrassing us in front of other people
is to be hurtful in return. That is, we tend toward the primitive response of returning
the hurt in kind.
Social Psychology

Then other factors come into play. That initial impulse gets moderated by second
thoughts: If I react this way, Iʼm going to hurt the relationship and I will suffer. What
should I do? Should I lash back, or should I try to be constructive? Do I satisfy the
demands of my ego, or do I accommodate for the good of the relationship?

These second thoughts, therefore, might lead to an accommodation process, which means
accommodation process
Interacting in such a way that, that in interactions in which there is con¬‚ict, a partner does things that maintain and enhance
despite con¬‚ict, a relationship the relationship (Rusbult et al., 1991). Whether a partner decides to accommodate will
is maintained and enhanced.
depend largely on the nature of the relationship. To accommodate, a person must value the
relationship above his or her wounded pride. If the relationship is happy, if the partners are
committed to each other, then they will be more likely to accommodate. People are also
more likely to accommodate when they have no alternatives to the relationship.
Accommodation does not always mean being positive. Consistently reacting to a
partnerʼs negative behavior in positive ways may lessen the power that constructive
comments can have under really serious circumstances. At times, it may be better to
say nothing at all than to respond in a positive way. More important than being positive
and agreeing with oneʼs partner is to avoid being unduly negative (Montgomery, 1988).
The health of a relationship depends less on taking good, constructive actions than on
carefully avoiding insulting, destructive actions (Rusbult et al., 1991).
The way people in a committed relationship handle con¬‚ict, in short, is an excellent
predictor of the health of the relationship. Relationship health correlates with handling
con¬‚ict through accommodation rather than ignoring con¬‚ict or focusing on negatives.
Research shows a positive association between happiness in a relationship and a cou-
pleʼs commitment to discuss and not ignore con¬‚icts (Crohan, 1992). Those couples
who ignore con¬‚icts report less happiness in their relationship.
Couples who tend to focus on negatives when dealing with con¬‚ict are more likely
to end their relationship. An initial study showed that couples whose relationship was
in dif¬culty tended to express negative feelings, sometimes even in anticipation of an
interaction, and to display high levels of physiological arousal, whereas couples whose
relationship was not in dif¬culty expected interactions to be constructive and were able
to control their emotions (Levenson & Gottman, 1983). A follow-up study of most of the
couples revealed that those couples who had recorded high physiological arousal were
likely to have separated or ended the relationship (Gottman & Levenson, 1986).
As should be clear, con¬‚ict is not the cause of relationship breakup, nor is the lack
of overt con¬‚ict a sign that a relationship is well. Rather, it is the way couples handle
con¬‚ict that counts. Mark Twain mused that people may think of perhaps 80,000 words
a day but only a few will get them into trouble. So it is with relationships. Just a few
“zingers””contemptuous negative comments”will cause great harm (Notarius &
Markman, 1993). Consider the husband who thinks of himself as an elegant dresser,
a person with impeccable taste in clothes. If, one day, his wife informs him during a
heated exchange that she ¬nds his clothing vulgar and is often embarrassed to be seen
with him, she has struck a sensitive nerve. Her comment, perhaps aimed at damaging
his self-esteem, may provoke an even more hurtful response and lead to growing ill will
between the two”or to defensiveness and withdrawal. One zinger like this can undo a
whole weekʼs worth of loving and supportive interchanges.

It is relatively easy to see how accommodation can solve con¬‚ict in certain situations.
For example, if there is a disagreement over whether to buy a new Corvette or how to
Chapter 9 Interpersonal Attraction and Close Relationships 347

discipline the children, accommodation would be the most effective method of dealing
with the con¬‚ict. However, there are events that occur in a relationship that might not
be ¬xed by accommodation by itself. For example, an incident of in¬delity may call for
more than reaching an accommodation. Clinically speaking, in¬delity presents one of
the most serious challenges in a relationship and is one of the most dif¬cult to handle
in therapy (Gordon, Baucom, & Snyder, 2005). In¬delity is particularly damaging to an
ongoing relationship when the transgressor is caught in the act or is discovered through
an unsolicited third-party account (A¬¬, Falato, & Weiner, 2001).
Given the potentially damaging impact of in¬delity on a relationship, how can a
relationship be repaired following such an event? One possibility is forgiveness, which
makes con¬‚ict resolution and accommodation easier to achieve (Fincham, Beach, &
Davila, 2004). In a case of in¬delity the harmed partner will need to forgive the offender
in order to begin the process of healing the relationship through con¬‚ict resolution and
Most of us have some sense of what is meant by forgiveness. However, in order to
study a concept like forgiveness empirically, we need a scienti¬c de¬nition. McCullough,
Worthington, and Rachal (1997) de¬ne interpersonal forgiveness as changes involving interpersonal forgiveness
A harmed individual™s
a harmed individual showing decreased motivation to retaliate against oneʼs relation-
decreased motivation
ship partner, a reduced tendency to maintain distance from the partner, and an increased
to retaliate against and
tendency to express conciliation and goodwill toward the partner (pp. 321“322).
a reduced tendency to
McCullough et al. characterize forgiveness as the transition from negative motivational maintain distance from one™s
states (e.g., desire for revenge) to positive motivational states (e.g., conciliation) that relationship partner, and
help preserve a relationship. an increased willingness
to express conciliation and
As you might expect, a wronged partnerʼs likelihood of forgiving his or her trans-
goodwill toward the partner.
gressing partner relates to the severity of the transgression. The more severe the trans-
gression, the less likely forgiveness will be given (Fincham, Jackson, & Beach, 2005).
There is also a gender difference in how men and women respond to in¬delity. Men,
for example, are less likely to forgive sexual in¬delity (e.g., your partner engaging in a
passionate sexual relationship with another person) than emotional in¬delity (e.g., your
partner forming an intimate bond with another person) and would be more likely to ter-
minate a relationship after sexual in¬delity than after emotional in¬delity (Shackelford,


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