Chapter 15: Fostering Relationships: Getting, Maintaining, and Repairing Them

Nearly everyone wants successful, intimate relationships. However, this is not always an easy task. People often turn to friends and family for support when their relationships do not work out. And sometimes they turn to professionals for help.

Fostering Social Bonding: Strategies People Use to Initiate New Relationships

l   Many people develop new friendships out of their daily professional and social activities.

l   Friendships emerge from physical proximity and repeated interactions. And we often become involved in situations that encourage friendly interactions.

l   After some time, these interactions result in new relationships.

Loneliness Businesses

l   Sometimes, however, people turn to more conscious strategies for making friends.

l   Gordon (1976) states that there are a number of “loneliness businesses” that help people form new friendships and dating relationships.

l   These include:

l   Dating services

l   Singles bars

l   Personal development groups


l   These businesses flourish in part to help their customers find new relationships.

l   Other, non-profit organizations such as religious groups, clubs, and self-help books fill the same purpose.

l   Rook (1984) argues that for-profit organizations usually have the sole purpose of helping customers find a new partner and this may cause self-consciousness and anxiety for some people.

l   She contends that people may find it easier to get to know one another if task-oriented activities are utilized.

Personal Ads and Dating Services

l   Researchers have been studying the use of personal ads and newspapers on the Web since the 1970s (see Lynn & Bolig, 1985).

l   These reveal that men tend to want someone younger than themselves and physically attractive. Women often state their physical attractiveness and say they want economic status.

l   Goode’s study (1996) supported this and found that women significantly chose an ad for an average-looking male lawyer versus a handsome cabdriver, while most men chose the ad for an attractive waitress vs. the ad for an average-looking female lawyer.


l   Video services are used as well. These usually serve as intermediary instead of a matchmaker and customers typically choose for themselves who they want to meet.

l   In a California study, people usually gave fairly realistic descriptions of themselves and tried to appeal to one special person (Woll & Crosby, 1987).

l   The study concluded that only 10 to 15% of members achieved “success” through video dating. Still, users of video dating services like the ability to screen and the number of potential dates available.


l   Another way of meeting new people is through the use of the Internet.

l   Internet users can get acquainted with one another quickly and intimately although they may not see each other or hear each others’ voices.

l   Many friendships formed through the Internet later move to other means of communication, such as phoning and face-to-face interactions (Parks & Floyd, 1996).

l   Although the internet can and does foster interpersonal communication with distant relatives and friends, it has been associated with declines in the size of users’ social circles and increases in loneliness.

Interaction Strategies

l    From a study conducted with 6th and 7th grade students, Wentzel and Erdley’s (1993) found identified 5 strategies that students thought should be used to foster friendships:

l   Initiate interaction

l   Be nice

l   Engage in prosocial behavior

l   Provide social support


Things to avoid:

l   Being psychologically aggressive

l   Engaging in negative self-presentation

l   Acting antisocially





l   In studies with adults, Baxter and Philpott (1982) identified the same types of strategies with some additions:


l   Similarity

l   Self-presentation as unique and favorable

l   Soliciting information about the other

Interventions Professionals Offer to Help Clients Initiate New Relationships

l   The most approaches clinical psychologists use to help clients foster new relationships are social skills training typically done in groups, and cognitively oriented therapies.

l   Social skills training programs teach clients to initiate conversations, foster the flow of conversation, giving and receiving compliments, and enhance physical attractiveness.


l   Cognitive therapies assume that clients have self-defeating thought patters and thus try to help clients identify recurring negative thought patterns, discover inconsistencies in thought patterns and offer more positive alternatives interpretations.

Maintaining and Enhancing Existing Relationships: Partners Maintaining Their Own Relationships

l   Canary and colleagues (1991; 2000; in press) have identified several relational maintenance strategies:

l   Positivity

l   Being positive and cheerful

l   Openness

l   Self-disclosure and open discussion

l   Assurances

l   Showing love & faithfulness; stressing commitment



l   Networking

l   Spending time with common friends

l   Sharing tasks

l   Especially household chores


l   Recently, Canary and Stafford have added more strategies. Some of these are:

l   Joint activities

l   Mediated communication

l   Humor

l   Avoidance



l   Other researchers have identified ways that people use to sustain their relationships.

l   Aron, Norman, and Aron (in press) identify engaging in activities but show the importance of the activities being novel and arousing.

l   Karney, McNully, and Fry (in press) believe that we typically have more positive global evaluations or our partners than we have of their specific behaviors. They propose that separating global beliefs from cognitions about their partner’s specific behaviors is a way to maintain relationship satisfaction.

Professionals Helping Partners to Maintain Relationships: Premarital Programs

l   A number of structured, systematic programs for premarital counseling have been developed.

l   For example, the Couples Communication Program (CCP) centers on 4 major areas of communication:

l   Training in awareness and expression of thoughts, feelings, and intentions.

l   Training in better sender-receiver-clarification process.


l   Training in various types of communication that may arise in relationships.

l   Training in ways to build one’s self-esteem and that of one’s partner.

l   This and other programs take an educational approach to premarital counseling and they are carried out by trainers working with a group of couples.

l   Other programs are more structured marital enrichment programs, which aim to enhance the relationship and prevent problems before they develop.


l   Research shows that the effectiveness of these programs are modest (Butler & Wampler, 1999; Giblin, Sprenkle, & Sheehan, 1985; Guerney & Maxson, 1990).

l   While these programs may be helpful for some, highly distressed couples should contact an appropriate therapeutic service (Doherty & Walker, 1982).

Sexual Enrichment Programs

l   Masters and Johnson’s (1970) pioneering work in the treatment of sexual dysfunction has resulted in what some have called “the treatment of choice.”

l   Master and Johnson emphasized that sexuality occurs in the context of a relationship and developed a systematic, behavioral treatment program for specific sexual problems.

l   These programs have had support in the literature and have generally helped women experiencing difficulty in achieving orgasm.

Repairing Relationships: Professionals Helping Partners to Repair Relationships

l   Marital therapy has been developed in response to clients who asked for help. While family therapy was developed as a result of professional concerns that adequate treatment of one family member required the participation of all family members.

l   The conjoint therapy, in which one therapist or to co-therapists see both clients in the same session, is widely used.


l    Some of the major theoretical orientations adopted be marital therapists include:

l    The psychodynamic approach

l   Emphasizes the role of unconscious conflicts in influencing behavior and the need for insight into these conflicts.

l    The Rogerian or client-centered approach

l   Views therapy as a process that requires the therapist to provide acceptance and empathic understanding to clients.

l    The systems approach to therapy

l   Assumes that a person’s unhealthy behavior reflects an unhealthy but stable relational system and emphasizes the destabilization of the system.


l   Behavioral approaches

l   Define a distressed relationship in terms of a low level of reinforcing exchanges between partners; aims to increase positive exchanges between partners either contingently or noncontingently.

l   Cognitive approaches

l   Stress the role of unrealistic expectations and causal attributions in contributing to marital distress. These approaches try to change clients attributions and provide alternative ways of thinking about their partners and the relationship.



l   Currently, many therapies have integrated approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral approaches.

l   Emotional focused couple therapy (EFT), which builds on attachment theory, is another promising approach to marital therapy.

The Success of Professional Help in Repairing Relationships

l   Two ways to examine the success of psychotherapy are efficacy and effectiveness research.

l   Efficacy studies validate the effects of a given treatment in comparison to an alternative treatment or no treatment, as tested under controlled conditions.

l   Effectiveness studies focus on clients’ benefits after therapy and are conducted under ordinary, nonexperimental conditions.


l   Efficacy research is the most common form of therapy outcome assessment. When it is done well, it allows researchers to confidently conclude that the treatment administered caused the client to improve.

l   Numerous research studies has found that therapy works, and in particular, couples therapy has beneficial outcomes.

l   Therapy research shows the value of clear, constructive communication and the development of a trusting relationship between the therapist and both partners.