Social Psychology - Chapter 12

How do you create and change friendships and (love) relationships? - Chapter 12


Research shows that the feelings that someone has about his or her relationship is the most important thing in life for most people, more important than health, money, and career.

The biggest challenge in researching concepts such as attraction, relationships and love is that usually only non-experimental designs can be used. This leaves ambiguity about the causal relations between variables. This can sometimes be solved by studying relationships for a longer period of time, so that researchers can determine the order in which processes take place. Research that has received more attention recently is related to "speed dating" paradigms: researchers can measure the very first impressions of people about a potential partner and then follow them for a while to see which factors cause a spark to ignite. Furthermore, it is important to consider that by far the most studies have been done between young heterosexual couples in individualistic cultures.

Physical attractiveness and liking someone

In general, people are attracted to physically attractive people. Physically attractive people are seen as nicer, more social and more reliable than those who are physically less attractive. Attraction is a powerful cue to see if we like someone. But what is attraction? Almost everyone (male, female, young, old, and even cross-cultural) agrees on two physically appealing characteristics:

Faces and bodies that are symmetrical are more attractive.

Faces and bodies that suggest access to certain resources are more attractive. For example, those who look like they have access to good food and enough money or power / status to get it, are considered more attractive.

In addition to the general universal nature of cues regarding health and well-being, people can also differ greatly in what they find attractive. This is because we are very influenced by our experiences and expectations. First of all, we tend to like that which we see more often. In addition, although we like people who are physically attractive, the opposite is also true: those we like are physically more attractive than those we do not like.

Similarities and liking someone

The more people look like you, the nicer you will find them. This effect becomes even stronger when these shared qualities are important to us, and when they are striking. Why does seeing similarities cause us to like them?

  • We like that person because we see our own characteristics as desirable.

  • Finding similarities gives us a familiar feeling.

  • People who look like you contribute to mastery of one's envrionment, because we are more inclined to seek interaction with those who look like us.

  • Similarities validate our sense of belonging.

Positive interactions and liking someone

One of the factors that stimulates frequent interactions is physical proximity, which often leads to friendships. Even minimal interactions (such as just nodding when you meet someone in the hallway) can already make you feel nicer. When the interaction increases in frequency or complexity, other processes also come into play. As with equality, interaction contributes to our sense of mastery about the world and our mutual sense of belonging, creating positive impressions about the other person. The familiarity that results from each other over and over again ensures that you will find the other nicer.

However, these effects do not occur if interactions are not rewarding. Negative interactions lead to feelings of aversion that cause one to dislike each other.

Physical attractiveness, perceived similarities, mutual interactions and liking somebody are all four separate processes that can reinforce each other.

The development of a friendly relationship

Some people also have so-called "idiosyncratic preferences". Put simply, this means that Lynn falls for boys with brown eyes, and Johan for red-haired girls.

Friendships develop when interactions occur that meet two criteria: the need to control the environment and the need for solidarity with others. Friends exchange rewards (to put it simply) and so-called self-disclosures.

The exchange of rewards is reciprocal. If a relationship (in the broadest sense of the word!) just starts, this is usually an exchange relationship. These types of relationships are based on the exchange of rewards, which comes down to the principle: 'I do something for you and you do something for me'. When relationships develop into friendships, the friends often share the rewards equally, do not care about who earns, and automatically assume that the other would do the same for them.

Self-disclosures are an important part of (friendly) relationships. This means that thoughts, feelings and emotions are told to each other. The intimacy and diversity of the topics that are shared increase as the relationship develops. If you share more about yourself, this means that you will find each other nicer, there is more and more mutual understanding and good coordination of joint activities takes place. It is important that the amount of self-disclosures is in balance, because too many self-disclosures cause an uncomfortable feeling. As the relationship progresses, the reaction to such self-disclosures becomes quite different: initially you would react with something like "wow, that happened to me too!", while later in a relationship you are more interested in what the person is telling you. There is a huge gender difference in the self-disclosures; revelations that women do often reflect their feelings about the relationship. The revelations that men do, on the other hand, often reflect the efforts to strengthen the relationship.

Solid love relationships

In the research into close relationships it is usually not possible to use an experimental design. As a result, it is difficult to draw causal conclusions between variables. A close relationship is defined as a relationship with strong and frequent mutual (inter) dependence in many life domains. In a close relationship there are three forms of interdependence: cognitive, behavioral and affective.

In a cognitive interdependence, the partner becomes part of the self. The mental representations of the self and of the other are connected to each other. Differences between yourself and the partner are clearly less. When the other person also becomes part of the self, we also make attributions about our partners as if we were ourselves. More specifically, it is all about the idea behind an action, more than about the action itself. The positive behavior that the partner exhibits is explained by inner qualities, negative behavior is linked to situational causes. Often, negative behavior is also minimized or explained away. The support and validation of the partner becomes important for your own identity. Both men and women derive their identity and self-esteem from their relationships, although they do look at different aspects.

A behavioral interdependence means that the exchange of rewards changes in close relationships. It is more about showing affection and making the other happy. Those who are in so-called communal relationships are directly concerned with the welfare of the other and offer rewards or services to show that they care about the other person, because they have affection for them, and not from a need to to get something back. Potential romantic relationships show the same changes from exchange to common relationship - and if they do not develop in this way, they often do not survive. When people make decisions and take action that reflects the other person rather than themselves, relationships exist longer.

Affective interdependence is about intimacy (a positive emotional bond in which understanding and support are central) and dedication. Intimacy is stimulated by self-disclosures (step 1) that are answered with acceptance and recognition (step 2). Through this acceptance and recognition, the person who makes the revelations has a sense of understanding and appreciation (step 3). Intimacy is often accompanied by feelings of warmth, connectedness and concern. Intimacy is therefore the most central reward of close relationships. The commitment to a relationship is influenced by the following four factors: the rewards from the relationship and the possible rewards of alternative relationships (this determines your satisfaction with the relationship), investments that would be lost if the relationship ends, and other costs associated with ending the relationship (these are your obstacles to the breaking up of the relationship).

Social support concerns the emotional and physical coping resources that are offered by others. Interactions in which partners feel understood and appreciated make them not only happier, but also (physically) healthier. For women, social support is more effective than for men, and especially if social support is given by family or friends, this is paying off. Emotional support often helps best with stress or illness. Men are often inclined to give problem-solving advice in giving support, while women often offer emotional support. This difference in support often leads to miscommunication between men and women. Men often feel that their feelings are not seen as unique,while women feel that their feelings are being trivialized by the problem solving tactics that men often apply.

Attachment styles

There is an inner need to attach to others. In general, a distinction is made between four different attachment styles. These four attachment styles can be distinguished by two underlying dimensions; the view of the self and the view of others.

  • Anxiously attached people are negative towards themselves and others. They give and seek little support in relationships.

  • People who are preoccupied are negative about themselves but positive about others. In general, these people are expressive in emotions and have a lot of confidence in other people.

  • People who avoid being afflicted have a positive view of themselves but a negative view of others. They are not very expressive and show little intimacy in relationships. They also seek and give little support.

  • Safely attached people have a positive image about themselves and about others. They experience trust and happiness in close relationships and are more likely to seek and give support.

There are theories (among others Bowlby, 1969) that state that the feelings of connection have an evolutionary basis. It is suggested that there is an inner system that connects people emotionally with others, making them feel good when they are in contact with the other person and feel bad / anxious when they are separated.

In general, two types of people can be distinguished in terms of looking at relationships and their success: 1) People who believe in predestination assume that someone is or is not suitable to have a relationship in advance, or 2) people who believe in growth, believe that conflicts that occur can be overcome with any partner.

Men and women have a different view on relationships. Women find intimacy and self-disclosure very important, while men consider joint activities with the partner the most important. This therefore concerns the view on the rewards of a relationship. Men and women also have other sources of satisfaction. Women are most satisfied in a relationship when conflicts are avoided, while men are satisfied when they spend a lot of time with their partner.


Feelings of passion

In a romantic relationship there are sexual feelings, a feeling of intense desire for the partner and euphoric feelings of completeness and ecstasy when the relationship goes well, and feelings of fear and despair when the relationship goes badly. Feelings of passion are often connected with sexual desires for the partner. This is expressed in the need for being together and maintaining contact. In passionate love there is less of commitment, trust, attachment and intimacy than in relationships that are not built on passion alone. As soon as the intimacy and commitment become greater, a decrease / disappearance of passionate feelings often takes place.

Like almost all components of love, men and women also differ in the area of ​​passionate feelings. Men fall in love faster, while these feelings decrease less quickly in women. In different cultures, the same is not always the case with regard to passion. In some cultures, passion is desirable, while it is undesirabe in other cultures.

People with an anxious or preoccupied attachment style are often inclined to have more passionate feelings than people with a different attachment style.

Preference for the sex partner

The social context of a relationship, especially whether it is a short or long-term relationship, determines what qualities the other person is looking for in his / her sexual partner. Men attach more importance to the physical attractiveness of a (possible) partner than women, while women attach greater value to status-related qualities, ambition and financial success. The preferences of the women are more variable than those of the man.


Not everyone has the same opinion about sexual activities. Contrary to what used to be the norm, sexual activity between unmarried people is becoming increasingly accepted. Homosexual activities are also becoming increasingly accepted.

Sex is a combination of common pleasure and intimate self-disclosures. This ensures that creating and maintaining the relationship is stimulated. Satisfaction with sex depends on the satisfaction with the relationship, as well as the joint activities that are related to the satisfaction of the relationship. Women are dissatisfied with their sex lives when they lack warmth and security, while men are dissatisfied when sexual activities are not frequent and varied.

Threatening factors for relationships


As soon as partners are interdependent in a relationship, conflicts can not be avoided. Conflicts can work constructively or destructively. Especially external factors such as responsibilities regarding work or family and social norms can cause conflicts. The satisfaction with a relationship can decrease if you derive fewer rewards from the relationship. This may be due to a decrease in the willingness / ability to meet the needs of the other, for example due to illness or personal change.

Accommodation refers to the process in which one reacts to a negative action by the other. The pattern of accommodations naturally influences satisfaction with the relationship. Sources that promote a constructive accommodation are:

  • A secure attachment style. Couples where both have a secure attachment style can deal better with conflicts.

  • A great deal of dedication to the relationship. This ensures that there is more motivation to accept the shortcomings of the partner, to communicate a lot and to adapt their own behavior.

  • Idealization of the partner. Favorable opinions about the partner ensure that there are fewer conflicts and that the way of dealing with conflicts takes place in a less destructive way.

  • Good beliefs about the relationship, such as "we are meant for each other", or "we have already achieved a lot".

Relationships often fail because people feel that they do not get enough psychological support from their partner. A lack of autonomy can also ensure that people end the relationship. Women also often give the reason that there is too little openness and intimacy in the relationship, while men often see lack of romance and passion as the cause of the end of a relationship.

Solutions for problems

In conflict situations, actively discussing a conflict, waiting for the situation to improve, or forgiveness (an increase of positive feelings and a decrease of negative feelings towards the partner) ensure that the problem is solved. These are constructive responses to a conflict. You often see these reactions in people with a secure attachment style. Destructive reactions are things like shouting or ignoring the other. These reactions endanger the relationship. The fewer negative reactions in a relationship, the more satisfaction there is between partners. In general, the case requires women to give more constructive reactions than men.

People are more likely to make negative attributions if partners are dissatisfied with their relationship. In this case, positive behavior is attributed more quickly to external (situational) factors and negative behavior to intentions or personality. If one is happy with the relationship, the opposite happens: one attributes positive behavior to the person, and negative behavior to the situation.

If many negative attributions and destructive reactions take place within a relationship, this can lead to a vicious circle of conflicts. Breaking it can be difficult. First of all, it is important that emotional reconciliation takes place. In this step, the problem must be put into perspective and acknowledged that one is partially guilty. Then one must accept a peace offer from the partner. Reducing conflicts can be achieved by avoiding generalizations about the partner and by the open communication of feelings.


Jealousy is an important factor in the Failing of relationships. Jealousy within a relationship is a sign of anxiety about the partner's dedication and especially occurs when there is inequality. It can be experienced if a rival is actually present, or if he or she is only imagined. Often, jealousy is accompanied by feelings of anger, fear and depression. It is often strengthened if you feel that you can not bring up anything in the relationship or when trust in the partner is gone. People who are securely attached do not experience many jealous feelings, while preoccupied people often feel jealousy. Extreme jealousy is bad for the relationship, while a small amount of jealousy can sometimes lead to an improvement in the relationship.

Research shows that women often remain in a violent relationship because of the perceived lack of alternatives and their investments made in the relationship. It also appears that violence and abuse are related to the same factors that lead to conflict and termination of a relationship.

Usually terminating a relationship is a long and complex process with repeated conflicts and reconciliation attempts. Often the other partner is accused at the termination of a relationship that he or she was the cause of the decline of the relationship. Women end relationships more often than men. An explanation for this could be that women experience more pain and misery in conflicts.


Loneliness can give feelings of despair, misery, boredom and depression. This often arises from the need for affection and self-validation from an intimate relationship that is not fulfilled. Serious reactions to loneliness include alcohol and drug use. When loneliness is devoted to internal qualities, loneliness is more difficult to overcome than when loneliness is attributed to verifiable causes. If you are rejected you can lose self-esteem. The rejecting person first gets more self-esteem and then feelings of guilt and irritation. The zombie approach is the best. Here you show emotions and you do it briefly, but still politely.

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