Ebook for check point assignment

As humans, we are fundamentally social beings whose connections to others are vital
to our health and happiness. As we have noted in many places throughout this book,
the evidence connecting well-being to relationships is overwhelming (see Chapters 3
and 5). David Myers referred to the contribution of relationships to health and happiness as
a “deep truth” (1992, p. 154). The “truth” of the well-being/relationship connection appears
to be universal. Of the many factors that contribute to well-being, only social relationships
Defining Close Relationships
Exchange and Communal Relationships
On the Lighter Side
Teasing and Humor
Focus on Research: Sharing What Goes Right in Life
Friendship and Romantic Love
Clarity of Rules
Complexity of Feelings
Varieties of Love
Passionate versus Companionate Love
Triangular Theory of Love
Cultural Context of Love, Marriage, and Divorce
Why Don’t Marriages Last?
Increased Freedom and Decreased Constraints
Getting Married and Staying Married: Is Love the Answer?
Realism or Idealism?
Satisfaction and Conflict
What People Bring to Romantic Relationships
Attachment Style
Conflict and Communication Skills
Focus on Research: The Power of the “Bad”
Implicit Theories and Expectations
Food for Thought: Contours of a Happy Marriage
What Can Happy Couples Tell Us?
Humor and Compatibility
Close Relationships
and Well-Being
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240 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
consistently predict happiness across widely differing
cultures (Diener & Diener, 1995).
Relationships are responsible for our greatest
joys and our most painful sorrows. Our physical and
emotional well-being is enhanced as much by supporting
and caring connections with others as it is
jeopardized by social isolation and bad relationships.
For physical health and longevity, the magnitude
of these effects rival those of well-established
health risks such as smoking, obesity, diet, and lack
of exercise (see Chapter 3). The quality of our relationships
has equally powerful effects on mental
health and happiness. Healthy people have strong,
supportive connections to others and happy people
have rich social lives, satisfying friendships, and
happy marriages (see Chapters 3 and 5).
The importance of positive relationships is
widely recognized by psychologists and nonpsychologists
alike. People typically list close relationships
as one of their most important life goals
and a primary source of meaning in life (Emmons,
1999b). In one study, 73% of college students
said they would sacrifice another important life
goal (e.g., good education, career) before they
would give up a satisfying romantic relationship
(Hammersla & Frease-McMahan, 1990). In answer to
the “deathbed test” most people point to relationships
as a major factor that contributes to a satisfying
and meaningful life (Reis & Gable, 2003; Sears,
1977). A full appreciation of the value of close relationships
is one of life’s more important lessons,
often learned in the face of life-threatening events
(see Chapter 4 on Posttraumatic Growth).
We have also discussed the multiple ways that
relationships contribute to well-being. Relationships
provide an important coping resource through
social support, fulfill needs for intimacy and sharing
of life’s burdens through self-disclosure, and represent
an ongoing source of enjoyment and positive
emotions through interactions with others. Many
psychologists believe these positive effects are built
on a biological foundation reflecting our evolutionary
heritage. Humans are not particularly imposing
figures compared to the other animals they confronted
in pre-historic times, and human infants
remain relatively defenseless for many years.
Evolution may have selected for a geneticallyorganized
bonding process. Going it alone likely
meant the end of a person’s genetic lineage. In
short, humans probably would not have survived if
they did not have a built-in biological motive to
form cooperative bonds with others and nurturing
connections with their own offspring. As we noted
in Chapter 5, the evolutionary basis of human connections,
together with the extensive literature
showing the importance of human bonds, led
Baumeister and Leary (1995) to conclude that
belongingness is a fundamental human need which
they described as, “a pervasive drive to form and
maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive,
and significant interpersonal relationships”
(p. 497). Food and water are essential supplies for a
healthy life. Similarly, caring relationships with others
also appear to be essential to well-being.
Recent studies have begun to explore some of
the biological underpinnings of our need for
belonging. For example, oxytocin is a pituitary hormone
that has physiological effects that counter the
flight-or-fight stress response. That is, this hormone
reduces fearfulness and the physiological arousal
associated with stress by producing relaxation and
calmness (Carter, 1998; Taylor, Klein, Lewis, et al.,
2000; Uvnas-Moberg, 1998). Oxytocin is sometimes
referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because close
physical contacts such as touching, hugging, and
kissing stimulate its release (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-
Yaish, 2006). Oxytocin is responsible for the release
of milk in nursing mothers. The calm emotional
state and feelings of safety produced by the hormone
are thought to contribute to infant–maternal
bonds. For both men and women, oxytocin levels
are at their highest during sexual orgasm (Uvnas-
Moberg, 1997). These findings suggest that our
desire for intimate connections with others and the
comfort these connections provide are at least partially
mediated by biological responses. Obviously,
there’s more to a hug than just biology, but that hug
might not feel quite as good if it weren’t for biology.
The connection of satisfying relationships to
well-being is clear. What is not so clear is how people
develop and maintain good relationships. In this
chapter, we will explore what psychologists have
learned about close, intimate relationships that
addresses the following sorts of questions: What is
the difference between close relationships and more
casual acquaintances? How does an intimate connection
develop between two people? What does it
mean to be someone’s friend? To be in love? What
characterizes good and bad relationships? Given the
widely shared belief in the importance of close relationships,
why do half of all marriages end in
divorce? Why is it so difficult to sustain a satisfying
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 241
long-term marriage? Can “happy” couples tell us
something about the ingredients of a successful
We encounter many people each day as we shop,
talk on the phone, keep appointments, visit, work,
go to school, go to church, and relax with family
members, friends, or spouses at the end of the
day. While all the relationships involved in these
encounters are potentially significant, researchers
have spent most of their time studying our closest
relationships—specifically friendship, romantic love,
and marriage. Our best friends, lovers, and spouses
are the most important people in our lives and have
the most impact on our overall well-being across the
life span.
Close relationships can be distinguished from
more casual acquaintances in a number of ways,
but the degree of intimacy seems most central to
the distinction. In everyday language, intimacy
often implies a sexual and romantic relationship.
We may be more likely to describe a good friend as
a best friend or a close friend, rather than an intimate
friend. However, relationship researchers use
the term “intimacy” to capture mutual understanding,
depth of connection, and degree of involvement,
whether or not the relationship is sexual. The
term “intimacy” can apply both to friends and to
lovers. It is in this sense that our closest relationships,
sexual or not, are the most intimate ones.
Although some researchers believe that close relationships
and intimate relationships are distinct and
independent types (see Berscheid & Reis, 1998), we
will use the term “intimate” to describe our closest
Based on an extensive review of the literature,
Miller, Perlman, and Brehm (2007) suggest that both
lay-persons and psychologists seem to agree on six
core characteristics that set intimate relationships
apart from more casual relationships: knowledge,
trust, caring, interdependence, mutuality, and commitment
(see also Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Harvey &
Weber, 2002).
Brief descriptions of these six characteristics
are given in Table 11.1.
KNOWLEDGE Our closest friends and intimate partners
know more about us than anyone else. They
have extensive knowledge of our personal history,
deepest feelings, strengths, and faults. Intimate
knowledge in close relations develops through the
mutual self-disclosure of personal information and
feelings. Self-disclosure means revealing intimate
details of the self to others (Derlega, Metts,
Petronio, & Margulis, 1993). These details have to
do with our “true self” and the actual state of affairs
in our lives, which is likely different than the public
self presented to less intimate others in everyday
interactions. That is, we share things with intimate
others that we typically keep private when we are
in the company of strangers or casual acquaintances.
Sharing of personal information, in turn,
provides the basis for developing a deeper connection
than is typical in casual associations. To have
someone accept, like or love you, when they know
you as you know yourself, is powerful affirmation
of the essence and totality of self. This is one reason
why rejection by a good friend or romantic
partner may be so painful. The relatively complete
self-knowledge shared with another may make
rejection by that person feel profound. In contrast,
the rejection of someone who has minimal and partial
knowledge of us is likely to be less upsetting,
TABLE 11.1 Characteristics of intimate relationships
Knowledge—mutual understanding based on reciprocal self-disclosure.
Trust—assumption of no harm will be done by the other. Keeping confidences.
Caring—genuine concern for the other and ongoing monitoring and maintenance of relationship
Interdependence—intertwining of lives and mutual influence.
Mutuality—sense of “we-ness” and overlapping of lives.
Commitment—intention to stay in the relationship through its ups and downs.
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242 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
because only the more superficial aspects of the
self are invested.
Research suggests that self-disclosure both signifies
and enhances mutual liking and affection. A
major review by Collins and Miller (1994) found
strong empirical support for three disclosure-liking
effects. (1) We disclose to people we like. (2) We
like people who disclose intimate self-information
more than those whose disclosures are less intimate.
(3) We like people to whom we have disclosed.
Research has also identified a strong tendency for
disclosure to beget disclosure, an effect called
disclosure reciprocity (Derlega et al., 1993; Miller,
1990; Reis & Shaver, 1988). People tend to both
reciprocate a disclosure and match its level of intimacy.
The process often begins with non-intimate
information and then moves on to more intimate
factual and emotional disclosures over time. If initial
conversations are rewarding, then over time both
the breadth (diversity of topics) and the depth (personal
significance and sensitivity) of topics that are
discussed increases (Altman & Taylor, 1973). This
movement of communication from small talk to the
exchange of more sensitive personal information is
considered central to the development of relationships.
Reciprocal self-disclosure captures the
process of how we get to know someone. The
knowledge that results from disclosure describes
what it means to know and be known by someone.
The power of self-disclosure to produce feelings
of closeness is dramatically shown by a study
that manipulated the intimacy of two conversation
partners (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator,
1997). Participants began their exchange as complete
strangers. They were first instructed to talk for
15 minutes about personal topics that were relatively
low in intimacy such as, “When did you last
sing to yourself?” During the second 15-minute interval,
topic intimacy increased to include things like,
“What is your most treasured memory?” During the
final 15 minutes, conversation partners were
instructed to talk about very personal topics invoked
by questions such as, “When did you last cry in front
of another person? By yourself?” “Complete this sentence:
‘I wish I had someone with whom I could
share . . .’ ” Compared to a group of non-disclosing
participants who engaged in 45 minutes of small
talk (e.g., “What’s is your favorite holiday?”), participants
in the disclosure condition reported feeling
very close to their conversational partners by the
conclusion of the experience. The researchers
compared closeness ratings for the group that
engaged in self-disclosure and the group that made
small-talk. Surprisingly, the experimental subjects
reported feeling closer to their experimental partners,
than one-third of the small-talk subjects
reported feeling to the person with whom they
shared the closest real-life relationship! This is
strong evidence for the importance of self-disclosure
to the development of intimacy.
Reciprocal disclosure is most evident at the
beginning of relationships and less so once relationships
are well established (Altman, 1973; Derlega,
Wilson, & Chaikin, 1976). In a new friendship, we
are likely to feel an obligation to reciprocate when a
person opens up to us with personal information. In
a budding romance, the disclosure may be quite
rapid and emotionally arousing, which may add to
the passion we feel. Telling a romantic partner your
deepest secrets and your innermost feelings is exciting,
especially when it is reciprocated. One of the
ironies of romance is that the better we know our
partners, the less we may experience the excitement
of disclosure. Baumeister and Bratslavsky (1999)
argue that passion and deepening intimacy are
strongly linked. They believe one reason passion
fades in long-term marriages is that spouses already
know most everything about each other.
In well-established relationships, intimacy is
sustained more by responsiveness than by reciprocity
(Reis & Patrick, 1996). That is, in our interactions
with best friends, family members, and marital partners,
it is less important to reciprocate and more
important to respond in a supporting, caring, and
affectionate manner (Laurenceau, Barrett, &
Pietromonaco, 1998). If you tell your spouse all your
angry feelings about your boss after a bad day at
work, you aren’t looking for reciprocation. You
don’t really want to hear about her or his bad day at
that moment. What you want is a sounding board, a
sympathetic ear, and expressions of care and empathy
for your feelings.
TRUST Mutual trust is another vital ingredient of
intimate and close relationships. To trust someone
means that you expect they will do you no harm.
Chief among the harms we are concerned about is
the breaking of confidences. When we open up to
other people we make ourselves vulnerable. It is a
bit like taking your clothes off and feeling selfconscious
about the less than perfect shape of
your body. In a network of friends or co-workers,
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 243
sensitive information can have damaging consequences
if someone tells others how you “really”
feel about someone—your boss, for example.
Violation of trust is damaging to relationships and
will likely lead the betrayed person to be less
open and more guarded in revealing personally
sensitive information in the future (Jones, Crouch,
& Scott, 1997). Trust is an essential ingredient in
close relationships, partly because it is a necessary
precondition for self-disclosure. We don’t disclose
to people we don’t trust.
CARING Caring means concern for and attention
to the feelings of others. We feel more affection
and appreciation for our close partners than for
most people. When we ask a casual acquaintance,
“how are you doing?” we most often expect and
receive an obligatory and cliché response: “Fine,”
“Hanging in there,” “Not bad,” and so forth.
Neither person expects a deep revelation about
personal feelings. At one level, in those passing
greetings, we aren’t actually asking for information
about how the person is really doing. We’re just
following polite social rules for greeting and
acknowledging people as we encounter them. In
our intimate relationships, the same question carries
different expectations. We expect and want a
more detailed and genuine response, especially if
things are not going well. And the other person is
expected to be more honest in describing how
they really feel, and not to pass off the question
with a stock answer used in low-intimacy
exchanges. Caring also involves all the little things
we do to express our appreciation and valuing of
a relationship: providing support in times of need;
recognizing special occasions like birthdays, holidays,
and anniversaries; inviting people for dinner
and other shared activities; and keeping in touch
with a phone call or an invitation to get together
over coffee or lunch. All these things reflect the
simple fact that more intimate relationships take
high priority in our lives. We have more invested,
so we take care to maintain the quality of our
close relationships.
INTERDEPENDENCE The lives of people in intimate
relationships are deeply intertwined. The mutual
influence of each person on the actions, feelings,
and thinking of the other is, for some researchers, a
defining characteristic of close relationships
(Berscheid & Reis, 1998). We typically care more
and give greater weight to the advice and judgments
our family members, friends, and spouses than we
do to people we know less well. This is particularly
true regarding self-relevant personal issues and
actions. We may consult an expert when our
computer malfunctions, but we are likely to seek the
support and advice of spouses and friends in times
of personal challenge, such as interpersonal
conflicts at work or caring for aging parents. Our
feelings and actions are also intertwined. The
emotional ups and downs of our intimate partners
affect our own emotional states and actions.
Intimate partners share in each other’s emotional
experiences. Compared to casual relationships, the
mutual influences characterizing close relationships
are more frequent and involve more areas of our
lives. And they are long-term. For example, most
parents find that they never stop being parents, in
terms of showing concern, giving advice, and offering
help and support to their children. Children
would likely agree that the influence of parents does
not end when they leave their parents’ home and
begin their own lives.
MUTUALITY Mutuality is another distinctive feature
of our closest relationships. Mutuality refers to feelings
of overlap between two lives—that is, the
extent to which people feel like separate individuals
or more like a couple. These feelings are revealed in
the language we use to describe our connection to
others. Plural pronouns (we and us) have been
found to both express and contribute to close relationships
(e.g., Fitzsimons & Kay, 2004). People use
“we” to signify closeness. In a developing relationship,
shifting from singular pronouns (e.g., “she
and I”) to plural (“we” or “us”) contributes to feelings
of closeness and mutuality.
Another way of capturing mutuality and feelings
of closeness is to ask people to pick among
pairs of circles that overlap to varying degrees (see
Figure 11.1). Called the Inclusion of Other in the
Self Scale, this measure has been found effective in
assessing interpersonal closeness (Aron, Aron, &
Smollan, 1992). Sample items from this scale are
shown in Figure 11.1. People simply pick the circle
pair that best describes a relationship partner specified
by the researcher (e.g., closest relationship, best
friend, spouse, etc.). The pictorial representation of
mutuality seems to be a direct and meaningful way
for people to express their feelings of closeness for
another person.
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244 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Self Other
Self Other Self Other
Self Other Self Other
FIGURE 11.1 Sample Items—Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale
COMMITMENT Commitment is a final component of
intimate relationships. Commitment is a desire or
intention to continue a relationship into the future.
Research suggests that people associate commitment
with loyalty, faithfulness, living up to your
word, hard work, and giving your best effort (Fehr,
1988, 1996). In short, commitment means persevering
“through thick and thin.” This can be contrasted
with the lack of commitment shown by a “fair
weather friend,” who is there when things are going
well, but not when a supportive friend is needed
most. Successful friendships and marriages require
some amount of work. This means spending time
and energy maintaining closeness and working
through the inevitable conflicts and problems that
arise in long-term relationships. Close relationships
also require some degree of personal sacrifice and
compromise of individual self-interests for the good
of the relationship. Mutual commitment helps
ensure that relationship partners will do the work
and make the sacrifices and compromises necessary
to sustain an intimate connection.
Our most satisfying relationships will likely
involve all six characteristics: knowledge, trust, caring,
interdependence, mutuality, and commitment
(Miller et al., 2007). Both research and everyday personal
experience suggest that these characteristics
do, indeed, capture the essential elements of what it
means to be a close friend or intimate partner. If we
view these six features as ideal standards, then
degree of intimacy and closeness might be evaluated
according to the relative prominence of each
characteristic. Fehr (1996) argues that the difference
between a friend, a good friend, and a best friend is
largely a matter of degree. With our best friends, we
know more, trust more, care more, are more deeply
committed, and so forth.
It is important to recognize the diversity of
relationships. That is, close relationships are a bit
too complex to be captured by six ideal characteristics.
Deep affection and caring can exist without
passing the six-feature test. For example, the movie
Grumpy Old Men portrayed two elderly men
(played by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) who
competed for a woman’s affection, constantly criticized
and insulted each other, and spent considerable
time planning and carrying out acts of revenge
that stopped just short of mayhem. Yet their relationship
was utterly endearing, caring, affectionate and,
despite its peculiar nature, loving. Fitting this longterm
friendship to the six characteristics would be a
challenge! In a similar vein, marriages come in all
shapes and sizes, reflecting the unique needs and
personalities of spouses. A marriage may “work”
despite a lack of fit to the ideal. Both of your textbook
authors, for instance, know of a successful
marriage based on high independence rather than
interdependence. That is, a couple that takes pride
in not exerting much influence on each other in
terms of careers, vacation travel, mutual friends, or
even shared activities at home. This may not seem
to many of us like a recipe for a satisfying relationship,
but they are both very happy with their marriage
and wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is worth keeping in mind that none of these
characteristics, in and of itself, guarantees an intimate
relationship. Self-disclosure, for instance, does
not guarantee intimacy or deep affection. Sometimes
when you really get to know a person, you find that
you really dislike them! Perhaps this has happened
with a relative or a co-worker with whom you’ve
had frequent and long-term contact. In a similar
vein, commitment might not signify a desire to work
on or enhance a relationship. A married couple in
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 245
an unhappy marriage might make a mutual commitment
to stay together because they believe it is best
for their kids. In short, relationships are complex.
The six features of intimate relationships should be
considered general guidelines rather than hard-andfast
Exchange and Communal Relationships
In addition to the six characteristics that define intimate
relationships, such relationships also differ in
how we think about and evaluate them. According
to Clark and Mills, relationships come in two basic
forms, exchange relationships and communal relationships
(Clark, 1984; Clark & Mills, 1979, 1993).
The two forms are related to different patterns of
thinking, evaluating and behaving in a relationship,
and to different levels of intimacy and closeness.
Clark and Mills provide evidence showing that, as
intimacy increases, people’s relationships shift from
an exchange form to a communal form.
Exchange relationships are typically more
formal, less personal, and in the beginning stages of
development. They are built on fairness and mutual
reciprocity. That is, in an exchange relationship
each party is expected to return favors in a mutual
fashion. I do something nice for you and you return
the favor. Exchange relationships are evaluated by
keeping mental track of what we have done for others
in comparison to what they have done for us.
We may feel satisfied if our exchange ratio is fairly
equal; conversely, resentment may build if we feel
we are putting ourselves out, but getting nothing
back. A sense of indebtedness might result from
believing we are “falling behind” in doing nice
things for another person.
Communal relationships are more typical
with our closer friends, romantic partners, and family
members. In these relationships, the tit-for-tat
reciprocation of exchange relationships would probably
feel a bit funny and might even be damaging.
What would you think if your best friend reciprocated
every one of your favors, like an accountant
who keeps track of assets and liabilities on a ledger
sheet? Clark and Mills (1979, 1993) found that while
tit-for-tat reciprocation of favors increased liking
among low-intimacy and formal relationships, the
same favor reciprocation decreased liking among
friends and in more intimate relationships. With our
long-term friends, family members, and spouses
we are in it for the long haul. We tend to pay more
attention to keeping track of others’ needs, rather
than logging all the specific things we have done for
them and they have done for us. We are highly
responsive to others’ emotional states and respond
appropriately. In communal relationships, we share
an ongoing mutual concern focused on the overall
quality of a relationship and the needs and welfare
of the other. We do not expect to be repaid for each
positive act.
The distinction between exchange and communal
relationships is not hard-and-fast. All relationships
probably involve some kind of exchange and
a close relationship does not necessarily mean that
each person takes a communal view (Clark & Mills,
1993; Mills & Clark, 2001). Some married couples
undoubtedly do focus on what they put in versus
what they get out of their marriage, although this
probably signifies a less healthy and less mature
relationship. And, thinking about costs and benefits
seems entirely appropriate when close relationships
become hurtful, conflicted, or dominated by one
person’s self-centered needs.
Love and friendship are built on the same foundation.
Knowledge, trust, caring, interdependence,
mutuality, and commitment are the basic building
blocks of all close relationships. As these basic
ingredients develop, our thinking shifts from an
exchange perspective to a more communal perspective.
One reason relationships are so strongly
connected to health and happiness is that they represent
a sort of safety net to catch us when life
knocks us off balance. The depth of knowledge,
care, concern, and trust that characterize close relationships
provide confidence that we don’t have
to go it alone. Support from friends, family members,
and intimate partners in times of trouble has
been consistently documented as one of our
strongest coping resources (Berscheid & Reis,
1998; Ryff & Singer, 2000; Salovey, Rothman,
Detweiler, & Steward, 2000; Salovey, Rothman, &
Rodin, 1998; Taylor et al., 2000). However, relationships
also enhance our well-being when things
are going well. Most of the “good times” we have
in life involve shared activities and fun with our
families and friends. These good times translate
into more frequent positive emotional experiences
that, in turn, allow us to reap the benefits of positive
emotions shown in research and described by
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246 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive
emotions (Chapter 3).
Teasing and Humor
Aside from sex, which is arguably more intense, but
far less frequent (at least when you’re older), laughter
is one of our most commonly experienced
sources of positive emotion. From childhood to old
age, laughter is a universal experience and it’s
almost always social (Lefcourt, 2002). We may, on
occasion, laugh when we’re alone, but we have the
most fun with others. We both enjoy and seek out
people who make us laugh. Large-scale surveys find
that a sense of humor is one of the most valued
qualities that people seek in choosing opposite- and
same-sex friends, dating partners, and marriage partners
(Sprecher & Regan, 2002). Certainly, humor can
be used for negative purposes, such as the humiliating
teasing of a schoolyard bully. However, in satisfying
relationships, humor is typically prosocial and
serves positive functions (Keltner, Young, Heerey, &
Oemig, 1998). Teasing, playful banter, exchanging
jokes, and contagious laughter are typical features of
close relationships and one of the primary reasons
we enjoy them. Even serious occasions are often
marked by humor. For example, it is not uncommon
for people to tell humorous stories about the
deceased at a funeral reception, especially if the
person was elderly and lived a long, full life. Humor
is a positive coping strategy in the face of loss
(Bonanno & Keltner, 1997). Humor helps lighten up
serious situations by replacing negative emotions
with more positive ones. Humor is widely regarded
as an effective way to release stress-related tension,
deal with sensitive issues, and help confront and
resolve interpersonal conflicts (Argyle, 2001;
Lefcourt, 2002; Martin, 2007). Laughter helps put
both the mind and body at ease.
Humor is important in forming and maintaining
social bonds. We like and feel closer to people
who make us laugh (e.g., Fraley & Aron, 2004),
including teachers and professors. Studies show that
students believe a sense of humor is one of the most
desirable teacher characteristics that contributes to
more classroom enjoyment, engagement, and learning
(see Chapter 11 in Martin, 2007). Research also
consistently finds that humor contributes to satisfying
long-term relationships (see Martin, 2007, for a
review). The more married individuals value their
partner’s sense of humor, the more satisfied they
tend to be with their marriages. In short, high levels
of reciprocated humor are one mark of a happy
marriage. In fact, humor may well be a key ingredient
for a successful long-term marriage, in part
because it outlasts the pleasures of sex. When couples
who had been married for over 50 years were
asked why their marriage had lasted so long, “laughing
together frequently” was one of the top reasons
(Lauer, Lauer, & Kerr, 1990). They didn’t say, “fantastic
sex!” As the frequency and importance of sexual
pleasure decline with age, humor may become a
more significant source of enjoyment. In our later
years of life, we may not want, or be able, to have
sex on a regular basis, but there is no indication that
we lose our ability to enjoy laughter, or our affection
for people with whom we laugh.
One of the more prominent humor-related features
of close and developing relationships is playful
prosocial teasing. Flirtatious teasing is common in dating
couples (Keltner et al., 1998) and playful teasing is
regarded by people across different cultures as a basic
“rule of friendship” (Argyle & Henderson, 1984, 1985).
In a large-scale survey of four different cultures,
Argyle and Henderson found that teasing and joking
were expected features of friendships. This is true
despite the fact that teasing is something of a paradox.
As Keltner and his colleagues have noted, “Teasing
criticizes, yet it compliments, attacks yet makes people
closer, humiliates yet expresses affection” (Keltner
et al., 1998, p. 1231). Despite its surface negativity,
teasing says, “I like you well enough to tease you” and
“I enjoy our good-natured fun together.” It signifies
closeness, trust, caring, and mutual understanding. In
contrast, teasing a casual acquaintance risks misinterpretation,
because a good tease and a stinging putdown
are just a step apart. Interestingly, the absence
of teasing and taking teasing literally are probably
signs that a relationship is in trouble. If our best friend
stopped teasing us, or took offense at our own wellintentioned
teasing, we would clearly take notice and
wonder what was wrong. And it goes without saying
that if teasing turns aggressive or hurtful, this is also
damaging to relationships (Keltner, Capps, Kring,
Young, & Heerey, 2001).
Focus on Research: Sharing What Goes
Right in Life
Because caring relations increase our experience of
positive emotions, they enhance our well-being on
an ongoing basis. Consistent with the direct effects
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 247
hypothesis of social support, close relationships
contribute to health and happiness even when we
are not facing stressful life events (see Chapter 3).
The basic idea here is that positive emotions have
beneficial effects that are both independent of, and
beyond those of negative emotions. That is, in addition
to offsetting the ill-effects of negative affect,
positive emotions independently enhance the quality
of our lives. In line with the direct effects hypothesis,
Shelly Gable and her colleagues have recently
shown that it is just as important to receive supportive
responses to our positive life experiences, as it is
to receive support when we’re having trouble
(Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). When people
share or celebrate a positive life event with others,
they derive additional benefits beyond the effect
of the event itself. Drawing from earlier work,
Gable and colleagues refer to this process as
capitalization (i.e., capitalizing on a positive event
to receive additional benefits). The benefits of capitalization
may occur because sharing a positive
event with others causes us to relive its emotional
effects. A partner’s enthusiastic response, indicating
genuine pleasure at our good fortune, also enhances
our positive feelings. In four separate studies, Gable
and her colleagues examined the individual and
interpersonal well-being benefits of sharing positive
In the first study, participants kept a daily diary
in which they recorded their positive and negative
emotions and their life satisfaction over an average
period of 5 days. For each day, participants also
recorded their most important positive event and
whether they had shared that event with someone
else. Results showed that on 70% of the days, people
had shared their most positive event. Analysis of
daily positive affect and daily life satisfaction ratings
revealed that well-being was enhanced on “sharing”
compared to “non-sharing” days.
In the second and third studies, dating and
married couples were recruited to examine whether
a partner’s perceived responsiveness to positive
sharing enhanced the quality of relationships.
Various measures of relationship quality were completed
independently by each partner (e.g., commitment,
satisfaction, trust, and intimacy). An important
feature of these studies was the development and
use of a newly developed Perceived Responses to
Capitalization Attempts scale. This scale measured
the degree and nature of a partner’s responsiveness
to a positive event by asking people to answer the
following question: “Please take a moment to consider
how your partner responds when you tell him
or her about something good that has happened to
you” (Gable et al., 2004, p. 233, emphasis in original).
Examples of positive events were given, such
as a promotion at work, a positive conversation with
a family member, winning a prize or doing well at
school. Each participant rated his or her partner’s
response using rating items describing four types of
reactions to sharing a positive event: (1) activeconstructive
(e.g., “I sometimes get the sense that
my partner is even more happy and excited than I
am”); (2) passive-constructive (e.g., “My partner tries
not to make a big deal out of it, but is happy for
me”); (3) active-destructive (e.g., “He/she points out
the potential downside of the good event”); (4) and
passive-destructive (e.g., “My partner doesn’t pay
much attention to me”) (Gable et al., 2004, p. 233).
Both studies found that only active-constructive
responses to the sharing of positive life events were
related to enhanced relationship quality. The three
other response types were associated with
decreased relationship quality, making it clear that
capitalization is dependent on an active, enthusiastic,
and supporting reaction from one’s partner. In a
final 10-day diary study, Gable and her colleagues
examined the individual benefits of capitalization.
Would sharing a positive event and receiving an
active-constructive response also increase the subjective
well-being (SWB) of the person who shared?
Answer: yes. On days when people told others
about a positive event, both life satisfaction and positive
affect increased. The more people they told,
the more their well-being increased, especially if the
responses received were supportive and enthusiastic.
Altogether, these four studies provide strong
support for the value of capitalizing on the good
things that happen to us by sharing them with others.
They also suggest another basis for the connection
between relationships and well-being. The
well-being enhancing effects of positive emotions
can be relived and extended through our connections
with caring others.
Liking and loving, friendship and romance overlap
considerably (Rubin, 1973). We love our good
friends and like our romantic partners. When people
were asked to write about their romantic relationships,
the dominant theme was friendship—nearly
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248 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
TABLE 11.2 Rules of friendship
Being supportive
Volunteer help in time of need
Show emotional support
Stand up for the other person in their absence
Being a trustworthy confidant
Respect the friend’s privacy
Trust and confide in the other
Keep confidences
Don’t criticize each other in public
Disclose personal feelings or problems to a friend
Being a source of enjoyment and humor
Strive to make him/her happy while in each other’s
Engage in joking or teasing with a friend
Share news of success with the other
Being tolerant and accepting
Don’t be jealous or critical of each other’s relationships
Be tolerant of each other’s friends
Ask for personal advice
Don’t nag
half the participants said their romantic partner was
also their closest friend (Hendrick & Hendrick,
1993). Though we use “love” to describe many of
our closest relations, “in love” seems to have a more
specific meaning related to sexual desire and attraction.
Meyers and Berscheid (1997) had people sort
their relationships into categories of love, in love, and
sexual attraction/desire by naming people who fit
into each. The love category was the largest, followed
by sexual attraction/desire. The in love classification
contained the fewest names and showed
overlap with names in the sexual attraction category.
In short, being in love means romantic love,
involving strong sexual desire and attraction. This is
where friendship and love part company. Telling a
romantic partner “let’s just be friends” or “I love you,
but I’m not in love with you” usually signals the end
of a romance because sexual attraction and desire
are weak or absent. Romantic love includes fascination,
passion, infatuation, sexual desire, and a more
total absorption in the relationship. We seldom use
the language of romance to describe our good
friends, which are most often of the same sex (opposite
sex for homosexual individuals). Our friendships
are less emotionally intense partly because they do
not typically involve sexual intimacy.
In addition to emotional intensity, friendship
and romantic love are also distinguished by differences
in the clarity of rules governing the relationship,
the complexity of feelings, and the expectations
concerning the emotional consequences of the
Clarity of Rules
A seminal study by Argyle and Henderson (1984)
suggests some universality in people’s understanding
of what it means to be someone’s friend. These
researchers presented participants from different
cultures (England, Italy, Hong Kong, and Japan)
with a large set of rules for friendship and asked
them which ones they endorsed. Interestingly, a
number of these rules, described in Table 11.2 were
widely endorsed across cultures.
You can think of these rules as a kind of test,
apparently widely shared, that people use to evaluate
their friendships. Friendship involves a set of
obligations and rules defining what friends are supposed
to do. If you fulfill these obligations and live
by the rules, you pass the test for friendship, and if
you don’t, you fail. Argyle and Henderson found that
people did, in fact, think of past failed friendships in
terms of their friends or themselves failing to follow
one or more of these rules.
Do these rules also apply to romantic
involvements? Is there a set of rules governing
love? Certainly, between Oprah Winfrey and
Dr. Phil and the self-help section of your local
bookstore, there is no shortage of advice for developing
and maintaining marriage and romance. And
relationship researchers have described general
guidelines for maintaining healthy relationships
(e.g., Gottman & Silver, 1999; Harvey & Omarzu,
1997, 1999). However, we are unaware of empirical
studies describing reasonably clear and shared
rules that people possess for romantic love like
those for friendship (although see Baxter, 1986).
Consistent with the idea that “all’s fair in love and
war,” the complexity and emotionally volatile
nature of romance and passion would seem to preclude
clear rules. In fact, given the importance of
spontaneity, passion, and exclusivity, some might
argue that if you are following rules, you probably
aren’t in love. Compared to friendship, love seems
more varied in its particular form of expression and
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 249
individual meaning, as we shall see in our discussion
of the varieties of love.
Complexity of Feelings
Romantic love involves more complex feelings, more
stringent demands, and higher expectations than
friendship. The complexity of love is reflected in
researchers’ inability to define it and in the dominance
of love-related themes in music, movies, and popular
culture. Harvey and Weber (2002) note that prominent
relationship researcher Ellen Berscheid probably had it
right when she commented (in Sternberg & Barnes,
1988, p. 362) that “. . . love is a huge and motley collection
of many different behavioral events whose only
commonalities are that they take place in a relationship
with another person . . . .” As for music, movies, and
pop culture, no aspect of love’s many-faceted mystery
and no detail of celebrities’ love-life intrigues are left
unexplored. Love for hire, love for money, love for
power, love for life, fatal attractions, tragedies of love,
love conquering all, losing all for love, hate turned
to love, love turned to hate, etc . . ., — all “in the name
of love.” Our fascination with love does not have a
counterpart in friendship. How many songs and movies
explore the “mysteries” of friendship?
Further, we do not demand the same level of
loyalty, faithfulness, and exclusivity of our friends
that we do of our romantic partners (Miller et al.,
2007). Being someone’s good friend does not preclude
you or your friend from being good friends
with someone else. Hearing that a good friend went
out for dinner and a movie with another friend is
not a cause for alarm. Among romantic and marital
partners it is obviously a different story. Finding out
that your spouse went out on a dinner-movie “date”
would probably be upsetting or at least require
explanation. Suspicions of infidelity are raised if one
party in a romantically-involved couple pursues an
opposite-sex friendship without his or her partner
present. In a similar vein, showing strong interest in,
or talking and joking with another person is not typically
an affront to a good friend. But, if the same
behaviors are interpreted as flirtation, they may well
get you in trouble with your romantic partner.
A final difference between friendship and love concerns
emotional expectations. A number of social
observers have noted that we demand a good deal
more emotional fulfillment from marriages and
romantic relationships today than in the past, and
certainly more than we expect from our friendships
(e.g., Myers, 2000b; Phillips, 1988). Historically, marriages
were built more on practical matters having to
do with finances, family connections, and raising
children. Romantic love was important, but it was
not the exclusive or most significant foundation for
marriage. Today, large-scale surveys indicate that
being in love is the primary basis for getting married
and that maintaining love is an important requirement
for staying married (Simpson, Campbell, &
Berscheid, 1986). More so today than in the past, we
expect marriage to fulfill our deepest emotional
needs, to be exciting, and to make us happy.
Marriage is expected to be personally fulfilling, lifelong,
and romantically and sexually satisfying. As
many researchers have noted, this is a tall order,
perhaps destined for disappointment. The point
here is that we do not hold our friends responsible
for our personal fulfillment and happiness. Certainly
our friends contribute to our enjoyment of life, but
personal fulfillment and life satisfaction are our
responsibility—not theirs. Friends give us room to
maneuver through life on our own terms, pursuing
our own unique talents and interests. In contrast, a
strong mutual expectation of emotional fulfillment
in a marriage intertwines each person’s happiness
with the other’s. Given the many contributors to
happiness, from genetics to life choices, expecting a
marriage to make you happy may be expecting too
much, and assuming responsibility for another’s
happiness may be too great a burden.
Passionate versus Companionate Love
Love comes in many shapes and sizes. One of the
most basic distinctions is between passionate or
romantic love and companionate love (Berscheid &
Walster, 1978; Hatfield, 1988; Walster & Walster,
1978). This distinction parallels our discussion of the
overlapping, yet different meanings of love and
friendship. Passionate or romantic love typically
involves strong sexual attraction, infatuation, total
absorption, exclusivity (nobody but you), and emotions
that run the full gamut from ecstasy to anguish.
Specific components of passionate love include,
preoccupation with our lover, idealization of his or
her personal attributes, physiological arousal when
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250 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
in the person’s company, desire for physical closeness,
and a strong need for reciprocity (to be loved
in return) (Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986). As you might
guess, passionate love describes romance in its early
stages. Your first author has been married for
40 years, and guarantees that his wife does not idealize
him, is not particularly aroused in his presence
(other than humor or irritation), and is certainly not
preoccupied or infatuated with their relationship.
Companionate love, on the other hand, built
on a special kind of loving friendship, would
describe your first author’s marriage. Some years
ago, my wife and I gave each other identical
Hallmark cards for our anniversary. The cards celebrated
deep and abiding friendship and not romantic
or passionate love. We had both started feeling a
bit awkward about the passionate, “can’t wait to get
in bed,” “you make my life complete,” and “without
you I’m nothing” sayings, in what we came to
regard as “syrupy” anniversary cards. We love each
other dearly, but it is not the hot fire of passion, but
the warm glow of affection and appreciation that
come from having spent four decades in the
trenches of life together that make our marriage satisfying.
This slower-developing companionate
love is less emotional, calmer, and more serene than
passionate love. It reflects the fact that your spouse
has become your best friend and soul mate in your
journey through life. After decades of marriage, who
else knows you as well? Who else have you shared
so much of your life with? If nothing else, the sheer
amount of years together is not replaceable. For me,
at 60 years old, I will never have another 40-year
marriage. I know I’m not living to 100! It should be
noted that, despite the similarities between companionate
love and close friendships, there is a difference.
A warm hug from your wife is different than a
heartfelt hug from a good same-sexed friend. Both
feel good, but you can’t get sex out of the equation.
Even older couples still “do it,” even if not as frequently
as when they were first married!
Triangular Theory of Love
The varieties of love are captured in Sternberg’s
three-part theory of love’s essential ingredients
(Sternberg, 1986, 1987). In Sternberg’s model, intimacy,
passion, and commitment each represent one
side of a triangle describing the love shared by two
people. Intimacy refers to mutual understanding,
warm affection, and mutual concern for the other’s
welfare. Passion means strong emotion, excitement,
and physiological arousal, often tied to sexual
desire and attraction. Commitment is the conscious
decision to stay in a relationship for the long
haul. It includes a sense of devotion to the relationship
and a willingness to work on maintaining it. By
putting together different combinations of the three
ingredients, Sternberg’s model describes several
varieties of love and the specific components of
romantic and companionate love discussed above.
and passion describe romantic love in
Sternberg’s model. It may seem strange not to
include commitment, but Sternberg argues that commitment
is not a defining feature of romantic love. A
summer romance, for example, may involve intimate
mutual disclosure and strong passion, but no
commitment to continue the relationship at summer’s
As we have noted, companionate love is a slowdeveloping
love built on high intimacy and strong
commitment. When youthful passions fade in a marriage,
companionate love, based on deep, affectionate
friendship provides a solid foundation for a
lasting and successful relationship.
types might be regarded as forms of immature, blind
or unreasonable love built on passion. Fatuous love
combines high passion and commitment with an
absence of intimacy. This would describe people
who hardly know each other, but are caught up in a
whirlwind passionate romance. Their commitment is
based on passion and sustained solely by passion.
Because passion is likely to fade with time, fatuous
love relationships are unlikely to last. The same can
be said for infatuated love, based only on passion,
without intimacy or commitment. This might
describe a teen romance in which sexual passion is
taken for love, or a one-night sexual affair between
people who barely know each other, and have no
intentions of developing a relationship. Infatuated
love may also describe the sense of awe, adoration,
and sex-related feelings that some people have for
their favorite Hollywood movie or music celebrity.
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 251
intimacy, just a commitment to stay together.
Appropriately called empty love, this would describe
an emotionally “dead” relationship that both members
find some reason to continue. Reasons might include
things such as convenience, financial benefits, keeping
up appearances, or a sense of obligation or duty.
Consummate or complete love is marked
by high intimacy, passion, and commitment. It is a
form of love that many people desire, but Sternberg
is doubtful that it can be sustained. As in romantic
love, the passionate component typically decreases
over time. Yet as Hacker (1979) points out, most of
us know a couple that seems to epitomize this type
of love: “We all know couples who have been married
twenty or thirty years and still seem passionately
attached to each other. A few look as if they
just came away from bed, or can’t wait to get back
there. We see them at restaurant tables for two, chattering
together—and not about the children. Or they
prefer to stay home by themselves, perhaps each
engrossed in a book, so long as they are across from
each other” (p. 27).
Sternberg’s three-component model of love has
received good empirical support. People’s understanding
of love’s primary features and the differences
among various types of relationships appear to
fit well with the intimacy/passion/commitment conception
(Aron & Westbay, 1996; Sternberg, 1998b).
For example, an ideal lover was rated high on all
three components; friendship was rated high on intimacy
and commitment, but low on passion; and a
sibling relationship scored high on commitment, but
low on intimacy and passion. Other taxonomies
have also been developed and found empirically
useful in capturing the richness of love and love
styles (e.g., Hendrick & Hendrick, 1993, 2003;
Lee, 1988). Of love’s many varieties, romantic and
companionate love, involving varying degrees and
combinations of romance/passion and friendship,
seem the most basic and widely applicable way to
think about differences in our closest relationships.
Cultural Context of Love, Marriage,
and Divorce
In the remainder of this chapter, we will concentrate
on one of our most important intimate relationships,
namely marriage. Marriage and well-being are
strongly connected. A successful marriage is one of
the more powerful contributors to enhanced individual
health and happiness (see Chapter 5).
Unhappy marriages have an equally strong connection
to unhappiness and diminished health. As
David Myers remarked, “. . . a bad marriage is worse
than no marriage at all” (1992, p. 158). Since most
people marry, the level of well-being within society
as a whole would also seem to be influenced by the
overall quality and state of individual marriages. U.S.
Census Bureau statistics show that about 90% of us
will eventually marry at some time during our lives
(Goldstein & Kenney, 2001; Noller & Feeney, 2006).
U.S. census data for 2002 showed that 60% of men
and 57% of women were currently married at the
time they completed the survey. Statistics also tell us
something about the state of marriage today compared
to the past. Most of the news is not good.
Despite its potential for contributing to lasting happiness,
the ratio of successful to failed marriages is
not high. Major reviews of census data, national attitude
surveys, and longitudinal studies of married
couples paint a rather dismal picture of the current
state of marriage compared to the past (e.g.,
Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Bryant, Bolland, Burton,
Hurt, & Bryant, 2006; Goldstein & Kenney, 2001;
Miller et al., 2007; Myers, 2000b; Popenoe &
Whitehead, 2004).
Starting in the mid-1960s through the 1970s,
dramatic changes occurred in marriage and these
have been sustained to the present. Most of us are
familiar with the most significant change: marriages
no longer last. The divorce rate can be computed
in several ways, but the basic conclusion
remains the same. In today’s America, some 50%
of all new marriages will end in divorce or separation
(Myers, 2000b; Popenoe & Whitehead, 2004).
Other Western societies, such as Netherlands,
Sweden, Canada, and England, have also seen
increases in divorce, but U.S. divorce rates are
nearly double those of other developed countries.
Divorce rates have always been higher within the
first 5 to 7 years of marriage, consistent with the
conventional wisdom about the “7-year itch.”
However, today many longer-term marriages also
fail (i.e., 10 years and up). There appears to be no
“safe” point beyond which all marriages last,
although after 15 years, the divorce rate does drop
substantially. And while most people will eventually
remarry after divorce, second and third marriages
fail at higher rates than first-time marriages.
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252 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Other statistics seem to signal a retreat from
marriage (data from reviews by Bryant et al., 2006;
Miller et al., 2007; Myers, 2000b; Noller, 2006).
Compared to the 1950s and 1960s, people are marrying
later (in their early 20s then, versus later 20s
now), with more than 33% of people now remaining
single into their middle 30s. A retreat from marriage
is also suggested by the facts that more people are
choosing to remain single; the remarriage rate after
divorce has declined, particularly among women;
and the cohabitation rate has increased. The percentage
of people who live together before marriage
has increased dramatically. Nearly a third of
American households are made up of unmarried
men and women living together. An estimated 50%
of college students live with a romantic partner
without being married. Does cohabitation increase
the success of a future marriage? The idea that a
“trial” marriage may help couples know if they are
“right” for each other is undercut by the fact that
couples who cohabitate before marriage have
higher divorce rates than non-cohabitating couples,
unless they cohabitate after getting engaged to
be married. It appears that cohabitation before
marriage attracts people with less commitment to
marriage and less willingness to work at dealing
with the inevitable conflicts that long-term relationships
entail. Cohabitation may also make marriage
seem less desirable and easier to dissolve if it is considered
dissatisfying. Is cohabitation an alternative
form of a stable marriage? Apparently not. Noller
(2006) cites evidence that cohabitating couples part
ways at rates of 50% within 2 years and 90% by five.
Why Don’t Marriages Last?
Cultural changes are clearly implicated in our country’s
high divorce rate. If the divorce rate were 1% instead
of 50%, then a failed marriage would suggest individualized
causes of divorce. We could ask the few
divorced couples, “Why didn’t your marriage make it
when almost everyone else’s does?” And we could
study what is unique and different about divorcing
couples. However, a 50% divorce rate suggests two
things. First, there must be commonalities in the reasons
for divorce. There are about 1 million divorces
per year in this country. Can there be 1 million different
reasons for failed marriages? Second, the high
prevalence of divorce suggests it is successful marriages,
not failed ones that are becoming unique. That
is, it seems increasingly appropriate to ask happy,
long-term married couples, “How has your marriage
made it when so many others don’t?”
CONSTRAINTS A number of researchers have noted
the interplay between internal and external factors
in people’s decisions to stay or leave a relationship
(e.g., Kelley, 1979; Kelley & Thibaut, 1978; Levinger,
1976; Levinger & Levinger, 2003; Myers, 2000b).
Both Levinger (1976) and Rusbult (1983), for example,
have developed models focusing on how commitment
to marriage is affected by a couple’s level
of satisfaction, by the costs and barriers related to
leaving the relationship, available alternatives, and
the extent of accumulated personal investment in
the marriage. If you consider the cultural/historical
changes relevant to these factors over the last
40 years or so, one explanation for the rise in
divorce seems clear. It is simply easier today than in
the past to get out of an unhappy marriage and with
fewer costs. In short, more freedom and fewer constraints
means more divorce.
In the past, unhappy married couples considering
a divorce faced a number of barriers to dissolving
their relationship (see Bryant et al., 2006;
Harvey & Weber, 2002; Miller et al., 2007; Myers,
2000b, for reviews). First, before the women’s
movement and two-career families, many stay-athome
women were dependent on their husbands
for their financial livelihood. Divorce often meant a
dramatic drop in income, a relatively bleak future in
providing for their children, and the prospect of
entering the workforce with few job skills and little
or no experience. Second, divorce at one time carried
a significant cultural stigma for both men and
women. Prominent politicians, for example, needed
to keep their marital difficulties private so as to preserve
a good family image because divorce could be
very damaging to a political career. Third, the
importance of staying together “for the sake of the
kids” was a common belief. Sacrificing one’s own
happiness for the well-being of one’s children was a
stronger expectation in the past. Fourth, beliefs
about the sanctity of marriage—that it should be
preserved at all cost—were reflected in social norms
and in the laws governing divorce. For example, a
woman seeking advice about marriage difficulties
from a friend, parent, counselor, or minister was
more likely told to “kiss and make-up” (that is, to
find ways to make the marriage work), rather than
consider a divorce. The legal system also upheld the
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 253
importance of marriage by permitting a divorce only
when relatively serious offenses or prolonged conflict
could be shown. In the past, even if they
weren’t particularly happy, married couples could
find a number of reasons for maintaining a commitment
to their marriage. This may have led some
couples to work out their difficulties and develop
satisfying marriages. For others, it may have meant
being trapped in an emotionally empty or conflictridden
The direction of cultural change since the
1960s has been toward a reduction in the barriers to,
and costs of, divorce. Marriages between two people
with professional careers are now quite common.
Each spouse can make it on her or his own
if the marriage ends. Within the United States,
women’s increasing participation in the workforce is
strongly correlated with the rise in divorce rates.
And, a woman who brings in significantly more
money than her husband has a higher risk of future
divorce than a woman whose income is equal to, or
less than, her husband’s (Miller et al., 2007).
Increased financial independence allows greater
freedom to leave an unhappy marriage. Spouses
who do divorce are less likely to face social disapproval.
Divorce, in large measure because it is so
common, is not stigmatized as strongly as in the
past. Politicians, corporate executives, and other
prominent people no longer cover up their failed
marriages and seem to suffer few, if any, consequences.
Surveys show that staying together for the
sake of the kids is also less of a barrier to divorce
today. Thornton (1989) found that by 1985 only 20%
of women in his survey believed that unhappily
married couples should stay together because they
had children. A common belief today seems to be
that a stable and conflict-free single-parent family is
a better environment for kids than a two-parent family
with emotional problems.
Finally, the courts and conventional wisdom
have also accommodated the changing cultural context
of marriage. Many states now have no-fault
divorce laws that grant divorces because of “irreconcilable
differences,” which would seem to include
everything from boredom and unhappiness to, “I
think I can do better with someone else.” Because
divorce is commonly accepted, the advice and help
couples in troubled marriages receive from others is
likely to be more accepting of divorce as well. In
summary, compared to the past, more people today
seem to believe that divorce is a reasonable and
viable solution to marital problems. The increased
freedom to dissolve a marriage, like the constraints
that held marriages together in the past, may be a
dual-edged sword that cuts both ways. On one
hand, freedom means the possibility of a better life,
rather than being trapped in an unhappy marriage.
On the other hand, increased freedom may make
ending a marriage too easy an option. That is, rather
than making a commitment to do the hard work that
might resolve marital difficulties, people may view
divorce as the simplest and easiest solution.
THE ANSWER? More so today than in the past, marriage
is not a prerequisite for having sex, for having
children, or for a woman’s financial well-being. Sex
outside marriage is widely accepted (Myers, 2000b);
a third of children are born out of wedlock (Miller
et al., 2007); and many women enjoy financial independence.
A man’s ability to provide for his family is
less important to women when they can provide for
themselves. In addition, people used to believe that
a pre-marital pregnancy meant the couple “had to
get married.” If they didn’t, we had the image of the
“shotgun” wedding, in which the bride’s father compelled
the groom to take responsibility for the child
and to maintain the social respectability of his
daughter. Today, marriage is more of a choice—
freer of the constraints, social norms, and practical
necessities of the past. Survey research suggests
marriage is a choice that is increasingly and more
exclusively based on love.
Think about the following question: If a person
had all the other qualities you desired, would
you marry this person if you were not in love? When
American college students were surveyed in 1967,
35% of men and 76% of women said yes to this
question (Simpson et al., 1986). Men evidently had
more romantic notions for the basis for marriage,
whereas women were more practical-minded. For
women, desirable qualities trumped love. However,
nearly three decades later, “no” was the overwhelming
answer to the same question by both men and
women (86% of men and 91% of women said no)
(Allgeier & Wiederman, 1991, cited in Hatfield &
Rapson, 2006). In current American culture, being in
love appears to be the major reason to get married.
The ability of love to prevail over differences in people’s
social status, religion, backgrounds, and life
circumstances is a prominent theme in romantic
movies. Think of the classic love story in the movie
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254 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Pretty Woman. Why would a rich, powerful attorney
marry a prostitute? Answer: He fell in love.
Is the importance of romantic love a peculiar
feature of Western individualistic cultures? For a
time, historical investigations suggested that romantic
love was a Western cultural invention that was
not prominent in non-Western societies. More collectivist
cultures—especially those in which parents
arranged marriages—were thought to emphasize
more practical considerations, such as endowments,
social status, and religious compatibility. However,
more extensive and detailed recent work by anthropologists
has shown that passionate romantic love
appears to be nearly universal in cultures around
the world, with few exceptions (Jankowiak, 1995).
Culture shapes its prominence and particular
expressive form, but passionate love is not unique
to Western individualistic societies.
Large-scale survey studies affirm the universality
of passion and romance as bases for marriage. In his
monumental study of mate selection, Buss (1994)
asked over 10,000 people from 37 different countries
to rate 18 characteristics according to their desirability
in choosing a mate. Participants varied widely in their
levels of affluence, language, religion, ethnic/racial
background, and political beliefs. Despite these differences,
the number-one desirable trait, chosen by men
and women across all the countries, was love/mutual
attraction. After love, cultures did vary in the particular
qualities viewed as desirable. For example, among
Chinese, Indonesians, Iranians, and Israelis, chastity
was important. For French, Norwegian, and Swedish
individuals, this was not an important trait and some
even considered it a disadvantage.
Cross-cultural studies that ask, “If a person had
all the other qualities you desired, would you marry
him/her if you were not in love?” also find strong
support for the love–marriage connection (e.g.,
Levine, Sato, Hashimoto, & Verma, 1995; Sprecher
et al., 1994). Among diverse cultures around the
globe, few people endorse a loveless marriage. Based
on their review of cultural differences and historical
changes in passionate love, Hatfield and Rapson concluded
that the differences between Western and
Eastern cultures appear to be “fast disappearing.”
“. . . Young people in a variety of traditional cultures
are increasingly adopting ‘Western’ patterns—placing
a high value on ‘falling in love,’ pressing for gender
equality in love and sex, and insisting on marrying for
love (as opposed to agreeing to arranged marriages)”
(2006, p. 240).
Passion and romance have much do with why
people marry. What do they have to do with why
people divorce? If you recall our discussion of the
difference between friendship and romantic love,
you can probably anticipate the answer. First, many
social observers believe that the increased emphasis
on passion/romance is linked to the increased emotional
expectations for marriage (Miller et al., 2007;
Myers, 2000b; Phillips, 1988). As practical reasons for
marriage have faded, expectations of personal satisfaction
and fulfillment seem to have taken their
place. A marriage today seems to depend more and
more on the “sweetness of its contents” (Berscheid &
Campbell, 1981). Why should you stay married if
you’re marriage is not happy, satisfying, exciting,
and sexually/emotionally fulfilling? In the past,
answers might have included children, finances, and
social respectability. Today, the answer seems to be
that if you’re not happy and fulfilled there is something
wrong with your marriage. The concern here is
that these expectations are simply too high and set
people up for disappointment when the realities of
marriage start to sink in. Disillusionment may then
lead to divorce. Clearly, saying that people expect
too much of marriage is a judgment call related to
the scope and degree of expectations. A good marriage
certainly is a significant source of personal happiness
and no one expects or wants an unhappy
marriage. But the exact point at which expectations
become unreasonable is difficult to pinpoint.
However, a second problem with the romantic
love–marriage connection helps clarify the issue
of reasonable versus unreasonable expectations.
Here, the evidence is fairly clear. One significant
difficulty with passionate romance is that it does
not last. Marrying for romance is one thing, but staying
married only if passionate romance continues
is quite another. Evaluating a marriage primarily on
the strength of romantic and passionate emotions
seems a recipe for disillusionment and divorce.
Longitudinal studies consistently find a decline in
men and women’s ratings of satisfaction with their
marriages, ratings of overall marriage quality, and
the frequency of expressions of positive affection
(Bradbury, 1998; Karney & Bradbury, 1995; Kurdek,
1999). As you can see in Figure 11.2 based on
Kurdek’s (1991) data, the decline in marital satisfaction
is steepest in the first few years of marriage, then
levels off to remain somewhat stable, and then
shows another drop at 8 to 10 years. Studies of longterm
marriages (20 years and more) do show more
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 255
Year of Assessment
Mean Marital Quality
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
FIGURE 11.2 Decline in Marital Satisfaction for Husbands and Wives Over 10 Years
Source: Kurdek, L. A. (1999). The nature and predictors of the trajectory of change in marital quality for
husbands and wives over the first 10 years of marriage. Developmental Psychology, 35, 1283–1296. Copyright
American Psychological Association. Reprinted by permission.
stable levels of satisfaction and there is some debate
about whether there is an upswing in satisfaction in
very long-term marriages (Berscheid & Reis, 1998).
These data do not mean that couples typically go
from newlywed bliss to misery. The declines are relative
to where most marriages start. The number of
couples describing their marriages as “very happy” is
high at the beginning, but much lower as the length
of marriage increases. At one time, the decline in
marriage satisfaction was thought to be associated
with having children and assuming the challenges
associated with parenthood. However, more recent
research shows similar declines occurring among
couples without children (Berscheid & Reis, 1998).
Research by Huston and his colleagues provides
an instructive example of how these changes are
related to divorce (Huston, Caughlin, Houts, Smith, &
George, 2001; Huston, Niehuis, & Smith, 2001). This
study is also known as the PAIR Project, which
stands for The Process of Adaptation in Intimate
Relationships. This is an ongoing longitudinal study of
168 couples that were married in 1981. Results for the
first 13 years showed that 35% of the couples had
divorced, another 20% were unhappy with their
marriages, and only 45% were considered happily
married. Even the happily married couples were less
affectionate and less satisfied than they had been at
the beginning of their marriages. PAIR Project
researchers found strong support for a disillusionment
model of marital satisfaction and divorce. The couples
at greatest risk for divorce were those who experienced
the steepest declines in marital satisfaction and
feelings of love and romance. Ironically, couples that
divorced after 7 years began their marriages with
higher levels of both affection and romance. “As
newlyweds, the couples who divorced after 7 or more
years were almost giddily affectionate, displaying
about one-third more affection than spouses who
were later happily married. However, consistent
with the disillusionment model, the intensity of their
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256 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
romance dissipated over the 1st year of marriage,
reflected in a dramatic drop in how affectionate
they were with each other and declines in their
views of each other’s responsiveness” (Huston et al.,
2001, p. 249).
REALISM OR IDEALISM? Most couples seem to go
through a period of disillusionment, as the realities
of marriage sink in and the idealization of one’s
partner and one’s relationship begin to fade. Does
this mean that the happy couples are those who
began their marriages with more realistic views and
avoided disillusionment? Or might it be that happy
couples began with the same illusions, but found
ways to maintain them? The research literature does
not provide a definitive answer to these questions.
The value of both realism and idealization are supported.
Studies by Murray and her colleagues suggest
that some degree of idealization contributes to
a couple’s happiness and satisfaction (Murray,
Holmes, & Griffin, 1996a, 1996b). Couples who had
the most positive views of each other’s personal
qualities were not only happier, but were less likely
to break up. Murray and her colleagues believe that
the tendency to view our partners more positively
than they see themselves means that we overlook or
put a positive spin on our partners’ shortcomings.
This is the view that mothers often have of their
children. They see the best in their kids and downplay
or ignore faults. To the extent that this idealization
is mutual, it is easy to see how each person’s
self-esteem and satisfaction with a relationship
would be enhanced.
Self-verification theory posits that people
desire evaluations that affirm or verify their own
self-views (Swann, 1983, 1987). Specifically, people
want positive feedback about positive qualities and
negative evaluations of their less desirable qualities.
We each want verification of our own self-view. As
Swann (1990) put it, people want to be “known”—
not necessarily “adored.” Relationships are
enhanced when your partner affirms your own selfview
because this means that she or he knows you
as you know yourself. The authenticity of your partner’s
understanding of “who you really are” creates
strong feelings of intimacy.
The opposing nature of idealistic and realistic
appraisals may be more apparent than real: (a)
because the effect of each may depend on the
length and developmental stage of a relationship,
and (b) because both probably co-exist in healthy
relationships. Research suggests that idealized and
positive views of the partner contribute to satisfaction
and feelings of intimacy in short-term dating
relationships and at the beginning of marriage.
However, as relationships mature, more accurate
information becomes important and contributes
more to satisfaction and intimacy (Campbell,
Lackenbauer, & Muise, 2006; Swann, De La Ronde, &
Hixon, 1994). Too much idealization may actually
get a longer-term relationship in trouble. It is important
to know with some degree of accuracy your
partner’s strengths and weaknesses. Imagine if
excessive drinking were given a positive spin or if
you glossed over your partner’s lack of financial
planning and checkbook balancing ability. Probably
both realism and a degree of positive idealization
co-exist in healthy longer-term relationships.
Realism about specific traits and abilities would
seem to contribute both to feelings of intimacy and
to more effective assignment of relationship roles
and responsibilities according to each partner’s
strengths and weaknesses.
On the other hand, some idealization is
undoubtedly important in making people feel an
overall sense of positive regard and acceptance. That
is, we need to feel that, despite the reality of our
imperfections, we are loved, appreciated, and positively
viewed. A recent longitudinal study of married
couples by Neff and Karney (2005) affirmed the dual
importance of accuracy and global adoration.
Feelings of mutual and global adoration (“you’re the
greatest”) were widely shared among newlyweds.
However, the benefits of this adoration depended on
whether it reflected an accurate understanding of
partners’ specific traits. Adoration alone was not
enough. Neff and Karney concluded that “Global
adoration lacking in specific accuracy not only leaves
spouses vulnerable to disappointment as their partners’
faults surface over the course of the relationship
but also may lead partners to doubt the
credibility of their spouses’ love” (2005, p. 495).
were not gloomy enough already, studies suggest
that married couples today experience more conflict
and somewhat less marital satisfaction than in the
past. Family life appears more complicated and
hectic today, in part because both husbands and
wives typically work and have less time to spend
together (Amato & Previti, 2003; Rogers & Amato,
2000). Managing family concerns, from childcare and
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 257
paying bills, to getting older kids to their many afterschool
activities, may take a toll on a marriage.
National surveys show some drop (5% or so) in
the percentage of married couples describing their
marriage as very happy today compared to the 1970s
(Glenn, 1991; Glenn & Weaver, 1988). The cause of
this decline is unclear. Does it reflect an actual
decline in marital happiness, perhaps due to the
increase in conflict? Or might it be the exaggerated
expectations of marital happiness that are disappointed
by the realities of marriage, or some combination
of both? Whatever the case, it is worth
remembering two facts: (1) married people are still
consistently found to be significantly happier than
never-married singles; and (2) there is a strong tendency
for very happy people to report that their marriages
are also happy and satisfying (Myers, 2000a).
The question is, “What are the ingredients of a happy
marriage?” Some of the answers are suggested by
studies of what people bring to a marriage.
Experts seem to agree that cultural changes have
made happy long-term marriages somewhat more
difficult to achieve today than in the past. The success
or failure of marriage also depends on the
particular mix of the two spouses’ characteristics.
People bring a diversity of personality traits and
beliefs to their romantic relationships (Fitness, 2006;
Vangelisti, 2006). Some people are better suited to
intimate relationships than others. For example, the
emotional instability and negative emotionality of
people high in the personality trait of neuroticism
make satisfying relationships difficult for them to
achieve, and we know that drug abuse, alcoholism,
and physical abuse are frequent causes of divorce
(see Miller et al., 2007). Some amount of failure
undoubtedly also occurs because the wrong people
got married. As they try to build a life together, a
married couple’s differences may cause too much
conflict, making love difficult to sustain. One of the
more important things people bring to a marriage is
their particular style of relating to intimate partners.
Attachment Style
Think for a minute about your first close and intimate
relationship. When did you: first learn about
trusting someone and having your emotional needs
attended to and cared for; first reveal your deeper
feelings, fears, and needs; first feel that no one else
could replace this person in your life; first display
lots of mutual affection, like hugging, kissing, and
holding; first know that this relationship was for life?
For most of us, our first “love” experiences were
with parents—often our moms. Nearly all of us
develop an intense attachment bond with our primary
caretakers—most frequently our biological
parents. Attachment theory raises the intriguing
possibility that some of our most basic, and perhaps
unconscious, emotional responses to intimacy are
shaped by the kind of relationship we had with our
parents. If this seems a bit far-fetched, consider this:
Think of a romantic involvement in which you got
to know your partner extremely well, including all
his or her little quirks and peculiarities. Then, think
of the first time you met your partner’s family. Did
you have any “aha” experiences such as, “Now I see
why you avoid emotionally charged issues in our
relationship. Your whole family does!” Or, “No wonder
you say whatever is on your mind, even if it’s
negative and critical. Your family is like the show
Brothers and Sisters on TV—absolute honesty in
expressing feelings, no matter who it might offend!”
How early relationships might affect later ones
begins with studies of infants and young children.
Infant Attachments
Psychiatrist John Bowlby was one of the first to
describe different types of attachment between children
and their parents. During World War II, many
British parents sent their children to the country
where they would be safer from Germany’s nightly
bombings of London. Bowlby observed that children’s
reactions to separation from their parents
were quite varied and seemed to reflect different
kinds of parent–child bonds or attachments (see
Bowlby, 1988, for a current review). Ainsworth and
her colleagues developed a more formal assessment
of attachment styles using what became known as
the “strange situation test” (Ainsworth, Blehar,
Waters, & Wall, 1978). Paralleling Bowlby’s earlier
work, these researchers found three distinct attachment
patterns between infants and mothers (or any
caretaker to whom an infant is attached). The
strange situation test involves observing an infant, its
mother, and an adult stranger in an unfamiliar room
with toys available. The mother and stranger move
in and out of the room according to a set sequence.
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258 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Infants are sometimes with their mothers only,
sometimes with the stranger only, and sometimes
alone. A majority of infants tested in this situation
show a secure attachment style. In this style, the
infant explores the room and the toys confidently
when its mother is present, becomes mildly upset
and explores less when it is left by the mother
(either alone or with the stranger), shows pleasure
and reassurance when the mother returns, and then
resumes exploring the room. Home observations
show that mothers of securely attached infants
responded warmly and promptly to their infants’
desires for contact comfort.
A minority of infants show an avoidant
attachment style. Here, infants do not show any visible
distress when separated from their mothers and,
most tellingly, they actively avoid contact with their
mothers when the mothers re-enter the room. At
home, mothers of avoidant infants are consistently
negative, rejecting, critical and often neglectful, in
the form of failing to provide comfort when their
infants are upset.
An even smaller minority of infants showed an
anxious-ambivalent attachment style, in which the
infant does not explore much, even when its mother
is present, becomes very upset when she leaves,
and both seeks and simultaneously resists her comfort
when she returns. Mothers of this style are
found to be unpredictable in their responses to their
infants’ desires for comfort, sometimes showing a
positive response and sometimes responding in a
rejecting or controlling manner.
The nature of childhood attachment has been
shown to predict behavior in later relationships
(e.g., Ainsworth, 1989; Schneider, Atkinson, &
Tardiff, 2001). As you might expect, securely
attached infants generally go on to have healthier
relations with others. For example, longitudinal studies
find that compared to insecure children, securely
attached children tend to be more socially skilled
and competent and are more likely to have close
families, friendships, and longer-term romantic relations
(e.g., Carlson, Sroufe, & Egeland, 2004). Other
studies find that attachment styles may be transferred
from one relationship to the next, building upon
early attachment histories (Brumbaugh & Fraley,
2006) and that a couple’s personal attachment styles
are predictive of how they perceive, feel about, and
relate to each other after the birth of their first child
(Wilson, Rholes, Simpson, & Tran, 2007). In this latter
study, anxious and avoidant styles were related to
less supportive partner responses and more jealousy
of the infant.
Researchers do not believe that early childhood
experiences represent adulthood destiny (see
Hazan et al., 2006). Despite evidence of moderate
levels of stability in attachment style over the first
19 years of life (Fraley, 2002), people’s orientation
toward relationships can be altered and changed by
life experiences. Divorce, death of a spouse or parent,
new relationship experiences, and new partners
can all influence our basic attachment style. In addition,
studies that do show stability may be confounded
with genetically-determined temperament.
Some infants are constitutionally “laid back” or “high
strung,” making the infant’s temperament—not treatment
by parents—primarily responsible for the
nature of the parent–child relationship.
It also needs to be noted that the meaning and
value of different attachment styles may be unique
to Western individualistic societies like the United
States. For example, Japanese parents appear to foster
insecure attachment and “needy” children when
evaluated by Western attachment criteria
(Rothbaum, Weisz, Pott, Miyake, & Morelli, 2000).
Japanese parents appear indulgent, permissive, and
overly protective to Western eyes. They do not seem
to foster the secure base necessary for independence
and self-confidence that defines secure attachment.
However, these judgments likely reflect
Western standards and biases. The Japanese and all
other cultures have their own criteria for relationships
and they raise their children accordingly. They
nurture healthy children who are well-adapted to
their culture. Rothbaum and his colleagues point
out that attachment theory and measurement, in its
current Westernized form, simply does not fit other,
non-Westernized cultures.
Despite these qualifications, the possibility
remains that that our childhood experiences, at least
in the West, may be significant. For example, a person
whose own childhood was marked by an absence of
warmth and love might be strongly motivated to find
an intense and all-absorbing romantic love relationship
as a teen or adult. And it makes sense that a person
who experienced harsh criticism and rejection
when she sought the love of her parents may be “gun
shy” when it comes to developing intimate adult relationships.
Finally, if you experienced a healthy, warm,
and loving relationship with your parents, wouldn’t
this inform your ideas about desirable and undesirable
relationships in the future, perhaps even influencing
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 259
the qualities you look for in a spouse? Setting aside all
the possible Freudian dynamics, why wouldn’t a
young girl or boy think of marrying someone like Dad
or Mom if they loved, respected, and admired their
parents and experienced an enjoyable childhood
because their parents were good parents who were
happily married?
With both the possibilities and qualifications in
mind, researchers have found attachment styles to
be extremely useful in capturing adults’ cognitive
and emotional orientation toward romantic and
other close relationships (Cassidy & Shaver, 1999).
Measures of adult attachment styles have a good
deal of face validity in the sense that we can often
“see” ourselves or someone we know as typifying
one, or some combination of the different attachment
Adult Attachment Styles
Which of the following would best describe how
you think about close relationships? (from Hazan &
Shaver, 1987):
A. I am somewhat uncomfortable being
close to others; I find it difficult to
trust them completely, difficult to
allow myself to depend on them. I am
nervous when anyone gets too close,
and often, others want to be more
intimate that I feel comfortable being.
B. I find it relatively easy to get close to
others and am comfortable depending
on them and having them depend on
me. I don’t worry about being abandoned
or about someone getting too
close to me.
C. I find others are reluctant to get as
close as I would like. I often worry
that my partner doesn’t really love me
or won’t want to stay with me. I want
to get very close to my partner, and
this sometimes scares people away.
Shaver and his colleagues found that this simple
one-item test was sufficient for people to reliably
classify themselves according to their
attachment style (A is avoidant, B is secure, and C is
anxious-ambivalent) (Bartholomew & Shaver, 1998;
Hazan & Shaver, 1987).
Over time, both the conceptualization and
measurement of adult attachment styles have been
refined. The current view is that attachment styles
are continuous rather than discrete categories and
reflect two underlying dimensions: anxiety and
avoidance (Bartholomew & Horowitz, 1991;
Brennan, Clark, & Shaver, 1998; Fraley & Waller,
1998; Hazan et al., 2006). The anxiety dimension
describes a fear of abandonment and rejection and
is assumed to express low self-esteem and a negative
view of self. A lack of self-confidence and a
belief in one’s inadequacy causes anxiety in close
relationships, perhaps because a person feels that
her faults will be discovered or that he is not the
kind of person that anyone would love. Conversely,
people with a positive self-view are low in anxiety,
do not fear abandonment, and are comfortable and
confident in their intimate relationships.
The avoidance dimension describes the
degree of trust and comfort (or lack thereof)
in becoming intimate with others. High intimacyavoidance
presumably stems from viewing others
with a mistrustful and suspicious eye or dismissing
intimate relationships altogether as unnecessary
because of a strong belief in one’s own selfreliance
(i.e., “I don’t need intimate relationships”).
Conversely, people low in avoidance are more
trusting of others, enjoy intimacy, and do not worry
that they will be mistreated. Because people can be
high or low on the anxiety and/or the avoidance
dimension, four different attachment styles can be
described. These styles are overlapping, but for
purposes of clarity they are described below as
four distinct styles. Included in these descriptions
are results from the multitude of studies that have
examined the connection between individual differences
in attachment style and characteristics of
people’s close and romantic relationships (see
Bartholomew, 1990; Collins & Feeney, 2000;
Feeney, 1999; Hazan et al., 2006, for reviews).
Figure 11.3 shows the four styles defined by the
two dimensions of avoidance and anxiety.
Secure attachment describes people with positive
self-images who are low on both relationship
anxiety and avoidance. These people are confident in
themselves and the ability of their relationships to satisfy
their needs. Compared to other attachment styles,
the intimate and romantic relationships of people
with a secure attachment style are characterized by
greater trust and closeness, more positive than negative
emotions, lower levels of jealousy, higher levels
of marital satisfaction and adjustment, and more sensitive
and supportive responses to the needs of one’s
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260 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
FIGURE 11.3 Four Attachment Styles Defined by Level
of Anxiety and Avoidance
partner. Securely attached people are comfortable
seeking support from others in times of distress.
Surveys suggest that about 60% of people fit this
attachment style (Mickelson, Kessler, & Shaver, 1997).
Overall, secure attachment is associated with longer,
stronger, and more satisfying intimate relations.
The preoccupied attachment style describes
people who are low on avoidance because they
want and enjoy intimacy, but are high in anxiety as
a result of their low self-esteem. This style was
referred to as anxious/ambivalent in previous classifications.
The preoccupied style reflects a need for
the approval and affection of others to prop up
one’s own lack of self-esteem. Such people might be
described as “needy,” “clingy,” or even “greedy” in
their need for intimacy and acceptance. While they
may appear to be sensitive, caring, and supporting,
these behaviors stem more from their own selfcentered
needs than from genuine concern for their
partner. Their fear of abandonment may cause them
to be highly controlling of their partners, to experience
wide mood swings, and to experience intense
jealousy concerning their romantic involvements.
Although an extreme example, one can’t help but
think about the neurotic lover portrayed by Glenn
Close in the movie Fatal Attraction as exemplifying
the worst features of preoccupied attachment.
People with a fearful avoidant attachment
style are high in avoidance and high in anxiety. A
fear of rejection keeps people with this style from
getting close to others, and their low opinion of
themselves seems to be the major reason. If you
don’t like or love yourself you may assume others
won’t love you either. A fear of being unlovable
and, therefore, likely to be rejected when people get
to know you well is strong motivation to avoid intimacy.
People with this style view others as untrustworthy
and likely to let them down. They feel that
relying on others is too risky and are more pessimistic
about lasting love. As you might expect,
fearful attachment is associated with a variety of
interpersonal difficulties including less willingness
to provide comfort and support to others and being
perceived by others as emotionally distant and even
Dismissing avoidant attachment combines
high avoidance with low anxiety. This style
describes people who are confident, self-reliant,
and take pride in their independence. They view
others as essentially irrelevant. That is, whether
people like them or not is not a major concern,
because they believe they can make it on their
own. Intimate involvements with others are
thought to be fraught with problems and not
worth the trouble. The relationships of people
with this style are marked by lower enjoyment,
less commitment, and less intimacy compared to
those with secure and preoccupied styles. If you
recall our earlier discussion of the universal need
for human attachments, you may wonder if people
who dismiss the importance of relationships are
exceptions to this general rule. A recent study
titled, “No man is an island: The need to belong
and dismissing avoidant attachment style,” suggests
that the answer is no (Carvallo & Gabriel,
2006). In this study, people with a dismissive orientation
were found to experience more positive
feelings in response to feedback that others liked
and accepted them than people with a low dismissive
view. Perhaps because dismissive types typically
receive less affirmation from others, they are
more affected when they do. Contrary to their
claims, dismissive individuals do seem to care
about how people think of them. Carvallo and
Gabriel conclude that “. . . people with a dismissive
attachment style also have a fundamental
need to feel connected to others but because they
have buried it under denial and a hard shell of
indifference, it can only be glimpsed by giving
them a taste of what all people need and desire
most: inclusion and acceptance from others”
(2006, p. 707).
Overall, secure attachment is a strong foundation
for healthy and satisfying relationships, particularly
if this style is shared between romantic
partners. In their review of studies, Miller and his
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 261
colleagues (2007) provide a long list of positive outcomes
associated with this style. Compared to the
other styles, secure people are more supportive of
their partners, particularly in times of distress. They
are more disclosing of intimate life details and have
more satisfying social lives with their friends and
lovers. Secure people also enjoy higher levels of
emotional well-being and lower levels of emotional
distress. Securely attached people seem to recapitulate
the health of their relationships with their parents,
which built a strong foundation for the rich
and satisfying relationships that contribute so much
to a happy life.
Research suggests that the majority (60%) of
us fit, moreso than less, into the secure attachment
style. However, it is important to remember that
the four types are meant to be continuous—not
discrete—categories. So, despite the virtues of
secure attachment, most of us are probably a combination
of attachment orientations defined by our
degree of anxiety and avoidance. The more problematic
styles are in the minority, although we can
probably think of someone who fits the preoccupied,
fearful avoidant, or dismissive style. The
point here is to resist believing that, just because
you are not overly confident in yourself or that you
are somewhat cautious in opening up to others,
this means you fit one of the negative styles and
will have relationship problems, or that this fully
explains the problems you have. The distance
between high self-esteem and low self-esteem and
between caution and avoidance is large. Even if we
are not “pure” secure attachment types, we can still
have satisfying relationships.
Conflict and Communication Skills
Attachment styles describe important features of
people’s global orientation toward intimate relationships.
More specific behaviors and ways of thinking
that enhance or damage relationships have also
been studied extensively. A great deal of research
has focused on how relationship partners deal with
conflict and interpret negative behaviors. This is
because some amount of conflict is inevitable in
our intimate relations. Married couples may confront
differences in their expectations and desires
regarding managing finances, spending habits, frequency
of sex, displays of affection, raising kids,
dealing with in-laws, and keeping the house clean.
Studies make clear that the success of a marriage
depends heavily on open communication about
disagreements and the ability to resolve them.
Focus on Research: The Power
of the “Bad”
A curious implication of relationship research is
that once a relationship is well established, its success
seems to depend more on the absence of conflict
(the bad) than it does on the presence of
affection (the good) (Reis & Gable, 2003). A couple’s
satisfaction with their marriage is tied significantly
more strongly to the level of conflict than it
is to the level of positive behaviors. A well-known
daily diary study found that nearly two-thirds of
couples’ marital satisfaction was related to the
occurrence (or lack) of negative behaviors
and conflict, and much less so to the occurrence
(or lack) of positive behaviors (Wills, Weiss, &
Patterson, 1974). In our intimate relationships, the
bad seems much stronger than the good. A single
negative act appears capable of “undoing” countless
acts of affection and kindness.
The most extensive studies of marital conflict
have been conducted by John Gottman and his colleagues
(Gottman, 1994, 1998, 1999; Gottman &
Krokoff, 1989; Gottman & Levenson, 1992). Among
his many studies were intensive observations of
married couples in his “love lab.” This was an apartment
set up to video-tape verbal, nonverbal, and
physiological responses of couples as they talked
about topics posed by Gottman. Some topics concerned
sources of conflict and how they viewed
each other’s strengths and weaknesses, but the main
point was to get couples to talk and to analyze their
style of communication. Both the husbands’ and
wives’ verbal and nonverbal behaviors were carefully
recorded. Observations captured both subtle
nonverbal behaviors (like a faint frown or raised
eyebrows), and more obvious behaviors (such as
smiling, one spouse interrupting the other, and
expressions of anger, resentment, affection, and
Gottman and his colleagues consistently found
that negative communication patterns were more
predictive of marital satisfaction level and overall
relationship quality than were displays of affection
and kindness. Patterns of negative interaction were
summarized as the “Four Horsemen of the
Apocalypse” because of their destructive effects on
relationships. The “Four Horsemen” are:
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262 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
1. Criticism: A high percentage of negative as
compared to positive comments, remarks, and
nonverbal communications.
2. Defensiveness: Taking comments and criticism
personally and responding to the feelings they
created, rather than to the behavior they
describe. This included rehearsing defensive
thoughts such as “I’m not going to take it any
more,” or “Next time he/she says that, I am
going to say . . . ”
3. Stonewalling: Punishing a partner with the
“silent treatment” by clamming up, refusing to
respond and holding in anger, resentment,
hurt feelings, and the real reasons for refusing
to talk.
4. Contempt: Showing scorn, anger, and rejection
through verbal and nonverbal means (e.g.,
rolling of eyes) and generally condemning the
actions, motives, or personality of the other.
All marriages involve some amount of mutual
criticism and hurtful things said in the heat of argument.
Gottman’s research found that it was not simply
the presence of negative behaviors that
distinguished happy/stable couples from those
headed for divorce. Instead, what mattered was the
ratio of positive to negative behaviors and the
degree of reciprocation of negative behaviors (“negative
affect reciprocity”). Somewhat amazingly, in
counting up the positives and negatives in “love lab”
observations, a ratio of 5 positive interactions to 1
negative interaction was found to be the dividing
line between successful and unsuccessful relationships.
That is, in healthy relationships, likely to last,
there were five times more positive than negative
interactions. Troubled relationships had very low
ratios, meaning that negatives and positives were
about equal, or that negatives out numbered positives.
The 5-to-1 ratio supports the general principle
that “bad is stronger than good.” Evidently, the harm
done by one bad thing needs to be offset by five
good things for marriages to be satisfying. The 5-to-
1 ratio suggests a fairly obvious approach to improving
the quality of a relationship—namely, find ways
to reward your partner! Gottman and Levenson
(1992) argue that frequent and simple acts of kindness,
concern, care, and affection can shift the ratio
into the positive range. This makes conflict less
likely and easier to resolve when it occurs.
Negative affect reciprocity may be one reason
unhappy couples have a low positive-to-negative
ratio. This term describes a tit-for-tat exchange of
negative expressions, both verbal and nonverbal, that
Gottman and his colleagues found contributes to the
downward spiral of a relationship. If you think about
your own relationships, you know that it’s hard not to
retaliate against a critical or hurtful comment made by
an intimate partner. One partner’s negative critical
comment invites reciprocation from the other, which
invites further retaliation, which may then escalate
into a heated argument. As Gottman notes, anger,
conflict, and disagreements can all be opportunities
for deepening mutual understanding and increasing
future satisfaction. Successful couples find ways to
turn disagreements into growth in their relationship,
and ways to repair the damage of conflict. However,
distressed couples seem stuck in this negative affect
reciprocity pattern and are unable or unwilling to
respond in more constructive ways.
Demand/withdraw can be added to the list of
negative interaction patterns described by Gottman’s
research. This pattern reflects what seems to be a
fairly typical gender difference in response to conflict
(Grossman & Wood, 1993). Women, who are often
more attuned to and concerned about the ongoing
quality of close relationships, make more demands to
resolve problems and to improve a marriage than
men (Christensen & Heavey, 1993). Relationship
problems raised by one partner are sensitive issues
because they directly or indirectly imply criticism of
the other partner. In raising these issues, women are
generally more emotionally expressive and report
more intense emotions than men (Grossman &
Wood, 1993). Men seem generally less sensitive to
relationship problems and less comfortable talking
about them. These differences may produce a pattern
of interactions in which the woman makes demands
to talk about a concern and the man withdraws or
becomes defensive and refuses to confront the issue
(Eldridge & Christensen, 2002). This frustrates the
wife, who then makes more demands, which may
lead to more strident withdrawal on her husband’s
part, like stomping off and slamming the door on the
way out. This interaction pattern would likely frustrate
both husband and wife and decrease the odds
that problems will be resolved.
In addition to negative communication patterns,
people’s characteristic style of explaining their partner’s
transgressions and faults also has much to do
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 263
with relationship satisfaction (Bradbury & Fincham,
1990). If your partner forgets to do a favor you
requested, or misses an important occasion like your
birthday or anniversary, how do you explain it?
Does it mean they really don’t care about you, or do
you give them the benefit of the doubt and assume
there must have been a good reason? As you probably
guessed, satisfied couples assume the best and
unhappy couples assume the worst. Relationshipenhancing
attributions are explanations for a
partner’s faults and transgressions that “excuse” the
behavior because it is seen as determined by situations,
rather than as a reflection of an enduring trait
or lack of concern for the other partner. “Having a
bad day” or “just being forgetful because of preoccupation
with other things,” puts a positive spin on
otherwise negative and potentially hurtful actions.
Enhancing attributions also work on the positive
side. Positive behaviors are seen as stemming from a
partner’s desirable qualities and from their care and
concern for the relationship. When good things happen,
they are attributed to the person—not the situation.
“He or she is so thoughtful and loving, look
what I got for our anniversary.” In contrast, unhappy
couples show a distress-maintaining pattern of
attributions. Negative behaviors, hurtful comments,
and forgetting special occasions are attributed to
permanent characteristics of the individual. “This
just shows that you don’t really care, and nothing is
going to change because that’s just the way you
are!” It is little wonder that longitudinal studies have
linked distress-maintaining attributions to low marital
satisfaction throughout the course of a marriage
(Fincham, Harold, & Gano-Phillips, 2000; Karney &
Bradbury, 2000).
Implicit Theories and Expectations
People come into relationships with different
implicit or informal theories about how relationships
are supposed to work. These general ideas may
shape the more specific ways people respond to,
and evaluate, intimate relations. Knee and his colleagues
have identified two distinct implicit theories,
defined either by a belief in romantic destiny or
by a belief in relationship growth (Knee, 1998).
The basic premise of the romantic destiny theory is
that two people are either compatible or they are
not. If a marriage runs into difficulty, this signals a
lack of compatibility—namely, an assumption that
“we aren’t right for each other.” The growth theory,
on the other hand, assumes relationships are challenging
and will grow and develop over time. As
Knee and his colleagues described it, people following
the growth theory “. . . are primarily interested in
developing the relationship, and believe that relationships
grow, not despite obstacles, but rather
because of them” (Knee, Patrick, & Lonsbary, 2003,
p. 41). Sample items from their Implicit Theory of
Relationship Scale make the distinction between the
two theories very clear. People who hold to the
romantic destiny theory endorse items such as, “A
successful relationship is mostly a matter of finding
a compatible partner right from the start,” and “Early
troubles in a relationship signify a poor match
between partners.” Growth theory advocates would
agree with items like the following: “Challenges and
obstacles in a relationship can make love even
stronger,” and “It takes a lot of time and effort to cultivate
a good relationship” (Knee et al., 2003, p. 41).
Research by Knee and his colleagues suggests
that these general beliefs influence many aspects of
a relationship—perhaps most importantly, the decision
to stay or leave (Knee, Nanayakkar, Vietor, &
Neighbors, 2002; Knee, Patrick, Vietor, Nanayakkar, &
Neighbors, 2002; Knee, Patrick, Vietor, & Neighbors,
2004). A strong belief in romantic destiny leads to an
interpretation of conflict as a sign of incompatibility
over which couples can exert little control (i.e.,
“We’re either right for each other or we’re not”).
Attributions for problems are likely to focus on individual
traits (such as personality incompatibility)
rather than circumstances. This makes relationship
problems seem more stable and enduring and thus,
unfixable. As marriages progress, a romantic destiny
view may cause that typical drop in marital satisfaction
(described earlier) to be seen as a sure sign of a
bad choice. In fact, research shows that people with
strong destiny beliefs are more likely to end a relationship
if they are not satisfied with how it goes at
the beginning (Knee, 1998).
The work-it-out perspective of the relationship
growth theory is clearly a more hopeful and, many
would say, more realistic approach to marriage,
unless of course there really is one “right” person for
each of us, and our job is to find that person for a
marriage made in heaven. A belief in relationship
growth provides a more positive and accepting
perspective on the inevitable conflicts and disappointments
married couples confront. From a
growth perspective, conflict is a natural part of all
relationships and does not mean that someone has
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264 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
to be at fault or that partners are incompatible.
Instead, problems are seen as temporary and situational
and, thus, solvable and likely to pass.
Therefore, effort and commitment can make the difference
between failure and success.
Two lessons of positive psychology that you
have hopefully learned by now are: (1) The absence
of the “bad” does not mean the presence of the
“good.” (2) Positive and negative emotional experiences
are independent of one another. Applied
to marriage, this means that, while the negative
relationship behaviors we just reviewed make a
marriage bad, their absence does not necessarily
make a marriage good. It also means that good relationship
behaviors are not simply the opposite of
destructive behaviors. As Reis and Gable put it,
“Relating well is not the same thing as not relating
badly” (2003, p. 152). What takes a marriage above
zero? Beyond just the absence of the bad to some
level of enjoyment, contentment, and happiness?
Studies of long-term and happily married couples
provide some clues.
What Can Happy Couples Tell Us?
In a seminal study by Lauer and Lauer, 351 couples
(married 15 years or more) were asked to select
from a list of 39 statements those that best explained
why their marriages had lasted (Lauer & Lauer, 1985;
Lauer et al., 1990). Husbands and wives responded
separately. The overwhelming majority of couples
(300) described their marriages as happy ones. And
men and women showed an amazing degree of
agreement as to why their marriages were happy
and successful. The most frequently endorsed reasons
for a happy and enduring marriage can be
grouped into two general categories: friendship and
FRIENDSHIP Deep and abiding friendship was the
top reason couples gave for their lasting marriages.
Both husbands and wives agreed, “My spouse is
my best friend.” Other statements clarified what
they meant. “I like my spouse as a person.” “My
spouse has grown more interesting.” “I confide in
my spouse.” In response to the more open-ended
questions on the survey, one woman commented
that she would want her husband as a friend even
if they weren’t married—that’s how much she liked
him. A man married over 30 years said it had
almost been like being married to “a series of different
women” because he had watched his wife
grow and change over time (Lauer & Lauer, 1985,
p. 24). He found his wife more interesting now
than when they first married. Others shared that
they thought liking was as important as loving in a
marriage. These positive views of marriage partners
were reflected in the enjoyment of shared
activities. “We laugh together.” Men endorsed, “We
share outside hobbies and interests” and women,
“We have a stimulating exchange of ideas.” Shared
activities that are fun, exciting, and arousing may
be very important in offsetting the boredom that
can set in, in long-term marriages. This possibility
received experimental support from a study that
found an increase in global marital satisfaction
after couples completed a novel and physiologically
arousing activity (Aron, Norman, Aron,
McKenna, & Heyman, 2000). In this study, married
couples traversed an obstacle course while holding
a cylindrical pillow between their bodies or heads.
No hands, legs, or teeth were allowed to keep the
pillow from falling to the ground. Couples found
this activity, reminiscent of sack races at summer
camp, to be fun and exciting. Evidently, the positive
emotion they experienced generalized to their
relationship, resulting in a more favorable evaluation.
One ingredient in a successful marriage seems
to be the ability to find exciting and fun things to
do together.
Husbands and wives in happy marriages also
share similar views on many of the potentially
contentious issues within a marriage. “We agree on
aims and goals.” “We agree on a philosophy of
life.” “We agree on how and how often to show
affection.” “We agree about our sex life.”
Interestingly, fewer than 10% of these couples
believed that enjoyable sex kept their marriages
together. Most couples were happy with their sex
lives, but others, even if they weren’t, or had
stopped having sex altogether, were still happy
with their marriages (Lauer, et al., 1990). Evidently,
if you have an enjoyable intimate friend as a
spouse, sex is not critical to the success of your
marriage, at least after you have been married for
15 years or more.
COMMITMENT Happy couples recognized the
importance of strong commitment to making their
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 265
marriages work and agreed with the statement,
“Marriage is a long-term commitment.” The basis of
their commitment was also suggested by other
responses (e.g., “Marriage is sacred.” “An enduring
marriage is important to social stability.” “I want the
relationship to succeed.”). Consistent with Knee’s
work on the growth theory of relationships, successful
couples believed that all marriages run into troubles
and that you just have to “take it” until you can
find ways to work it out. Agreement that “We discuss
things calmly” suggests that happy couples take a
positive approach to resolving conflicts.
These results affirm our earlier discussion of
the differences between friendship and passionate
romance. The deep friendship, intense liking,
respect, comfort, and enjoyment expressed by the
happy couples in the Lauer’s study stand in contrast
to marriages based on the more tenuous and fickle
nature of passionate romance. The stable solidarity
of friendship makes passion look like a shaky basis
for a stable marriage. Many relationship researchers
would agree that companionate love built on friendship
is more enduring than romantic love built on
passion. Contemplating the future of marriage,
Hendrick and Hendrick (2002) see hopeful signs
that companionate love and passionate love are
being brought into better balance in young people’s
thinking about intimate relationships. They point to
studies showing that college students frequently
name their romantic partners as their closest friends.
Hendrick and Hendrick conclude that “If one could
also be good friends, perhaps even best friends with
one’s passionate lover, then perhaps the relationship
could survive the turbulent comings and goings
of passion” (2002, p. 473). Couples in the Lauer
and Lauer study provided strong affirmation of this
Humor and Compatibility
One final morsel of food-for-thought: Earlier in this
chapter, we discussed the importance of teasing,
humor, and laughter to all our close relationships.
Social support, intimacy, and concern are all significant,
but for sheer pleasure and enjoyment you
can’t beat having fun with people you care about.
It’s no accident, then, that happy couples say they
laugh together and that a sense of humor is high
on the list of desirable qualities people seek in
a potential mate. We know that frequency of
sex declines even in good marriages, although
Hendrick and Hendrick (2002) argue that “sexual
expression” might show up as declining far less if
researchers included hugs, kisses, and other physical
displays of affection as part of sexual behavior.
Humor, however, apparently does not decline.
Why else would 50-years-married couples say
laughing together is what made their marriages last
(Lauer et al., 1990)? Humor is undoubtedly one
major reason happy couples enjoy each other’s
company. Given the benefits of positive emotions
described throughout this book, it’s no wonder
successful couples enjoy enhanced health and happiness.
In addition, as we mentioned earlier in this
chapter, humor can detoxify conflict and relieve
stress in a relationship.
The value of humor may go beyond its role
in making a couple’s life together more enjoyable.
Husbands and wives who share a similar sense of
humor may also share something deeper—namely
a match of personalities and emotional orientations.
The idea that what a person honestly finds
funny might be a window into his or her personality
is widely shared among humor theorists and
researchers (see Martin, 2007). The logic of the
argument is that laughter is an emotional reaction
that most people cannot fake (accomplished actors
may be an exception). An obligatory and forced
laugh is easily distinguished from the real thing.
Because it is less subject to conscious control, a
genuine laugh is thought to an honest expression
of how a person really feels. This, in turn, is
assumed to reflect significant and genuinely
expressed aspects of personality. Both research
and everyday interactions affirm this possibility.
Studies show that humor and personality are connected
and tend to reflect traits that are prominent
in our personalities (see Martin, 2007, Chapter 7,
for review). For example, aggressive people prefer
harsh and aggressive jokes; conservatives prefer
“safe” jokes such as puns; and people who are
intelligent risk-takers with a high tolerance for
ambiguity and openness to new experiences enjoy
more bizarre and highly imaginative humor. In our
own experience, most of us have been in the company
of people who laugh heartily at a joke that
we find personally offensive. This can be an
immediate source of alienation. We may think, “If
you find that funny, you’re not my kind of person.”
Shared humor can create an opposite feeling:
“That’s my favorite kind of joke, so you’re my
kind of person.”
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The idea that humor is a window to thoughts
and feelings that lie beneath the surface of conscious
awareness is exemplified in an engaging
book by Leon Rappoport titled, Punchlines: The
Case for Racial, Ethnic and Gender Humor (2005).
Rappoport argues that racial, ethnic, and genderbased
forms of humor are typically viewed as insulting
and prejudicial, which they certainly can be.
However, at a deeper level such humor serves the
important function of expressing those forbidden
thoughts and feelings that are buried deep beneath
the veneer of polite society and, more recently, the
culture of political correctness. Comedians who
make fun of their own race, ethnicity, or gender
open the door to honest consideration of stereotypes
and hostilities by reducing the anxieties, tensions,
and guilt experienced by people who hold
them. Laughing releases the tension created by consciously
denied, but honestly felt emotions and
beliefs, and brings them out in the open. Because
humor detoxifies stereotypes and prejudices by
holding them up for public ridicule, Rappoport
argues that the net effect is to reduce—not
increase—their potency.
Rappoport believes that humor may serve a
similar function in marriage (L. Rappoport, personal
communication, April 20, 2007). Because
people differ in what they find funny, humor
reflects something important about a person’s personality.
Most intriguing is the idea that humor represents
accurate information about a person
because genuine laughter is spontaneous and cannot
be produced on demand. Much of what people
reveal to others is disingenuous, not necessarily
because of manipulative intentions, but because
people are being polite, want to make a good
impression, or are following their expectations
about how to act in a particular kind of relationship.
Compared to the similarities revealed in people’s
consciously controlled actions, responses to
humor may represent honest and deeper similarities
between two people.
Studies support the value of similarity as an
essential foundation for successful close relationships
(Noller & Feeney, 2006). Opposites may be
interesting, but they don’t seem to attract, as conventional
wisdom suggests. Significant differences,
not similarities, cause spouses the most trouble.
However, knowing if you are similar to someone
at a deeper level is difficult to determine. How
many couples wonder after a year of marriage why
their spouse seems so different from when they
were dating or first married? A shared sense of
humor may increase the odds that when the
distorting effects of self-conscious impression
management fade, some basic compatibility will
While there is not a large literature examining
the relationship value of a shared sense humor,
what there is provides some support (see Martin,
2007, Chapter 5). Similarity in humor is affirmed as
a basis for initial attraction. We like people who
share our sense of what’s funny, in part because
we assume we also share other beliefs and qualities.
Married couples do tend to share a similar
sense of humor. However, higher ratings of humor
similarity do not reliably predict marital
satisfaction. Part of the problem here may have to
do with the limitations of self-report assessments of
shared humor. Because humor in real life is spontaneous,
self-report questionnaires may not be the
best way to measure it, because they are farremoved
from the moments of actual humor that
occur in the context of everyday life. To this point,
Gottman’s “love lab” observational studies do show
that happy couples’ interactions are characterized
by a good deal of humor and reciprocated laughter.
Humor, marital harmony, and effective relational
problem-solving were found to go together.
Perhaps we need a “humor lab” to specifically
assess couples’ shared and non-shared humorous
reactions to situations, issues, and problems that
typically occur in a marriage.
Though the empirical jury is still out, a
shared sense of humor is an intriguing way to
think about an index of basic compatibility
between intimate partners. Similarity in humor
may be important in knowing whether someone is
“right” for you, and in sustaining a mutually enjoyable
and enduring future relationship. Our guess
would be that successful couples have humor in
common, whether or not they realized this at the
beginning of their relationships. As research
shows, we are attracted to people who laugh at
the same things we do.
So there you have it. Friendship, humor, and
commitment. Three essential ingredients in the complex
recipe for a successful marriage. Looking for a
romantic partner? Find yourself a best buddy/best
friend who laughs at all the same things you do and
you should find it easier to make and sustain a longterm
266 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
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Chapter Summary Questions
Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 267
1. a. What evolutionary arguments support the
conclusions that belongingness is a fundamental
b. How does oxytocin figure into biological
foundations for relationships with others?
2. How does disclosure reciprocity help build
close relationships?
3. How do trust and caring contribute to close
4. What does it mean to say that close relationships
are characterized by high levels of interdependence
and mutuality?
5. Why is commitment important to close relations
with others?
6. How do the descriptions of exchange and communal
relationships describe the differences
between casual acquaintances and close
7. What does research suggest about the role
of teasing and humor in developing close
relationships, and in successful long-term
8. How does capitalization enhance individual and
relationship well-being, according to the
research by Gable and her colleagues?
9. How do clarity of rules, complexity of feelings,
and differing expectations explain the
differences between friendship and romantic
10. What are love’s three essential ingredients,
according to Sternberg’s triangular theory of
11. Why doesn’t cohabitation increase the success
of a future marriage?
12. What evidence supports the importance
of increased freedom and decreased restraints
as explanations for our culture’s 50% divorce
13. Is romantic love as a basis for marriage unique
to American culture?
14. a. How might the increasing importance of
love as a basis for marriage contribute to high
divorce rates?
b. How does research by Huston and his colleagues
support a disillusionment model of
15. How does the research by Neff and Karney
show the importance of both realism and idealism
in marital satisfaction?
16. What arguments support a connection between
infant–parent relationships and adult romantic
relationships, according to attachment theory?
17. How may the different adult attachment styles
reflect two underlying dimensions of anxiety
and avoidance?
18. In his “love lab” studies, what critical ratio did
Gottman find made the difference between
good and bad marriages?
19. What qualities characterize long-term happily
married couples, according to the Lauers’
20. What arguments and evidence suggest that a
shared sense of humor may be an important
measure of compatibility between romantic
partners and may contribute to a satisfying
Key Terms
oxytocin 240
self-disclosure 241
disclosure reciprocity 242
exchange versus communal
relationships 245
direct effects hypothesis 246
capitalization 247
passionate love 249
companionate love 250
triangular theory of love 250
intimacy 250
passion 250
commitment 250
self-verification theory 256
attachment theory 257
secure attachment 259
preoccupied attachment 260
fearful avoidant attachment 260
dismissing avoidant attachment 260
negative affect reciprocity 262
demand/withdraw 262
attributions 263
distress-maintaining attributions
romantic destiny 263
relationship growth 263
ISBN 1-256-51557-4
Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
268 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Web Resources
Relationship Research—Gottman
www.gottman.com/research/about This is the
Gottman Institute site for the study of relationships.
Links to an abundance of useful information, research
articles, John Gottman’s love lab studies, and other
relevant sites and articles.
Love and Intimate Relationships
www2.hawaii.edu/~elaineh This site by Elaine
Hatfield offers many research references as well as
commonly used measures of passionate and companionate
Triangular Theory of Love
of-love-scales This site for PsychCentral is
run by mental health professionals. It has a variety
of useful information. The address above is for
Sternberg’s triangular theory of love and a questionnaire
that measures each of the three basic dimensions
of love.
Attachment Theory
This site is for the Attachment Lab of Phillip Shaver
and R. Chris Farley. In addition to listing recent publications,
many links to the labs and research of
other attachment theorists are listed.
Suggested Readings
Baumeister, R., & Leary, M. R. (1995). The need to
belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental
human motivation. Psychological Bulletin,
117, 497–529.
Gable, S. L., Reis, H. T., Impett, E. A., & Asher, E. R.
(2004). What do you do when things go right? The
intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive
events. Journal of Personality and Social
Psychology, 87, 228–245.
Gottman, J. M. (1994). What predicts divorce? The relationship
between marital processes and marital outcomes.
Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Keltner, D., Capps, L., Kring, A. M., Young, R. C., &
Heerey, E. A. (2001). Just teasing: A conceptual analysis
and empirical review. Psychological Bulletin, 127,
Meyers, S. A., & Berscheid, E. (1997). The language of
love: The difference a preposition makes. Personality
and Social Psychology Bulleting, 23, 347–362.
Miller, R. S., Perlman, D., & Brehm, S. (2007). Intimate relationships
(4th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Noller, P., & Feeney, J. A. (Eds.). (2006). Close relationships:
Functions, forms and processes. New York: Psychology
Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (2000). Interpersonal flourishing:
A positive health agenda for the new millennium.
Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4, 30–44.
Simpson, J. A., & Rholes, W. S. (Eds.). (1998) Attachment
theory and close relationships. New York: Guildford
Sternberg, R. J. (1998b). Cupid’s arrow: The course of love
through time. New York: Cambridge University Press.
ISBN 1-256-51557-4
Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.

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