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Close Relationships: Liking and Loving over the Long Term

2 February, 2016 - 12:07

Learning Objectives

  1. Outline the factors that define close relationships.
  2. Distinguish between communal and exchange relationships.
  3. Explore Sternberg’s triangular model of love.
  4. Review research on romantic love and attention to others.
  5. Outline the role of attachment style in close relationships.
  6. Consider the impact of Internet behaviors on intimate relationships.
  7. Review some important factors that can help romantic relationships to be successful.
  8. Explore key factors that contribute to the ending of close relationships.

To this point in the chapter, we have focused upon the attraction that occurs between people who are initially getting to know one another. But the basic principles of social psychology can also be applied to help us understand relationships that last longer. When good friendships develop, when people get married and plan to spend the rest of their lives together, and when families grow closer over time, the relationships take on new dimensions and must be understood in somewhat different ways. Yet the principles of social psychology can still be applied to help us understand what makes these relationships last.

The factors that keep people liking and loving each other in long-term relationships are at least in part the same as the factors that lead to initial attraction. For instance, regardless of how long they have been together, people remain interested in the physical attractiveness of their partners, although it is relatively less important than for initial encounters. And similarity remains essential. Relationships are also more satisfactory and more likely to continue when the individuals develop and maintain similar interests and continue to share their important values and beliefs over time (Davis & Rusbult, 2001). Both actual and assumed similarity between partners tend to grow in long-term relationships and are related to satisfaction in opposite-sex marriages (Schul & Vinokur, 2000). Some aspects of similarity, including that in terms of positive and negative affectivity, have also been linked to relationship satisfaction in same-sex marriages (Todosijevic, Rothblum, & Solomon, 2005). However, some demographic factors like education and income similarity seem to relate less to satisfaction in same-sex partnerships than they do in opposite sex ones (Todosijevic, Rothblum, & Solomon, 2005).

Proximity also remains important—relationships that undergo the strain of the partners being apart from each other for very long are more at risk for breakup. For example, recall our chapter case study about Frank and Anita Milford’s 80-year marriage; the couple said that “We do everything together even after nearly 80 years.”

But what about passion? Does it still matter over time? Yes and no. People in long-term relationships who are most satisfied with their partners report that they still feel passion for their partners—they still want to be around them as much as possible, and they enjoy making love with them (Simpson, 1987; Sprecher, 2006). And they report that the more they love their partners, the more attractive they find them (Simpson, Gangestad, & Lerma, 1990). On the other hand, the high levels of passionate love that are experienced in initial encounters are not likely to be maintained throughout the course of a long-term relationship (Acker & Davis, 1992). Recall, though, that physical intimacy continues to be important. Frank and Anita from our case study, for example, said that they still put great importance on sharing a kiss and a cuddle every night before bed.

Over time, cognition becomes relatively more important than emotion, and close relationships are more likely to be based on companionate love, defined as love that is based on friendship, mutual attraction, common interests, mutual respect, and concern for each other’s welfare. This does not mean that enduring love is less strong—rather, it may sometimes have a different underlying structure than initial love based more on passion.