An interpersonal relationship is a relatively long-term association between two or more people. This association may be based on emotions like love and liking, regular business interactions, or some other type of social commitment. Interpersonal relationships take place in a great variety of contexts, such as family, friends, marriage, acquaintances, work, clubs, neighborhoods, and churches. They may be regulated by law, custom, or mutual agreement, and are the basis of social groups and society as a whole. Although humans are fundamentally social creatures, interpersonal relationships are not always healthy. Examples of unhealthy relationships include abusive relationships and codependence.
A relationship is normally viewed as a connection between two individuals, such as a romantic or intimate relationship, or a parent-child relationship. Individuals can also have relationships with groups of people, such as the relation between a pastor and his congregation, an uncle and a family, or a mayor and a town. Finally, groups or even nations may have relations with each other, though this is a much broader domain than that covered under the topic of interpersonal relationships. See such articles as international relations for more information on associations between groups. Most scholarly work on relationships focuses on romantic partners in pairs or dyads. These intimate relationships are, however, only a small subset of interpersonal relationships.
All relationships involve some level of interdependence. People in a relationship tend to influence each other, share their thoughts and feelings, and engage in activities together. Because of this interdependence, anything that changes or impacts one member of the relationship will have some level of impact on the other member. The study of interpersonal relationships involves several branches of social science, including such disciplines as sociology, psychology, anthropology, and social work.
Interpersonal relationships include kinship and family relations in which people become associated by genetics or consanguinity. These include such roles as father, mother, son, or daughter. Relationships can also be established by marriage, such as husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, uncle by marriage, or aunt by marriage. They may be formal long-term relationships recognized by law and formalized through public ceremony, such as marriage or civil union. They may also be informal long-term relationships such as loving relationships or romantic relationships with or without living together. In these cases the "other person" is often called lover, boyfriend, or girlfriend, as distinct from just a male or female friend, or "significant other". If the partners live together, the relationship may resemble marriage, with the parties possibly even called husband and wife. Scottish common law can regard such couples as actual marriages after a period of time. Long-term relationships in other countries can become known as common-law marriages, although they may have no special status in law. The term mistress may refer in a somewhat old-fashioned way to a female lover of an already married or unmarried man. A mistress may have the status of an "official mistress" (in French maîtresse en titre); as exemplified by the career of Madame de Pompadour.
Friendships consist of mutual liking, trust, respect, and often even love and unconditional acceptance. They usually imply the discovery or establishment of similarities or common ground between the individuals. Internet friendships and pen-pals may take place at a considerable physical distance. Brotherhood and sisterhood can refer to individuals united in a common cause or having a common interest, which may involve formal membership in a club, organization, association, society, lodge, fraternity, or sorority. This type of interpersonal relationship relates to the comradeship of fellow soldiers in peace or war. Partners or co-workers in a profession, business, or common workplace also have a long term interpersonal relationship.
Soulmates are individuals intimately drawn to one another through a favorable meeting of minds and who find mutual acceptance and understanding with one another. Soulmates may feel themselves bonded together for a lifetime and hence may become sexual partners, but not necessarily. Casual relationships are sexual relationships extending beyond one-night stands that exclusively consist of sexual behavior. One can label the participants as "friends with benefits" or as friends "hooking up" when limited to sexual intercourse, or regard them as sexual partners in a wider sense. Platonic love is an affectionate relationship into which the sexual element does not enter, especially in cases where one might easily assume otherwise.
Psychologists have suggested that all humans have a basic, motivational drive to form and maintain caring interpersonal relationships. According to this view, people need both stable relationships and satisfying interactions with the people in those relationships. If either of these two ingredients is missing, people will begin to feel anxious, lonely, depressed, and unhappy.
According to attachment theory, relationships can be viewed in terms of attachment styles that develop during early childhood. These patterns are believed to influence interactions throughout adulthood by shaping the roles people adopt in relationships. For example, one partner may be securely attached while the other is anxious and avoidant. Thus, early childhood experience (primarily with parents) is believed to have long lasting effects on all future relationships.
Social exchange theory interprets relationships in terms of exchanged benefits. It predicts that people regard relationships in terms of rewards obtained from the relationship, as well as potential rewards from alternate relationships. Equity theory stems from a criticism of social exchange theory and suggests that people care about more than just maximizing rewards. They also want fairness and equity in their relationships.
Relational dialectics regards relationships not as static entities, but as continuing processes, forever changing. This approach sees constant tension in the negotiation of three main issues: autonomy vs. connection, novelty vs. predictability, and openness vs. closedness.
Interpersonal relationships are dynamic systems that change continuously during their existence. Like living organisms, relationships have a beginning, a lifespan, and an end. They tend to grow and improve gradually, as people get to know each other and become closer emotionally, or they gradually deteriorate as people drift apart and form new relationships with others. One of the most influential models of relationship development was proposed by psychologist, George Levinger. This model was formulated to describe heterosexual, adult romantic relationships, but it has been applied to other kinds of interpersonal relations as well. According to the model, the natural development of a relationship follows five stages:
Friendships may involve some degree of transitivity. In other words, a person may become a friend of an existing friend's friend. However, if two people have a sexual relationship with the same person, they may become competitors rather than friends. Accordingly, sexual behavior with the sexual partner of a friend may damage the friendship (see love triangle). Sexual relations between two friends tend to alter that relationship, either by "taking it to the next level" or by severing it. Sexual partners may also be classified as friends and the sexual relationship may either enhance or depreciate the friendship.
Legal sanction reinforces and regularizes marriages and civil unions as perceived "respectable" building-blocks of society. In the United States of America, for example, the de-criminalization of homosexual sexual relations in the Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas (2003) facilitated the mainstreaming of gay long-term relationships, and broached the possibility of the legalization of same-sex marriages in that country.
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