Research identifies positive/negative behaviors used to maintain relationships Published on July 19, 2014 by Sean M. Horan, Ph.D. in Adventures in Dating
If I ever get around to writing the book I always talk about writing, it’ll be called “Doing The Work of Relationships.” This is because relationships take an incredible amount of work, and that work is communication (it’s all verbal and nonverbal messages). Years of communication research have focused on relational maintenance, identifying behaviors that help partners keep their relationships in a desired state (e.g., Canary & Dainton, 2006; Dindia & Canary, 1993; Stafford & Canary, 1991). The purpose of this entry, then, was to review some of these positive, and negative, behaviors.
Although there is variance in the definitions of what maintenance is, and what behaviors are considered maintenance, generally researchers argue that the following behaviors help partners maintain relationships:
- Social networks (No, not a shared Facebook account. Instead, it is spending time with and gathering support from shared friends)
- Shared tasks
Engaging in behaviors like the ones above are important as they have been linked to relational satisfaction, commitment, and liking (Canary & Stafford, 1992; Stafford, Dainton, & Haas, 2000). A commonly adopted perspective for understanding maintenance is Equity Theory (Adams, 1965). Essentially, in relationships we compare the ratio of our inputs, or what we bring to the relationship, to our outputs, what we receive, against our partner’s ratio of inputs and outputs. This results, then, in feelings of being under-benefitted, over-benefitted, or in an equitable relationship. Studies suggest that when one feels under-benefitted he/she engages in fewer maintenance behaviors (see, for one example, Dainton, 2003).
Though years of research document the positive behaviors we engage in for maintenance, only recently have negative maintenance behaviors been identified. Dainton and Gross identified the following negative behaviors enacted to keep relationships in a desired state:
- Jealousy induction
- Destructive conflict
- Allowing control
As previously stated, maintaining your relationship takes an incredible amount of work. The research identifying positive and negative maintenance behaviors highlight the common ways that we engage in maintenance. For couples, it is important to be aware of perceptions of equity as well as working towards engaging in positive maintenance behaviors (and avoiding the routine use of those negative behaviors).