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Relationship Maintenance

Maintaining Quality

For many people, simply staying together is not sufficient; instead, the quality of the relationship is important. For researchers, this means examining behaviors that are linked to relational satisfaction and other indicators of quality. Laura Stafford and Daniel J. Canary (1991) set out to determine a finite set of behaviors that would lead to increases in relational quality. By quality, Stafford and Canary referred to satisfaction, trust, control mutuality (i.e., the extent to which both partners agreed on who has the right to influence the other), and commitment. Using various methods, these authors uncovered a finite set of relational maintenance behaviors.

Stafford and Canary (1991) derived five relational maintenance strategies, or approaches to keeping the relationship in a satisfactory condition. These strategies are positivity, or being cheerful and upbeat, not criticizing the partner; assurances, such as stressing one's commitment and love; openness, which refers to directly discussing the nature of the relationship; social networks, or attempts to involve friends and family in various activities; and sharing tasks, which refer to doing one's fair share of chores and other work that needs to be done. Stafford and Canary found that positivity was most strongly related to satisfaction while control mutuality and assurances were most powerfully linked to commitment. These findings suggest that maintenance behaviors have varying functional utility in promoting different indicators of quality.

Relevant research has also found that perceptions of equity affect the desire to maintain quality relationships (Canary and Stafford 1992, 2001). Equity refers to whether the distribution of rewards divided by costs is fair. More precisely, an equitable relationship occurs when partners perceive the same ratio of rewards/costs. An inequitable relationship occurs when one person is overbenefited (i.e., one person perceives that, on balance, they get more than the partner does) or underbenefited (i.e., one person perceived that, on balance, they get less than the partner does). Canary and Stafford found that both self-reported maintenance strategies and perceptions of partner use of maintenance strategies were highest when the person felt the relationship was fair. However, people who felt overbenefited or underbenefited were less likely to use and perceive the use of the maintenance strategies indicated previously. In addition, self-reported inequity combined with perceptions of partners' maintenance strategies to affect important relationship characteristics, such as commitment. That is, maintenance behaviors would positively affect relational quality, but a lack of equity (especially underbenefitedness) would negatively affect relational quality.

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationshipsRelationship Maintenance - Maintaining Stability, Maintaining Quality, Maintaining The Status Quo, Repairing Troubled Relationships, Managing Dialectical Tensions