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Relationship Maintenance

Maintaining The Status Quo

Once a relationship has reached a particular level (e.g., a certain level of intimacy or satisfaction), people might try to sustain the status quo. That is, there should be no changes in the fundamental nature of the relationship. Accordingly, current levels of intimacy, for example, should remain within a predictable and low level of fluctuation around a set point. Dramatic fluctuation—whether they reflect increases or decreases in intimacy—is not desired.

Joe Ayres (1983) examined hypothetical reactions of participants who imagined that their partners wanted either to increase or decrease the level of intimacy they had. Ayers derived three maintenance strategies, or approaches to dealing with the situation: directness, or discussing the nature of the relationship; avoidance of the partner and behaviors that might change the relationship; and balance, or behaving in ways that would counteract what the other person does (e.g., balance favors with favors). When imagining a partner who wanted to escalate intimacy, people reported they would use directness and avoidance. When imagining a partner who wanted to reduce intimacy, participants reported that they would use directness and attempt to balance the situation. Clearly, Ayres provides evidence that people respond to changes in the status quo with particular communication strategies and that these strategies might vary as a function of how the partner wants to change the status quo.

In an examination of a particular relationship context, Susan J. Messman, Daniel J. Canary, and Kimberly Hause (2000) investigated how opposite-sex friends maintained their relationships as platonic. Messman and her colleagues found that opposite-sex friends used several strategies to sustain the platonic nature of the relationship. These include positivity (e.g., be nice and cheerful), support (i.e., show one's support by comforting and giving advice), share activity (e.g., share routine activities), openness (e.g., discuss the relationship), no flirting (e.g., discourage familiar behaviors such as eye gazing), among others. The most commonly used strategies to keep a relationship platonic were alike for men and women: first came positivity, followed by support, share activity, openness, and no flirting.

Noting that many researchers have presumed that opposite-sex relationships are ripe with sexual tension, Messman and her colleagues (2000) also wanted to link different motives for having a platonic friendship to relational maintenance strategies. Motives included safeguard relationship, which refers to keeping the positive benefits afforded by the relationship (e.g., obtains information about how members of the opposite sex think); not attracted (e.g., never thought about the friend in a sexual manner); third party (e.g., the platonic friend was involved with someone else); network disapproval (e.g., others would disapprove of the relationship becoming romantic), as well as other less commonly reported motives. The desire to safeguard relationship was the strongest predictor of all the maintenance strategies. This finding underscores the power that wanting to keep a relationship in a particular state can have.

Additional topics

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