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Relationship Metaphors

Metaphors Used By Relationship Scholars

Metaphors guide thinking, both for relationship parties and for the scholars who study relationships. Thus, some theorists have made a reflexive turn to focus on the metaphors that organize scholars' sense-making of the relating process. Paul Rosenblatt (1994) provides a detailed examination of the various metaphorical images used by family system theorists, identifying five dominant metaphors: family as entity, family as container, family as living entity, family as primary group, and family as machine. Steve Duck (1987) similarly examined the implicit assumptions of personal-relationship scholars through their metaphorical images, identifying three primary metaphors: relationship as film, in which early scenes in a relationship are thought to permit prediction of later outcomes; relationship as horticulture, a view close to the living-organism metaphor discussed above; and relationship as mechanical model, a view similar to the machine metaphor discussed above. Both Rosenblatt (1994) and Duck (1987) note that the metaphors used by scholars function as both lenses and blinders. Metaphors encourage researchers to look in certain ways at relationships, leading to new insights, understandings, and discoveries. At the same time, however, metaphors blind researchers to alternative ways of seeing.

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