Handling Relationship Turbulence

In one of our prior articles, we talked about Maintaining Relationships During Covid-19 and explained the scientific reasons relationships are important for maintaining mental and physical health. So, how do we actually foster successful personal relationships? To answer this question, let’s take a look at the different variables that lead to a relationship's success or decline.


Emotional Treatment


It’s no secret that the way you treat your partner is a predictor for the overall success of your future together. However, being treated poorly by your significant other can have negative effects beyond the frame of your relationship. Emotional maltreatment puts you and your mental health at risk.


Mental health disorders, such as depression, and increased symptoms of anxiety have been linked to experiencing emotional maltreatment. Emotional maltreatment refers to experiencing any form of psychological abuse that leads to believing one is of lesser value or flawed. This can manifest through verbal abuse, forced isolation, exemplified feelings of contempt, and more. According to Gayle L. Reed and Robert D. Enright, psychological abuse was found to have more lasting negative impacts on the individual than physical abuse. Additionally, emotional maltreatment was linked to various negative outcomes such as depression, post traumatic stress disorder, and helplessness. These outcomes were found to last beyond the relationship, significantly impacting mental health. 


Upon researching reportedly happy couples, Amy Rauer and Brenda Volling identified three different categories of relationships. These categories include couples that show mutual support, couples that show mutual engagement, and couples that are one sided, meaning one individual shows more support and engagement in the relationship than the other (specifically consisting of wives showing more support and engagement within this study). Data from interviews and questionnaires completed by 57 married couples were compiled to reach the following conclusions: those reporting high levels of mutual support showed the least amount of conflict and highest ratings of intimacy. This is mainly in contrast to the one sided group, in which couples exhibiting predominant effort from only one spouse rather than both showed lower self reports of marital functioning. Although levels of happiness were not measured directly within this study, low levels of marital satisfaction and marital functioning can potentially lead to future complications. 


These studies indicate that support within a relationship is necessary for proper functioning and overall happiness between you and your significant other. Emotional maltreatment can lead to significant negative consequences on mental health, while providing support and care can promote well-being and nurture your relationship all at once. 


Intentionality in Relationships


Intentionality within the scope of relationships refers to how one views their partner’s words, choices, and actions. Perception of intentionality has a significant impact on the condition of one’s relationship with their significant other, and misinterpretation can lead to a relationship’s decline. 


In their research article, Anita L. Vangelisti and Stacy L. Young highlight the importance of appraisal in regards to another's actions. Although hurtful actions are not always intended to inflict harm, the authors state that viewing an action as intentionally hurtful can lead to relational distancing and a heightened readiness to distance in order to avoid a repeat of events. Marriage satisfaction is often associated with appraisals of a partner’s actions as enhancing the relationship. Contrastingly, research suggests focusing on negative behaviors elicited by one’s partners leads to dissatisfaction within the relationship.


Moreover, the same authors conducted an experiment measuring the effects of intentionally hurtful versus unintentionally hurtful words on dependent variables such as relational distancing following the event and level of feelings evoked. They found that not only was relational distancing significantly increased by hurtful words, but physical distancing also arose following the act. Secondly, feelings of hurt were found to have a greater impact on the intentional group, however, the quality of the individual’s relationship with the person invoking emotional harm also factored into the finding. 


The implications of this study calls attention to the weight held by one’s words and by how one listens to their partner. It is important to treat our partners’ with respect, and this is not only done by providing emotional and physical support. It is done by listening to understand and ensuring our words do not carry malicious intent. 


Relational Turbulence


Now that we know what intentionality is and why it’s important in maintaining relationships, what do you do when you’re already experiencing relational turbulence? The solution lies in the relational turbulence model. 


The relational turbulence model exemplifies the effects of relational uncertainty and interdependence within a relationship. As summarized by Rachel M. Mclaren et al., this model states that relational uncertainty renders individuals highly vulnerable to fluctuations within the state of their relationship. The more uncertainty there is in a relationship, the more vulnerable a couple is to relational deterioration. Furthermore, the effects of interdependence are seen through two contrasting actions: interference and facilitation. This refers to how one’s partner responds to their daily and lifelong goals. If these goals are met with interference, the relationship becomes more prone to deterioration, similarly to relational uncertainty. However, facilitation of a partner’s goals is seen to have the opposite effect, reducing this high vulnerability. In sum, relational uncertainty and interference is presumed to lead to higher vulnerability to negative events within the relationship, and can be illustrated by the figure seen below.



The authors mentioned conducted a study utilizing the relational turbulence model to deduce the implications it may have following hurtful messages. They found that uncertainty and interference following hurtful messages positively correlated to perceived relational turbulence, while facilitation showed a negative correlation. These findings suggest that hurtful words, while experiencing uncertainty and interference, further the decline of a relationship. Contrastingly, facilitation within the relationship helps reduce relational turbulence altogether. 


Another study conducted by Rachel M. Mclaren and Keli Ryan Steuber investigated the impact of communicative responses and emotional expression on relationships following a breach of boundaries. To specify, the study focused on how responses to a significant other violating expected confidentiality affected relationship status. The results indicated that anger was inversely related to relationship improvement, with low and controlled anger leading to understanding. Additionally, open and direct communication was shown to promote growth and improvement as well. 


The combined results of these two studies provide insight for the vital steps needed to improve your personal relationships. The findings convey that aiding in the pursuit of your partner’s goals, along with directly communicating in times of distrust are essential to improving relationship quality. Furthermore, avoiding uncontrolled anger and establishing certainty surrounding relationship status are necessary to avoid the plunge towards relational turbulence. 


LIFE Intelligence


LIFE Intelligence aims to promote relationship growth and is an invaluable tool in diminishing relational turbulence. 


For example, refer to mission 1.2 found on the app. This mission stresses the importance of separating facts from thoughts. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us that changing the ways we view an event, such as the intentionality behind our partner's words or actions, can change how we perceive the event altogether. Therefore, LIFE Intelligence explains that by taking a step back and challenging our initial assumptions, we can retrain our thoughts and move towards a more rational understanding of the world around us. This can be used to improve communication between partners and increase overall understanding of situations initially viewed as hurtful. It was seen before that these two qualities are potentially vital in relationship improvement, and your comprehension of these qualities can be improved and mastered on your journey to LIFE. In addition, Missions 7 and 8 directly discuss how to foster lasting relationships. Mission 7.4, discusses how to be supportive of your partner, for instance with what are called “active constructive” replies to good news. Providing such replies facilitates your partner’s goals, as opposed to either passive destructive or active destructive replies that interfere, and thereby create more relationship vulnerability. 


Conclusion


Fostering a healthy relationship with your significant other is key in the maintenance of overall health. Emotional maltreatment can lead to decline in mental health and well-being, which can have lasting implications following you into future relationships. This can be prevented through mutual support and engagement, fostering a healthy relationship in the process. In addition, how we view the intentionality of our partners and how we intend our partners to perceive our actions is a crucial factor in increasing or decreasing relational turbulence. Ultimately, relational turbulence can be reduced through open and direct communication, with controlled emotional expression. These qualities can be learned, trained, and mastered through the numerous missions found on LIFE Intelligence, with the goal to help you live intelligently, as your primary tool to achieve personal growth, relationship growth, and overall success. 



References:


Reed, G. L., & Enright, R. D. (2006). The effects of forgiveness therapy on depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress for women after spousal emotional abuse. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 74(5), 920–929.


Rauer, A., & Volling, B. (2013). More than One Way to be Happy: A Typology of Marital Happiness. Family Process, 52(3), 519–534.


Vangelisti, A. L., & Young, S. L. (2000). When Words Hurt: The Effects of Perceived Intentionality on Interpersonal Relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17(3), 393–424. doi:10.1177/0265407500173005 


McLaren, R. M., Haunani Solomon, D., & Priem, J. S. (2011). Explaining Variation in Contemporaneous Responses to Hurt in Premarital Romantic Relationships: A Relational Turbulence Model Perspective. Communication Research, 38(4), 543–564.


McLaren, R. M., & Steuber, K. R. (2013). Emotions, communicative responses, and relational consequences of boundary turbulence. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 30(5), 606–626.


By: Lucas Bezerra
Just Five Minutes a Day
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