Confronting Relationship Challenges


Edited by: Steve Duck & Julia T. Wood

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  • Understanding Relationship Processes

    Series Editor

    Steve Duck, University of Iowa

    This series of books on the theme Understanding Relationship Processes provides a coherent and progressive review of current thinking in the field. Uniquely organized around the notion of relational competence, the six volumes constitute a contemporary, multidisciplinary handbook of relationship research for advanced students and professionals in psychology, sociology, communication, family studies, and education.

    Volumes in the Series



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    Series Preface

    This short series, Understanding Relationship Processes, responds to recent calls for attention to processes in relationships. A close look at the nature of processes in relationships will reveal that, over and above the importance of change, temporality, and an orientation to the future, there lies beneath most process thinking on relationships the implicit notion of competent use of knowledge across time. For example, this assumption is true of many elements of the work on relationships, such as the (competent) transition to marriage, (skilled) conflict management, (appropriate) self-disclosure, and (orderly) organization or (satisfactory) maintenance of relationships diachronically. The assumption also is contained in any discussion of intimacy assessment or creation of “a couple” (by which authors evaluate, usually implicitly, the degrees of intimacy or progress that are adequate, allowable, suitable, or competent) and is latent in discussions of relationship breakdown where researchers treat breakdown as failure or incompetence, contrasted with skill or competence.

    Such competence is evident in, and constrained by, a variety of influences on behavior. In focusing on some of these topics, this series moves conceptually outward; that is, the series began with the contributions of individuals—and their developmental experiences—to relationships and moved toward social context and interpersonal interaction. Individuals bring into relationships their individual characteristics and factors that reflect their point in the life cycle and their developmental achievements. Individuals are influenced by the social settings (situational, cultural, linguistic, and societal) in which relationships take place; they are constrained and influenced by the structural, transactional, behavioral, and communicative contexts of their relationships; and they sometimes conduct relationships in dysfunctional environments or disrupted emotional contexts. The series takes these contextual themes in sequence and deals with the latest research and thinking to address these topics.

    Accordingly, each volume focuses on a particular context or arena for relationship activity. The volumes of the series are as follows:

    Individuals in Relationships. Volume 1 deals particularly with the ways in which internal or intrapersonal context is provided by structures of the mind or of knowledge that are prerequisite to success in relationships; however, rather than focusing on such things as if they were the end of the story, the chapters place such knowledge styles and structures in context by referring frequently to behavioral effects of such structures.

    Learning About Relationships. Volume 2 covers especially the skills and experiences in childhood that lay the groundwork for competence as a properly functioning relater in adult life; the volume emphasizes the wide range of social sources from which development of competence is derived and the richness of the social sources from which developing minds acquire their sense of relationship competence.

    Social Context and Relationships. Volume 3 focuses especially on the social structural constraints within which relationships are located and the ways in which the two partners must negotiate and deal with the dialectical and interior pressures that are created by such contexts.

    Dynamics of Relationships. Volume 4 deals with the dyadic management of relational conduct in the context provided by the earlier volumes and explores the issues of competent relational management that are created by the transactions of relating—not the factors that influence or prepare the ground for relationships, but the actual doing of them.

    Confronting Relationship Challenges (Steve Duck & Julia T. Wood, coeditors). Volume 5 turns the series toward the difficult side of relationships and away from any implication that relationships are only good and delightful. Relationship processes encompass “binds” as well as “bonds” (in Wiseman's [1986] elegant play on words), and both must be included in an understanding of relationship processes.

    Under-Studied Relationships: Off the Beaten Track (Julia T. Wood & Steve Duck, coeditors). Volume 6 recognizes and begins to rectify existing scholarship's tendency to focus on only particular types of relationships and particular issues in relationships, and thus to ignore or underacknowledge the range of real-world relationships and the myriad processes they entail. A full understanding of relationship processes must include consideration of theoretically inconvenient and/or socially disfavored instances as well as instances (or phenomena) whose value and importance traditionally have been acknowledged in research.


    Volume Preface

    The first two volumes in this series, Understanding Relationship Processes, outline the contribution of individual knowledge to the conduct of relationships, whether from the point of view of cognitive structure or of the learning that takes place in childhood. The next two volumes explore the relational contexts provided by, respectively, various external, nonindividual, and nondyadic influences, and by interior, dynamic, transactional processes. Volume 3, Social Context and Relationships, focuses on contexts provided by various social, cultural, structural, and network processes. Volume 4, Dynamics of Relationships, focuses on the sense in which specific relational behaviors are located in sequences and in partners’ continual accommodations to one another.

    The present book, Confronting Relationship Challenges, Volume 5 in the series, moves us toward a different set of issues—that is, what can go wrong with relationships or what can make them troublesome. The consistent attention to values, benefits, and joys of relationships, coupled with scant attention to problems, challenges, and costs of relationships, has cultivated a body of scholarship that could be interpreted as suggesting relationships are unreservedly good things. Writers have indicated the benefits and blessings of relationships, the fact that they are close and supportive, and the evidence showing that we all regard them as central to our lives and happiness. However, that pleasantness has another aspect. That which can be pleasing can also deny pleasure; that which can be supportive can fail to provide support; that which can generate happiness can also prompt pain and, indeed, suffering.

    The contributors to the present volume consider some of the ways in which relationships provide us with challenges. Not all aspects of relationships are good, even when the relationships are close, and some require considerable skills of management and tolerance. Relationships involve shame and anger as well as joy and love, acts of betrayal or letting down as well as displays of commitment. In addition to challenges within relationships, everyday irritations from outside relationships can also seep in to tarnish our connections with other people. And within relationships themselves there are dynamics that can create tension, resentment, and disappointment from time to time.

    As well as looking at such aspects of relationships, the chapters in the present volume make the subtler point that relationships themselves are not simple positive/negative, black/white, good/bad, competent/challenging things. Many relationship experiences are an oxymoronic mixture of elements (love/hate, for example, or the sweet sorrows of parting). An obvious example is the fact that pain as well as growth can result from conflict. Furthermore, several aspects of relating are not self-evidently positive or negative, but may appear in the light of later occurrences to have been mixed blessings or perhaps the reverse of what participants first interpreted (or understood) them to be. Finally, retrospection may select and selectively edit different aspects of relational events as characteristic of those events, so that positivity is transformed into negativity, and vice versa.

    This volume and this series thus challenge any appearance that relationships consist of single interactions devoid of contexts, unitary experiences devoid of nuance and reformulation, or developments that are not transformative of meaning. Relationships are more than mere sequences of behavior or cumulations of individual acts; they gain their existence from the meanings of such sequences and cumulations—and the human processes of creating and sharing meaning are both complex and continuous (Duck, 1994a). In investing activities and communication with dynamic continuity, partners in relationships create a context within which to comprehend their connectedness to one another and to confront the challenges it brings.

    In Chapter 1, Duck and Wood assert the importance of exploring both rough and smooth contexts of relationships and of considering how partners manage the two elements together to produce a sense of the relationship's character. Unpleasant relational experiences are important for the development of sound theories that should be able to account for negative relational experiences, recognizing them as common human experiences that are as fully part of relationships as are positive experiences. The combination of positive and negative experiences creates the wholeness that most people experience in their relationships.

    Retzinger opens Chapter 2 by noting that quarrels are common in personal relationships. She then explores the role of anger and shame in the conduct of everyday relationships. Taking the view that conflict is a response to a lapse in the social bond and the emergence and handling of shame and anger, Retzinger seeks to fulfill the mission of the present volume by focusing on these processes that underlie conflict in personal relationships. She argues that when persons interact in conflict there are exchanges of meaning. Meaning is intricately tied to the bond between the individuals, the manner in which they communicate, and the emotions expressed and exchanged. As a result, some kinds of interaction may be more prone to conflict than others. Retzinger argues that if the role of emotions and meaning in conflict can be described, we may have a better understanding of how relationships are built, maintained, damaged, and repaired.

    In Chapter 3, Wiseman and Duck deal with a common relationship that receives virtually no research attention, that of enemies. Just as people have friends, they have enemies, antagonists, and opponents who try to make their lives more difficult and who interfere with their attainment of goals. Enemies are not merely conceptual abstractions, but persons who actively interfere with the processes of social life. They represent a particularly important and interesting relationship challenge for ordinary folks and also offer students of social relations some important theoretical challenges. Enemyship is a distinctive type of relationship that most existing theories of relationships are quite unable to explain. Furthermore, the analysis suggests that, far from being simple opposites, friendship and enemyship have a certain number of important similarities; however, they also have some distinctly different dynamics. For example, whereas mutual acknowledgment is a sine qua non of friendship, a feature of enemyship in many cases is its unacknowledged character—and that needs management.

    Coleman and Ganong focus in Chapter 4 on the challenge of reconfiguring a “family” after divorce. Pointing out that the traditional model of “the family” overlooks a number of possible alternative structures that have recently come to prominence, the authors consider the comparisons between revision of parents’ and children's roles in a family and between the processes that occur when two adults reconceptualize themselves and their roles after divorce. Coleman and Ganong indicate that the emotional challenges of reconfiguring a family are compounded by various institutional insensitivities that add to the difficulties of reconfigured families. This leads them to recommend that scholars develop models that contribute to the more complete institutionalization of postdivorce reconfigured families.

    In Chapter 5, Wright and Wright assert that it would be most useful to shift the currently dominant focus on the relational challenges represented by codependency as a personality syndrome to codependent relating as a process that emerges and persists within a particular kind of personal relationship. They point out that a process view is implicit, if not explicit, in most present-day approaches to codependency treatment. These approaches emphasize the necessity of the codependent's altering her or his pattern of relating to the “dependent” in order for any personal or relational change to occur. One implication of the proposed model is that codependent relating is not likely to surface apart from an appropriate “mix” of personal and situational influences. Those influences include the self-attributes of not one, but two individuals, whom we label as a “codependent” and a “dependent.” Wright and Wright thus offer an exciting new—relational—way to conceptualize the codependency challenge.

    In Chapter 6, West explores the particularly dark challenge of relationship violence through the lens of an ideological analysis. Taking the view that ideology is built into the way in which we all conduct our relationships and also shapes the contexts and partners’ options within those contexts (compare Volume 3 of this series, Social Context and Relationships), West presents the case that an ideology of “normal” family structure and the relative power of men and women pervades the ways in which violence in relationships is treated. Presenting evidence that various cultural institutions are ideologically invested in supporting a family structure in which some relational partners are seen as the “property” of other people, West indicates how such contexts affect those persons who are the victims of violence in relationships.

    Bowen and Michal-Johnson consider in Chapter 7 one of the most pressing social challenges of the present age: HIV/AIDS. They examine three specific high-risk relational situations that militate against individuals’ protecting themselves against HIV/AIDS: alcohol abuse, drug abuse, and relationship violence. Their treatment of each of these contexts is consistent with this series's focus on processes, as they specifically concentrate on the personal and interpersonal processes that increase or decrease the HIV risk of sexual activity. Just as this particular volume challenges many of the assumptions that underlie traditional understandings of relationship goals and behaviors, Bowen and Michal-Johnson ask us to consider how HIV risk challenges traditional assumptions about relationship processes.

    In Chapter 8, Lyons and Meade develop an analogy between the remodeling of a home and the changes that take place in a relationship when one of the involved persons develops a serious chronic illness. They ask what relational adaptations are necessary to accommodate to the physical problems and what challenges the partners particularly face in coping with such adaptations. Lyons and Meade offer an intriguing interpretation of some of these changes in terms of dialectical theory and stress the paradoxical unity of competing forces in the relationship that are brought about by the illness and its management.

    In the final chapter, Harvey, Barnes, Carlson, and Haig discuss the impact of memories on the process of grieving and the effects of bereavement as these experiences affect the survivors of the deaths of loved ones and how those deaths have affected them over a period of time. The authors discuss the idea of being “held captive” by memory, as both a positive and a challenging experience for the survivor. Because such memories constitute an important context for the continued life of the surviving person, the memories construct and shape not only feelings about the dead loved one but also the survivor's experience of everyday life. Another topic of the analysis is how habits connected to interaction with dead loved ones also may exert continued power over the bereaved person.

    Together, the chapters in the present volume add considerable depth of perspective to our understanding of relationship processes by indicating the dynamic crucible in which amalgamation of the everyday-life routines and forces of communicative, psychological, sociological, and developmental influences takes place. They thus follow up on the argument implicit in the third and fourth volumes of this series, that relationships have many sides that are lived by the participants in contexts, not merely “outcomes” produced by cognitive states or relational history. Relationships are constructed and forged by real human beings facing everyday dilemmas and dynamically wrestling to construct meaningful interpretations of themselves, each other, and their relationships as all evolve and interact in continually changing contexts.

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    Author Index

    About the Contributors

    Melanie K. Barnes is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at DePauw University. She has an M.S. from Illinois State University and is in the process of finishing her doctoral dissertation at the University of Iowa. Her research interests lie in the area of relational communication and include the role of supportive communication in grief and loss, the social construction of close relationships, and language and discourse in everyday contexts.

    Sheryl Perlmutter Bowen is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts at Villanova University. She studies sensitive health communication processes, including personal relationships and AIDS discourse, and culturally sensitive HIV education for college students, African Americans, and women. She is coeditor of Transforming Visions: Feminist Critiques in Communication Studies (1993).

    Heather R. Carlson is a graduate student in the Community Counseling Program at Loyola University and Director of Research for Controlled Resources, Inc., in Chicago. She received a B.A. from the University of Iowa. Her research and counseling activities have focused on grief, eating disorders, and life skills training.

    Marilyn Coleman, Ed.D., is Professor and former Chair of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri. She received an M.S. in child development from the University of Missouri and a doctorate in special education from the University of Missouri. Since 1969, she has been a member of the faculty of the University of Missouri, where she currently teaches courses on marriage and divorce, the changing American family, and remarriage and stepparenting. She is editor of the Journal of Marriage and the Family and also serves or has served on the editorial boards of several other journals, including Family Relations, Journal of Family Issues, and Lifestyles: Family and Economic Issues. She has authored or coauthored three books as well as numerous study guides, book chapters, and journal articles. She has won awards for research and leadership from the American Home Economics Association, and the University of Missouri has honored her with several research and teaching awards. Her research interests are in the areas of remarriage and stepparenting, love, sex roles, and family structure stereotypes.

    Steve Duck is currently the Daniel and Amy Starch Research Professor at the University of Iowa, Iowa City. He is the founding editor of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, and editor or author of more than 25 books on personal relationships. He is the founder of the International Network on Personal Relationships, the professional organization for the field, and has established two series of international conferences on relationships.

    Lawrence H. Ganong, Ph.D., is Professor of Nursing and Human Development and Family Studies in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He received an M.S. in family studies from Kansas State University, an M. Ed, in counseling psychology from the University of Missouri, and a Ph.D. in family studies from the University of Missouri. He held a faculty position at Central Missouri State University prior to joining the University of Missouri faculty in 1980. He teaches courses in family dynamics and intervention, theories of human development, and research methods, and also regularly teaches a graduate course on remarriage and stepparenting with Marilyn Coleman. He serves or has served on the editorial boards of several professional journals, including the Journal of Marriage and the Family, Family Relations, and the Journal of Family Issues. He has authored or coauthored two books, a study guide, and approximately 100 articles in professional and popular publications. His two primary research interests are remarriage and stepparenting, and family-related stereotypes, although he has also done research on sex roles, love, and parent education.

    Jeffrey Haig received his B.A. from Hobart College and his M.A. from Antioch University in Seattle. He worked as a therapist in Seattle before relocating to Iowa City. His research focus is on grief and loss.

    John H. Harvey is a Psychology Professor at the University of Iowa. He is coeditor, with Ickes and Kidd, of the three-volume New Directions in Attribution Research (1976, 1978, 1981) and, with Weber, of Perspectives on Close Relationships (1994). He is coauthor, with Kelley and associates, of Close Relationships (1983) and author of the forthcoming Odyssey of the Heart: Closeness, Intimacy, and Love.

    Renee F. Lyons, Ph.D., is Associate Professor and Graduate Coordinator in the School of Recreation, Physical and Health Education, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She received her master's degree in counseling psychology from Xavier University in Cincinnati and her doctorate in leisure studies (lifestyle adjustment and disability) from the University of Oregon. Her research interests concern coping and adjustment in chronic illness and disability, particularly the clarification of relational issues and adaptational strategies.

    Darlene Meade is a graduate student in health education at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is interested in how women's social relationships influence personal identity and well-being. She is also interested in the use of qualitative, participatory research methods. She and her husband operate a mussel farm in a small seaside village in Nova Scotia.

    Paula Michal-Johnson is Associate Professor of Communication Arts at Villanova University. Her research into sensitive health communication processes involves personal relationships and AIDS discourse, culturally sensitive HIV education, and disclosure of HIV in home health care.

    Suzanne M. Retzinger, Ph.D., is the author of articles on conflict, mediation, emotions, and mental illnesses. She has worked in the area of conflict and conflict resolution for the past 12 years and is the author of violent Emotions: Shame and Rage in Marital Quarrels (1991) and coauthor, with T. J. Scheff, of Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts (1991). She is currently a family relations mediator with the superior courts in California.

    James T. West teaches classes in the Department of Communication at the University of Hawaii. He received his Ph.D. in communication from the University of Utah in 1992, and his dissertation, on violence between intimates, received the national Speech Communication Association's 1992 Dissertation of the Year Award. He is also President of Quintessential Writing, Inc., which produces interactive CD-ROMs on organizational communication, quality service, and customer satisfaction.

    Jacqueline P. Wiseman, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, has been a Visiting Professor at Yale, Dartmouth, and the University of Helsinki. She won the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems for her monograph, Stations of the Lost. She also was awarded the George Herbert Mead Award by the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction for distinguished career research contributions. She has served as a member of the National Academy of Sciences Panel on Alcohol Policies, the governing councils of the American Sociological Association, the Pacific Sociological Association, the National Council on Family Relations, and the Groves Family Conference as well as president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems.

    Julia T. Wood is Nelson R. Hairston Distinguished Professor of Communication Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she teaches and conducts research on personal relationships and gender, communication, and culture. Within those areas she has written or coauthored eight books, coedited four others, and published more than 60 articles and chapters in books. She is cofounder of the National Conference on Research on Gender and Communication.

    Katherine D. Wright, a licensed professional counselor and licensed addiction counselor, maintains a private practice in Grand Forks, North Dakota. She received a Ph.D. in counseling from the University of North Dakota in 1975.

    Paul H. Wright, Professor of Psychology at the University of North Dakota, received a Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Kansas in 1963. His research speciality is personal relationships.

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