Some Advantages of Relationship Dissolution

For a variety of reasons—some religious, some social, some economic, some interpersonal, and perhaps some based on an analysis of costs and benefits—people feel that relationships should last and that it’s bad when they end. And so you often respond positively when a couple says they’ve been together for a long period of time and respond with sadness and “I’m sorry” or “that’s too bad” when you hear they’re breaking up. Researchers and textbook authors seem to echo this popular belief. I can’t seem to find this topic in any of the interpersonal communication texts.
Upon more sober reflection, however, it should be clear that there are many advantages to relationship dissolution. Often, the relationship deserves to be dissolved. So, this brief post is in the nature of a suggestion to researchers, textbook authors, instructors, and interpersonal-relationship-watchers to look more carefully at relationship dissolution, particularly its advantages. It’s easy to come up with lots of examples from friendship, love, and even family that illustrate the advantages of relationship dissolution.
Friendships may become destructive or overly competitive—as they might in a variety of work situations—and may be better put aside. When a “friend” makes your self-disclosures public or otherwise betrays your confidence and this becomes a pattern that’s repeated over and over again, it may be time to move from the level of friendship to that of seldom-seen acquaintanceship. When a “friend” just uses you and gives nothing in return, it may be time to dissolve.
Romantic relationships—whether dating, married, domestic partnership, or any other such relationship—may become unbalanced, where one person does all the work and the other reaps all the benefits. Some romantic relationships may become verbally or physically abusive (or the abusiveness reaches an intolerable level) and in these cases, the relationship may be better dissolved.
Even in families, certain members or relationships within the family may become toxic. Partners, parents, or children often become enablers, helping a family member to engage in destructive behavior—for example, helping to hide the alcoholism from friends and relatives and thus helping the partner to continue drinking more comfortably and without social criticism. Gay and lesbian children who are rejected by their families after coming out, may be better off away from homophobic (and guilt-instilling) parents, siblings, and assorted relatives. And the same can be said for a son or daughter who forms a permanent relationship with someone the family disapproves of and will not accept. In this case, a decision of loyalty and primary affiliation may have to be made between family and relationship partner. In at least some of these decisions, greater long-term satisfaction would be achieved by severing family ties rather than abandoning a productive and happy romantic relationship.
When the primary purposes that a friendship, romantic relationship, or family relationship serve are not met, then the relationship is not serving the purposes for which you entered it (or were born into, in the case of family). It may be time to consider the advantages of ending the relationship.
The examples used above should not imply that one of the individuals has to be doing something wrong for dissolution to be an appropriate course of action—although it is easier to see the logic of dissolution when one of the individuals betrays a trust or is unfaithful or becomes abusive. But, there are legitimate reasons for dissolution even when neither party has done anything wrong. People may develop different needs during their relationship together that cannot be met within the confines of the present relationship. Likewise, changes in interests and goals, recognition of one’s true affectional orientation, or finding a greater love may all be legitimate reasons for relationship dissolution. Relationship dissolution should not imply that someone did something wrong; there is no reason to assume that it’s necessary for someone to do something wrong to warrant dissolving a relationship.
Conversely, it should not be assumed that because people stay together there is something noble about them or about their relationship. Long-lasting relationships are not necessarily better than relationships of short duration. We need not praise long lasting relationships, nor condemn short relationships. The length of time people stay in a relationship actually says little about the nature of the relationship. Dramatic examples of this are seen daily on Jerry Springer and Maury where people are in long-term relationships that most people would find repulsive. Less dramatic examples are likely to be found everywhere else.
And, of course, there are general benefits that need to be written into the equation. One obvious benefit is that you rid yourself of destructive influences; there seems little point in retaining relationships that are unproductive, unhealthy, and hurtful. Another benefit is that you probably have learned something from the experience that you can then apply to new and, ideally at least, more satisfying and more productive relationships. And, hopefully, you probably have had some time to get to know yourself a lot better.
At the same time, it needs to be recalled that we enter relationships for a variety of reasons and it may be worth the effort to repair the relationship to get back what we had originally. The difficulty with this “theory” is that we can never be sure if and when, in the face of repeated failures at attempts to repair the relationship, the next attempt wouldn’t succeed. So, at some point, it may be best to say, “I tried and now I need to move on.” Treating relationships as if they can be easily and appropriately discarded is unlikely to yield long-term benefits. Perhaps equally unlikely to yield long-term benefits, is remaining in unproductive and destructive relationships.
The decision to stay in a relationship that does not fulfill your needs or is destructive or to end the relationship is not an easy one to make, since so many factors come into play. Religious beliefs, the attitudes of family members and close friends, and the economic implications of staying together versus separating are just a few of the more obvious factors that would logically influence such decisions.


Public Speaking Eloquence

Here's an interesting article from yesterday's New York Times. It should provide a neat bridge between the public speaking course and the election rhetoric. It also contains some interesting observations from communication profs Kathleen Hall Jamieson and David Zarefsky.


Dysfunctional Relationships

One of the themes in commercials, at least recently, seems to be the dysfunctional relationship.
In one commercial, for T-Mobile, a dating couple (at least they look like they’re dating) go shopping. She asks him for his opinion on two dresses, two pairs of shoes, and two sets of earrings. In each case, he indicates his preference and she rejects it, selecting the other choice. He then uses this insight to get the phone color he wants. So, in addition to learning that you have color choices--which is the pitch of this particular commercial—the message also seems to be saying that dishonest questions are the rule of the day, and that deception, deceit, and disconfirmation are all part of the dating and relationship experience.
In another phone commercial—this one for Verizon—the father tells everyone in the family that each is No. 1 and then, when alone, acknowledges that he is “numero uno.” So, in addition to telling the viewer that Verizon has certain capabilities, the commercial also communicates the suggestion to tell people what they want to hear (even members of your own family) and then just go on your merry way.
In a Domino’s Pizza commercial a couple is waiting for delivery. The man, trying to look his sexiest, says we have 30 minutes to delivery and asks if she has any ideas as to how to spend the time. Her response: What will we do with the other 28 minutes? If anyone wants a lesson in how to make his or her partner feel totally inadequate, this commercial will tell you how to do it. The woman is made to look unsupportive, critical, and extremely negative; the man is made to look like an unresponsive fool.
In still another commercial, one for Fidelity Investments, a couple is talking about retirement planning. The husband is trying to act knowledgeable but the wife knows and shows in no uncertain terms that he really knows nothing about finance. She makes her life partner of maybe 30 or 40 years look like a complete imbecile and seems to enjoy the experience. So, in addition to making the point that Fidelity Investments does everything for you, the commercial perpetuates the stereotypes of the incompetent man and the nagging woman and tells us what to expect in a relationship—criticism, one person putting down the other, and an inability or unwillingness to relate in any meaningful way.
I assume that these commercials do persuade some people to buy the product and that some people do find these funny—otherwise, I guess, they wouldn’t be on television and the company wouldn’t be spending millions to air them. Exactly why these commercials are effective or why they are thought funny, however, is not at all clear to me. But, I am convinced that these commercials contribute at least somewhat to teaching viewers about relationships— the way to disconfirm and manipulate your relationship partner, the way you can insult and demoralize your partner, and the kinds of antagonistic relationships you can expect to have.
I suspect a useful interpersonal communication exercise could easily be developed around the search for gender stereotypes, compliance-gaining, confirmation and disconfirmation, relationship conflict, ethics, and a variety of other concepts and principles in television, print, and Internet commercials. Perhaps some commercials can be found that offer more productive and functional relationship examples. It would be nice.


Social Networking

There's an interesting article in Thursday's NYTimes on the social networking sites and especially how people manage the impressions they communicate. A variety of communication researchers are cited. Among the most interesting of the findings is that the atrractiveness of your friends on Facebook will influence how attractive people think you are. If you have attractive friends, you'll be perceived as more attractive than you would if you had less attractive friends. Of course, we already knew that--you need A-list friends if you're going to be seen as A-list yourself. But, it's interesting to see that this also holds in cyberspace. Joe Walther, communication professor from Michigan State, did the study which will be published in HCR. The article will make for interesting class discussion on impression formation and social networking.