Relational Maintenance

Table of Content


How can partners be able to sustain their relationship? This is a question that bothers a lot of couples in strong relationships, considering the number of break ups that are apparent in the world today. The good news is that it is possible for couples to maintain their relationship by understating relational maintenance and the theories that relate to relational maintenance. Relational maintenance focuses on the daily processes that play part in maintaining a lasting relationship. For a long time, scholars interested in understanding interpersonal relationships have studied the area of relational maintenance. The term relational maintenance is defined differently by different scholars. Dindia and Canary (1993) came up with four basic definitions of the term. The term is at the most basic level used to refer to various behaviors common in partners in their efforts to maintain their relationship. Basically, scholars examine relational endurance or stability. At another level, the term is used to stand for the engagement in acts that assist in sustaining the quality of an association. This means that it is not enough to be together in a stable relationship (Baxter, 1988). The quality of the relationship must also be put into consideration. This is the reason why relational maintenance scholars look at other aspects of a relationship like love, contentment and trust.

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There is yet another definition of the term where it is used to refer to maintaining the status quo of the relationship. This is taken to mean the acts that are involved in maintaining particular states or stages in the relationship. These states or stages are for example, maintaining the current level of closeness. The last definition is derived from the meaning of the term maintenance as repair. The definition involves the examination of how individuals handle problems in their relationship. The last definition is derived from the meaning of maintenance as dialectal tensions that take place naturally in every relationship. For instance, studies have been carried out to investigate how individuals handle their desire for connection while at the same time striving to maintain their individuality. All the definitions of relational maintenance refer to behaviors and actions that operate in different ways to ensure that close relationships are kept steady, fulfilling in a particular stage, and in repair regardless of the pressures that occur naturally in relationships (Stafford and Canary, 1991). This explanation highlights studies that have investigated relational maintenance in reference to each of the given definitions.

This paper seeks to establish which among interdependence theory and dialectics theory, as they apply to relational maintenance, is superior. There are various sections in the paper handling various aspects of the topic. The two theories are discussed in relation to relational maintenance. There is a section on comparison of the two theories, leading to the discussion of the theory that is superior among the two in relation to relational maintenance. There is a summary of the whole paper as a conclusion.

Interdependence theory

The foundation of this theory is the argument that individuals adapt their interactive character in reaction to the ways they perceive patterns of rewards in social situations. The theory argues that results in the relationship depend upon the rewards and costs that are experienced by the partners. The theory puts forward a suggestion that the results are assessed in relation to the prospects that people hold out for what they perceive. The prospects or expectations are referred to as the comparison level. Therefore, the difference between what is actually experienced and what was expected is the measure of the relational satisfaction. Where the results measure up or goes beyond the comparison level, then the person is satisfied. Where the results fall below the comparison level, then the person is dissatisfied. The theory puts forward another argument that satisfaction in itself cannot be used as the basis for relational steadiness. According to Baxter (1988), together with satisfaction, the stability can be evaluated by considering options to relationship.

The measure of this is the comparison level for alternatives. From this measure, if the results match or go beyond alternatives, then there will be stability in the relationship. On the other hand, if the result falls below the expected alternatives, then there is likelihood for the relationship to be unstable. A study by Stanford and Canary (1991) found out that it is possible for maintenance approaches to serve as rewards to the members of the relationship. In this case, the theory would envisage that matching or exceeding expectations for maintenance actions (comparison level) would raise satisfaction in the relationship. From the same study, it was argued that maintenance actions act as both inputs and outputs in calculating equity. This means that maintenance actions that the partners are involved in acts as the rewards, whereas the actions that the individual engage in acts like the costs. There is sense in the argument that insight on the partner’s utilization of maintenance actions act rewarding (Canary & Stafford, 2001).

In a research conducted by Rusbult, Drigotas and Verette (1994) to analyze equity and satisfaction, analyzed in terms of independence theory, over two hundred couples were investigated. The couples fulfilled the procedures of equity, satisfaction and maintenance approaches like honesty, assurance, positivity, sharing, and socialization. The results from the research revealed that satisfaction is always high for partners where they perceive their associations to be equitable. This is followed by over benefited individuals, followed by under benefited individuals (Rusbult, Drigotas & Verette, 1994). This is as per the curvilinear association that is predicted by the equity approach. Additionally, wife-defined equity predicts both spouses’ maintenance behaviors in a similar upturned curvilinear association.

The perceived curvilinear pattern held only for women-defined equity factions was seen to follow perceived curvilinear trends. Another factor that emanated from the research was the equity structure. This is because it was determined that under benefited husbands revealed very low levels of three out of the five maintenance strategies, than the over benefited husbands. The amalgamation of equity and satisfaction in wives was a stronger predictor of relational maintenance than any of the two components in isolation. Relational satisfaction is determined by use of maintenance strategies as well as differences between expected and perceived utilization of maintenance behaviors. However, the use of maintenance strategies is stronger in predicting satisfaction (Canary & Stafford, 2001).

The interdependence theory is well explained in this research. The research is however not all inclusive because the group considered is the married group. There is no consideration on the unmarried couples at their various intimacy levels. Otherwise all the constructs in the study are well presented, providing adequate results to reach to the conclusions put forward in support of the theory.

Dialectics theory

This theory was established for the first time as an alternative observation of relational maintenance. The main concern of this theory is the tensions and disagreements that arise in close relationships. The tensions are usually viewed as the dynamic interplay of contradicting behaviors as they come up in relationships (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). The disagreements are the conflicts that exist in interpenetrated opposites. Therefore the theory refers to an association of opposites as the associates of the relationship strive to accommodate the two sides of opposing poles. The theory also sees relational maintenance as the common, continuous efforts to cope with dialectal pressures. The theory presents an argument that relationships are not static, but dynamic. As a result the people in the relationship are always involved in the management of contrasting tendencies in their efforts to answer the question of how interactions function in the middle of the members of the relationship being held together while at the same time being pushed away from each other. This theory maintains the argument that relationships cannot be in place devoid of the interaction between its opposing parts (Baxter, 1988).

According to this theory, the members of the relationship are said to face three kinds of contradictions (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996). The first kind of contradiction is the autonomy against connectedness. This contradiction is referred to as “primary axigence of relating” (Baxter & Simon 1993, p.227). From their research, they discovered that it is important for partners to have time to understand and relate to the requirements and wants of each other in order to maintain status quo in the relationship. The focus of this contradiction is where the partners have their own independence while at the same time having sufficient connection in the relationship. The implication of this contradiction is that the partners should strike a balance in the relationship. They should not spend a lot of time together at the expense of their individuality, or spend a lot of time away from each other at the expense of the commitment to the relationship (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996).

The second one is openness against closedness. The argument under this contradiction is based on the tension faced by the individuals in the things they should or should not say to each other. There is always a crisis in relationships in deciding what information and how much should be given to the other partner. This tension is mostly experienced before marriage in determining what and how much the other partner deserves to find out (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996).

The last contradiction is predictability against novelty. In this contradiction, the key is the balance between the certainty and the uncertainty in the relationship. In a successful relationship, it is important to balance the predictability and novelty. Failure to achieve this can result in the partners becoming emotionally knocked out or unstable relationship wise (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996).

According to Simon and Baxter (1993), proper approaches to enhancing predictability have not been thoroughly researched for they are not sufficiently provided in relationship writings. Nevertheless, they provide some strategies that have proven operational like celebrating events, surprises and finding ways to reduce boredom. The first kind of contradiction is the tension that takes place as a result of the pressure between wanting to bond and wanting to maintain independence. The second contradiction is the tension that comes up as a result of the desire to be involved in self-disclosure while at the same time wanting to retain privacy. The last contradiction is the tension between finding behaviors that offer stability against the need for impulsiveness. The changes between each of these contradictions are a natural and essential part of every relationship. Therefore, in order to manage a relationship, it is important for the individuals in the relationship to find ways of managing these contradictions.

According to Baxter (1988), there are four principles that can be employed in managing the tensions. The first one is selection.  This means that they need to find ways of selecting one of the poles over the other, for example, selection of independence over connectedness. The second principle in the management of the tensions is separation. The separation can be carried out through either cyclic alternation, or topical segmentation. The third principle is neutralization. This can be done through either moderation or disqualification. The last principle is reframing. This is otherwise referred to as redefining the problem in dialectal reasoning. Reframing of the tension is carried out to ensure that the tension no longer operates as a contradiction. From a research done by Baxter (1990), it was discovered that the most commonly employed principles in the management of tensions are separation by topical segmentation and separation by cyclic option. This means that separation is the most common principle in managing tensions in relationships. From the same research, Baxter discovered that more refined and probably more suitable approaches such as reframing have been underutilized. The conclusion from this study is the evidence that partners do not essentially understand the fluctuations of tensions in relationships and this is the reason why they fail to handle them efficiently (Rusbult, Drigotas & Verette, 1994).

Simon and Baxter carried out a research to test three hypothesis related to the contradictions. The first hypothesis was that “there will be a stronger positive correlation between perceived partner enactment of the connection-enhancing maintenance strategy and participant satisfaction in the autonomy-dominated dialectical moment as opposed to the connection-dominated moment” (Baxter & Simon, 1993, p. 231).  The other hypothesis that they wanted to prove was that “there will be a stronger positive correlation between perceived partner enactment of the novelty-enhancing maintenance strategy and participant satisfaction in the predictability-dominated moment as opposed to the novelty-dominated moment” (Baxter & Simon, 1993, p. 231). The last hypothesis was that “there will be a stronger positive correlation between perceived partner enactment of the closedness-enhancing maintenance strategy and participant satisfaction in the openness-dominated dialectical moment as opposed to the closedness-dominated moment” (Baxter & Simon, 1993, p. 232). In this study questionnaires were distributed to different intimate and married couples. Four hundred questionnaires were given to two hundred couples. The questionnaires were to be completed independently. Due to a number of reasons the number of couples that were investigated went down to one 162. From the research it was discovered that partner association was better in the autonomy-dominated circumstances as compared to the connection-dominated circumstances. These results were in line with the first hypothesis (Rusbult, Drigotas & Verette, 1994).  The results also reveled the fact that intimate efforts were better under the circumstances of extreme predictability that extreme novelty. These results supported the second hypothesis. Statistical analysis of the data in the study provided evidence for the last hypothesis. Nevertheless, the results revealed the fact that it is unproductive to avoid the other person in circumstances of extreme closeness. In analysis of their data, the researchers argue that all maintenance approaches seem to work in particular ways to propel the association towards dialectal balance. The data from the study provides support for this argument. The primary objective of this study was to evaluate the satisfaction of the partners in relationships based on the maintenance approaches under the three contradictions (Rusbult, Drigotas & Verette, 1994).

After going through and analyzing this research, I support the information and conclusions reached by the two researchers. From personal observations and literature review, the hypothesis proposed by the researcher is logical and properly supported by factual data. The results provided and the way that the data is analyzed to draw the conclusions is clear and understandable. The problem however comes out in the fact that the results are generalized for couples without proper distinctions between the married and those dating and in various stages (Baxter, 1988).

Comparison between the two theories

There is theoretical proof that the two theories hold as far as relational maintenance is concerned. The two are true and apply to relational maintenance. The two theories are also applicable to interpersonal relationship. The two theories seek to establish satisfaction in relationship. In the dialectics theory, satisfaction is derived from striking the balance between the opposite poles. These are the maintenance behaviors that need to be satisfied in order to ensure the stability of the relationship. In the interdependence theory, satisfaction is reached through meeting or exceeding the comparison level. In analyzing partners’ satisfaction according to the two theories, various maintenance strategies and approaches are borne in mind. The two theories therefore identify the part played by management strategies and approaches in satisfaction and stability of relationships (Baxter & Montgomery, 1996).

There are however a number of differences between the two theories. The dialectics theory differs from the interdependence theory because the interdependence theory views changes as an irregularity instead of an internal construct. Dialectics theory focuses on the changes themselves where it recognizes the fact that the changes have to occur because they are part of the relationship. The interdependence theory considers the changes though not as part of the relationship. The interdependence theory focuses on the basic level of relationship which is the interpersonal relationship. Dialectics theory on the other hand focuses on the tensions and contradictions that take place between people who are already in the relationship (Stafford & Canary, 1991). The factors that are considered by the two theories as affecting satisfaction in the relationship are different. While the two theories consider maintenance behaviors as crucial in determining satisfaction, interdependence model goes further to look at the perceived expectations being additional factors that determine satisfaction. The interdependence theory puts forward a suggestion that the outcomes in relationships are assessed in relation to the prospects that people hold out for what they perceive. The attention on the tensions as argued by the dialectics theory fails to take into consideration all the other factors. It seems from this theory that the tensions that act as the behaviors that affect every relationship are not only basic, but also the only factors that affect the stability of any relationship. The maintenance strategies identified by the two theories are different. The behaviors that are identified by the dialectics theory are taken as contradictions or tensions that come into play in every intimate relationship. In the interdependence theory the behaviors that are considered include honesty, assurance, positivity, sharing, and socialization (Stafford & Canary, 1991).


The most superior of the two theories is the interdependence theory. This does not mean that the dialectics theory does not apply in relational maintenance. The interdependence theory takes into consideration the fact that human experience is naturally social. Most of person’s traits have originated from interpersonal relations. It is also a fact that most of the strong norms have their origins in interdependence experiences where the norms offer the means to adapt to different situations. In order to perfectly understand human behavior, it is very important that the nature and understanding of interpersonal interaction is obtained. This means that interdependence theory plays the most basic part in relationships. This is the reason why the basic elements of interpersonal relationships are analyzed using the interdependence theory. It is also because it is an inclusive theory of interpersonal processes. Most of the theories in this field persist on adopting a within-person viewpoint, providing an analysis of people’s character from personal-level biological factors, individual characteristics, or cognitive experiences. This theory is the remedy to the actor-based bias (Stafford & Canary, 1991).

It is only interdependence theory that recognizes the most crucial characteristics of interpersonal experiences through a thorough evaluation of situation framework. The reason behind this is the acknowledgement that it is in the interpersonal reality that motives are triggered, toward the orientation of cognition and around the unfolding of interactions. When two individuals are entering into a relationship, they have things that they expect from the relationship. This is what the theory refers to as perceived expectations. Unlike the dialectics theory, the interdependence theory takes into consideration the perceived expectations in the measurement of the satisfaction of the partners. In short, it means that the interdependent theory takes into account more factors that come into play in relational maintenance than the dialectics theory. Where expectations are not met, no matter how a person is able to conquer the tensions and disagreements in a relationship, he or she cannot be satisfied. Meeting expectations is thus very crucial in determining the level of satisfaction in a relationship (Stafford & Canary, 1991).

This theory takes another step to investigate the alternatives. Together with satisfaction, the stability can be evaluated by considering alternatives to relationship. From this measure, if the results match or go beyond alternatives, then there will be stability in the relationship. This means that stability in a relationship is not something that is affected by only one factor as many of the other theories may claim. It is an element that is affected by many other factors, satisfaction and the need to analyze alternatives included. People in a relationship might be satisfied because their expectations are met, but that does not mean that their relationship is stable. This is the reason why the interdependence theory is superior to the dialectics theory (Rusbult, Drigotas & Verette, 1994).


This paper is an investigation of which among interdependence theory and dialectics theory, as they apply to relational maintenance, is superior. The conclusions of all the researches on theories related to relational maintenance reach to a common conclusion that maintenance behaviors have an effect on satisfaction of the partners as well as the stability of the relationship. The two theories discussed are a means to the same end, which is, investigating and understanding relational maintenance. The two theories have some similarities as well as differences. The dialectics theory presents a very crucial argument concerning the contradictory behaviors that determines the stability of any relationship. This is important considering the fact that these contradictions are natural and common to all relationships. The fact that these factors are inherent in every relationship has also been proven practically through research. This is a fact that cannot be denied. However, it is important that even when trying to balance the opposing forces between the two poles, not to forget that there are other factors that play a part in maintaining a lasting relationship. This is what makes the interdependence theory superior to the dialectics theory. The interdependence theory takes into consideration a number of factors that affects the stability of relationships. Although the interdependence theory does not present change as a part of the relationship, this theory is superior in the understanding of the stability of relationships.  According to Simon and Baxter (1993), proper approaches to enhancing predictability have not been thoroughly researched for they are not sufficiently provided in relationship writings. It is important that more research is carried out to find out other factors and how they may affect relationships. There are many other factors left out and should be thoroughly researched.


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