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Book Chapter

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Maintaining Relationships Through Communication: Relational, Contextual, and Cultural Variations


As social creatures, we spend our lives in the company of others, rather than in isolation. Consequently, we maintain many relationships out of need rather than desire. Unfortunately, some of these relationships are ones that we would not maintain if given a choice. Although a considerable amount of research on relational dynamics can be applied to unwanted relationships, scholars have made little attempt to generate an integrated overview of what communication characteristics typify such relationships, how they differ from desirable relationships, or how they should best be maintained.

The maintenance of unwanted relationships piques public interest. Articles with titles such as You Bug Me! (Precker, 2000) and Do You Attract People You’d Rather Repel? (Finella, 2000) that are scattered throughout the pages of newspapers and magazines, and books such as Dealing With People You Can’t Stand (Brinkman & Kirschner 1994) serve as a testament to the attraction such relationships have on people’s attention. But unwanted relationships should catch attention as well because a closer examination of these relationships could broaden and enrich our understanding of personal relationships. Relationships people want to maintain pose challenges (e.g., managing dialectical tensions or dealing with conflict), but greater challenges can arise in relationships that one or both parties wish did not exist. It seems likely that at both an individual and societal level, more problems arise from relationships people would not maintain if given a choice than from relationships that people choose to nurture. The widely documented tensions in Ireland, the Middle East, and the former Yugoslavia may illustrate some problems that result from social groups being unwillingly forced to coexist. At an interpersonal level, individuals face undesirable relationships on a regular basis and often experience negative consequences from them (Hess, 2000; Levitt, Silver, & Franco, 1996).

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Lawrence Erlbaum and Associates

Place of Publication

Mahwah, NJ