The Meaning of "Relationship" in Interpersonal Communication

By Richard L. Conville; L. Edna Rogers | Go to book overview
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Intimacy, represented by the depth dimension, indicates the degree of emotional closeness or separateness. Patterns of sentiment and emotional closeness can be expressed in many forms and different modes of behavior. The "heart" of the intimacy dimension rests on the degree to which each is known by the other and the extent to which the other has become part of one's own self-definition, such that there is a potential relational irreplaceability and exclusivity.

The proposed combination of the control, intimacy, and trust dimensions offers a potentially useful approach for mapping the interactive complexities of interpersonal relationships. The model provides a conceptual frame for identifying relationships in comparable ways and integrating research efforts. Further, it allows a visualization of the interwoven movements of the members as they move in and around and away from one another in the performance and construction of their relationship. When relationships are conceptualized as a mutually defined, emergent relational form, emphasis is placed on the interactive cycles produced and reproduced through the members' distance-regulating, communicative behaviors.


The study of social relationships and the underlying communicative processes out of which they emerge and take shape is neither a trivial concern nor a small undertaking. Different approaches are open to us that offer different forms of insight and, thus, if appropriately integrated, a more comprehensive view of relationships. However, a clear challenge for interpersonal communication study is how to conceptualize and investigate the process of interrelating so that the human, social, and formative qualities inherent within this process are not lost. Such has been the goal of the relational communication perspective.

Relational communication is an interaction-based approach to the study of interpersonal relationships. Grounded within a systemic, cybernetic perspective, this approach gives primary attention to the jointly produced patterns of interrelating with one another. The emergent social structurings created in the ongoing communication process between relational members give life and form to their relationships. Through communication, we offer definitions of self in relation to other and simultaneously shape the nature of our relationship. Definitions can be accepted, resisted, or modified; the process of defining relationships is, by its nature, a process of negotiation.


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The Meaning of "Relationship" in Interpersonal Communication


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