Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Modelling Control in Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Modelling Control in Relationships

Article excerpt

An understanding of the processes that occur during dating can help us build a general theory about intimate relationships. In building a general theory, we need to first examine those processes that social scientists have seen as critical in understanding interaction in close relationships. Among the important processes that have been examined are commitment (Kelley, 1983), love (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1992), conflict (Braiker & Kelley, 1979), and power (Huston, 1983). It is the process of power, and in particular, the use of power--that is, control--that is addressed in this research.

Much research on power in relationships has been confined to family power (see Szinovacz, 1987, for a review) rather than addressing power in intimate relationships in general. In addition, the emphasis has been on the distribution and basis of power (Blood & Wolfe, 1960) as well as on the consequences of power--for example, decision making (Olson & Cromwell, 1975)--rather than on how power is used in interaction. Control among intimates (Stets, 1993) or what others have termed "power exertion" (Szinovacz, 1987) or "power in action" (French & Raven, 1959) is the degree to which one intentionally regulates another's behavior (Cartwright, 1959). Studying control among intimates can tell us how and when power reveals itself in interaction. This, in turn, can provide important theoretical insights into the nature of intimate relationships, in general.

In an earlier study, I explored control among intimates (Stets, 1993). Using a national sample of people who date, I examined control over one's partner and addressed three precipitating factors: the stage of the relationship, perspective taking (taking the view of one's partner), and relationship conflict. I found that control was more likely to occur when an individual's perspective taking was low and when conflict was high. I argued that low perspective taking and high conflict produce the feeling that one lacks control over the environment. In response, one controls one's partner to compensate for this lack of control.

Control in relationships needs further investigation to both verify these findings and to develop a more comprehensive theoretical model of control among intimates. Using a broad sample of college daters, I investigate whether my earlier findings (Stets, 1993) can be replicated and extended. The earlier model is broadened to examine other factors that would help rule out a spurious relationship between control and the factors previously examined, and that would more correctly specify the processes leading to control over one's partner.


Control Through Compensation

Previous research reveals that control over the environment is important to human functioning. People are motivated to manipulate their environment (Gecas, 1982; White, 1959), to be masters of their own fate (deCharms, 1979), and to control the events in their lives (Burger, 1992). Cumulative successful experiences of controlling the environment lead to a feeling of efficacy (Bandura, 1986) or mastery (Pearlin, Menaghan, Lieberman, & Mullen, 1981). In contrast, the inability to control the environment may lead to a feeling of alienation (Blauner, 1964) or depression (Pearlin et al., 1981), or to the action of controlling another to compensate for the lack of control (Stets, 1994). It is the latter response that this research addresses.

Control over others is a fundamental process in interaction. Coordinated activity involves a certain amount of negotiation, compromise, or mutual control (Cooley, 1909; Goffman, 1959; Mead, 1934; McCall & Simmons, 1978). Control in interaction is also reciprocal (Sites, 1975). Thus, no person is without control capability, although there is variation in individuals' intent to use that control, and there is variation in access to resources that may make an individual capable of controlling. The control I examine here, however, is different from the typical control found in everyday interaction. …

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