Relationship Experiences and
Harry T. Reis
Few would argue with the proposition that social involvement is related in an intrinsic and profound way to happiness. Summarizing a sweeping review of the literature, Argyle (1987) concluded that “social relationships are a major source of happiness, relief from distress, and health” (p. 31). Shortly thereafter, Myers (1992) called the importance of social relations to human happiness a “deep truth.” Most accounts of human motivation and development accord relational striving a similarly central role. Attachment theory, for example, regards the “capacity to make intimate emotional bonds with other individuals …as a principal feature of effective personality functioning and mental health” (Bowlby, 1988 p. 121). Indeed, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find theories that do not assign relationships a fundamental role in human development and adaptation. Even the emerging field of evolutionary psychology makes the “need to belong” (Baumeister & Leary, 1995)—that is, the pervasive desire to form and maintain enduring relationships with others—a central factor in the evolutionary design of mechanisms for perception, cognition, and action (Barkow, Cosmides, & Tooby, 1992; Kenrick & Trost, 1997).
In this light, it seems sensible that a symposium focused on emotion should be directly interested in the complex interplay of social relations, relationship processes, and emotional experience. Nevertheless, it would be generous to call the field's understanding of the mechanisms by which interpersonal relations and emotion influence each other rudimentary. Ekman and Davidson highlighted this gap in summarizing the views of a diverse set of emotion theorists, each of whom had been asked to comment on the function of emotion: “While interpersonal functions have generally been given short shrift in comparison to intrapersonal functions …[a]ll the contributors believe that emotions are brought into play most often by the actions of others, and, once aroused, emotions influence the course of interpersonal transactions” (1994, p. 139). In other words, although relationships