Maintaining and Enhancing a
Relationship by Attending to It
Linda K. Acitelli University of Houston
On a movie set with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, a fellow actor revealed that the two were constantly fighting and described them as being like a “pair of caged cats. ” On the surface and out of context, the description might be seen as insulting to their relationship. On the contrary, the description was meant as a tribute to the pair's commitment to one another. Their relationship was so strong that observers knew Hepburn and Tracy would be together no matter how much verbal scratching and clawing they endured. We can also imagine that there must have been tender moments, as well as routine activities, among their interactions. So with such a relationship in mind, what is it that is being maintained? To many theorists, maintenance implies sameness and stability (maintaining the status quo), whereas dialectical theory eschews such a stable notion of relationships, instead regarding relationships as being in constant flux (e.g., Montgomery, 1993). However, regardless of what goes on in the fluctuating day-to-day experience of interaction, one's subjective perception of a relationship is that there is something continuous, some kind of invisible bond that connects people in relationships, regardless of the fluctuating nature of relating. Somehow a relationship exists in partners' and observers' minds even if the connection between them is invisible. So, for Tracy and Hepburn, their relationship was maintained and it worked for them no matter how volatile it may have seemed to outsiders.
A relationship that works implies that there is something about it that is well maintained, not merely maintained. Although there are several definitions of relationship maintenance, the definition employed in this