Ongoing Aspects of Relationships
and Health Outcomes: Social Support,
Social Control, Companionship,
and Relationship Meaning
Barbara R. Sarason
Irwin G. Sarason University of Washington
Although social support is widely acknowledged to play an important role in health outcomes and psychological well-being, researchers are not in agreement concerning what aspects of support are most beneficial. Perhaps the extent of this controversy has been prolonged because too much attention has been focused on social support and, as a consequence, other broader categories of relationship behavior have been ignored. Social support has been granted an extraordinary amount of explanatory power and precision, but to be optimally useful it needs to be considered in the context of the complexities of social life. In this chapter, we explore how, by taking a more inclusive view of the aspects of human interaction, we may be able to refine our understanding not only of social support, but also of how personal relationships impact on health and well-being. We also explore how relationship satisfaction and maintenance may be related to these categories of relationship behavior as well as serving as potential mediators between relationship behaviors and health outcomes.
Some time ago, Coyne and DeLongis (1986) argued that social support is more of an abstract theoretical construct rather than a working definition that can be easily operationalized. One way to improve this situation is to make clear that close relationships serve a number of important functions of which social support is only one and to recognize that these other relationship functions may also play a role in personal health and well-being. Social support as well as companionship and social control should be studied to increase understanding of the role relationships play in