Malcolm R. Parks
I t is difficult to overestimate the role personal relationships play in our lives. While it is certainly true that periods of solitude or relational deprivation can be fertile grounds for creativity and inspiration ( Storr, 1988), it is also true that most people view their personal relationships as the most important sources of meaning and satisfaction in their lives ( Chappell & Badger, 1989; Klinger, 1977; Long, Anderson, & Williams, 1990). Moreover, researchers have demonstrated that inadequate or disrupted personal relationships pose health risks of the same magnitude as poor diet, lack of exercise, and heavy cigarette smoking ( Atkins, Kaplan, & Toshima, 1991; House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). Understanding how personal relationships develop and deteriorate is therefore of great practical, as well as theoretic, importance.
We typically view personal relationships from the inside out, from their interiors. Both as scholars and participants, we usually focus on individuals' direct experience of themselves and their partners. This perspective emphasizes the psychological world of the individual and the dyadic world of the communication between the partners. The view from the interior dominates studies of interpersonal communication and personal relationships. Thus most studies are concerned with the way dyadic partners feel about each other, think about each other, and communicate with each other (see Chapters 6 and 7). Every personal relationship, however, also has an exterior. It occupies a social space, is an object of others' perceptions and actions, and constitutes a small part of the weave of a larger social fabric. Because the participants in a relationship have other relationships, any