The Communication of Compliments in Romantic Relationships: An Investigation of Relational Satisfaction and Sex Differences and Similarities in Compliment Behavior

By Doohan, Eve-Anne M.; Manusov, Valerie | Western Journal of Communication, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

The Communication of Compliments in Romantic Relationships: An Investigation of Relational Satisfaction and Sex Differences and Similarities in Compliment Behavior


Doohan, Eve-Anne M., Manusov, Valerie, Western Journal of Communication


"In our everyday lives we form, develop, and dissolve relationships through talk; we express personality, give social support, indicate power, demonstrate interdependence, persuade, cajole, quarrel, invite, reject, divorce, propose, proposition, and propitiate primarily in talk" (Duck, 1994a, p. 10). That is, much of the meaning of relationships is understood and created through daily conversations and interactions. Everyday talk presents a rhetorical vision or an image of a topic that creates an expectation for the future of the relationship and how it may continue (Duck, 1994b). Additionally, romantic partners may use everyday talk to demonstrate to others the nature of their relationship, often demonstrating a symbolic union by providing evidence that the relational partners "share an appreciation of the relationship and that they also happen to approach important experiences in similar ways" (Duck, 1994b, p. 53).

Compliments constitute one type of everyday conversational device that occur in interpersonal relationships. Holmes (1988) defined a compliment as "a speech act which explicitly or implicitly attributes credit to someone other than the speaker, usually the person addressed, for some 'good' which is positively valued by the speaker and the hearer" (p. 446), and the importance of compliments as speech acts worthy of study has been well documented in research (Barnlund & Araki, 1985; Holmes, 1988; Knapp, Hopper, & Bell, 1984; Manes, 1983; Nelson, E1 Bakary, & A1 Batal, 1993; Pomerantz, 1978; Wolfson & Manes, 1980). Viewing compliments as important, relational speech acts situates them as cultural constructions that reflect agreed upon ways of behaving (Philipsen, 1997).

Despite knowing that compliments represent a common, culturally embedded form of communication used within close relationships, and despite our understanding that communication practices are informed as well by relational culture, researchers have not focused attention on the nature of compliments as they occur within close relationships. For scholars interested in the development and maintenance of relationships, however, "the compliment is a speech act worthy of study because it is ubiquitous, valued and problematic" (Knapp et al., 1984, p. 12). Our goal is therefore to explore compliments in people's everyday lives with important others. More specifically, we examine (1) the form compliments take in intimates' everyday interactions, (2) the relationship between compliment behavior and perceptions of relational satisfaction, and (3) sex differences in compliment behavior within romantic couples. To undertake these objectives, we integrate two main bodies of research: existing compliment literature and research on romantic relationships relevant to compliments.

The Functions and Structure of Compliments

As noted, compliments may play an important role in the development and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Wolfson and Manes (1980) argued, however, that the primary function of compliments is the "establishment or reaffirmation of common ground, mutuality, or ... solidarity" (p. 395). As such, compliments can work in several different ways within interactions, such as introducing conversations, expressing approval, offering thanks, or greeting others. According to Holmes (1988), the "most obvious function [compliments] serve is to oil the social wheels ... increasing or consolidating solidarity between people" (p. 462).

Of course, the success of the compliment in maintaining solidarity is dependent on the statement being recognized as a compliment. Such recognition is enhanced when a compliment has a specific, identifiable structure. To this end, Wolfson and Manes (1980), in a content analysis of 950 compliments, found that compliments tend to follow a formulaic structure that "reveals a remarkable lack of originality both in choice of lexical items and in syntactic structure" (p. …

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The Communication of Compliments in Romantic Relationships: An Investigation of Relational Satisfaction and Sex Differences and Similarities in Compliment Behavior
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