Using the Social Relations Model to Understand Relationships
David A. Kenny University of Connecticut
Relationships are important to everyone. They provide people with the most rewarding and exasperating moments in life. They can drive people to ecstasy as well as to despair. Despite, or perhaps because of, their importance, very little is known about them. In this chapter, a new approach to the study of relationships, called the Social Relations Model ( Kenny & La Voie, 1984; Malloy & Kenny, 1986), is described. This approach is beginning to provide a number of new insights into relationships ( Clark & Reis, 1988). Although the model is highly mathematical, it is relatively simple to understand. Also, although it is a methodology, it does have embedded within it a theoretical orientation to social relationships that is developed in this chapter.
What follows is a nontechnical account of what is rather complicated. Complicated explanations are avoided here because such detail has been presented in other papers ( Kenny, 1981, 1990a, 1990b; Kenny & La Voie, 1984; Warner, Kenny, & Stoto, 1979). The reader should be forewarned that what follows is an outline of an approach and not the full approach. Thus, reading this chapter explains the usefulness of the model but it does not provide sufficient information to implement the model.
Although the Social Relations Model is a very important tool in the understanding of relationships, it is just one tool of many. Moreover, for certain areas of research, it may not be the most appropriate framework within which to study relationships. My years of working in the area of methodology have taught me an important lesson: Pick the area of interest and that will then drive the methodology. All too often researchers let the method determine the question.