Emotions in relationships

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    From the time they are born, human beings depend on one another for their physical survival and psychological well-being; they simply cannot survive alone and uncared for. Fortunately, evolution has equipped humans with the mechanisms they need to persuade others to care for them and to assist them in their struggles to survive. These mechanisms are feelings and emotions. Without them, people would experience no preferences, desires, frustrations, or sorrows; they would not care about themselves or others. Only through experiences of joy and love, fear and anger, and shame and grief do humans come to know who, and what, matters to them. In this sense, emotions constitute the currency of human relationships and make life meaningful. It is somewhat surprising, then, to learn that for much of the 20th century, the study of emotion was a no-go area of psychology. During the early years under the reign of behaviorism, emotions were regarded as unobservable and therefore unknowable phenomena of little scientific interest. In the second half of the century, social-cognitive psychologists tended to regard emotions as a relatively undifferentiated nuisance variable that disrupted rational thought and interfered with people's capacities to live well-reasoned lives. Over the past 30 years, however, a revolution has occurred in the way emotions have been conceptualized, with a growing number of social psychologists in particular arguing that emotions have a long evolutionary history and that they motivate people to behave in ways that facilitate their survival and wellbeing. According to this functional view, emotions move people, quite literally, to act in the service of their needs, desires, and goals. Moreover, because so many of these needs, desires, and goals involve other people, emotions are increasingly being regarded as intrinsically interpersonal. It is within people's personal relationships that they experience the broadest range of emotions, from the mildest feelings of contentment, annoyance, and anxiety to the most profound experiences of love, rage, and despair. It is people's romantic partners, parents, children, siblings, friends, and enemies who possess the greatest power to facilitate or frustrate their needs and desires; hence, they are also the primary source of people's emotions. The overall aim of this chapter is to elaborate on this functional framework and to provide an empirically informed and theoretically integrative account of what is known-and what still remains to be discovered- about the features and functions of emotions in relationships. I begin with an overview of emotion theory from an evolutionary, social psychological perspective, with an emphasis on the importance of the informational and communicative functions of emotion. I then discuss how emotions are generated in relationships and consider the ways in which relationship partners' personalities and relationship histories affect their experience and expression of emotions in relationships. The importance of effective emotion communication and regulation for maintaining healthy relationships is then discussed, along with the role of positive emotions in adaptive relationship functioning. Finally, I point the way to further research in this fascinating field.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationAPA handbook of personality and social psychology,
    Subtitle of host publicationVolume 3 : interpersonal relations
    EditorsMario Mikulincer, Phillip R. Shaver, Jeffry A. Simpson, John F Dovidio
    Place of PublicationWashington, DC
    PublisherAmerican Psychological Association
    Number of pages22
    ISBN (Print)9781433817038
    Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Publication series

    NameAPA handbooks in psychology
    PublisherAmerican Psychological Association


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