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Friendships and Intimate Relationships: Relationship Types, Attachment Styles, and Satisfaction Theories

Updated on September 12, 2016

Fight or Flight

Relationships-The Beautiful Struggle

When asked what made them happy, many respondents answered that having friends and other positive relationships was at the top of their list (Aronson, Wilson, & Akert, 2010). Relationships are what get us through our days. Imagine the person with whom you have the closest relationships. Can you imagine life without them?

In the article below, intimate relationships are discussed, including exchange and communal relationships, attachment styles, and three theories of relationship satisfaction. The beautiful struggle that is relationships; are they worth it?

Exchange Versus Communal Relationships

Intimate relationships develop of the basis of attraction (Aronson et al., 2010). Did you choose your significant other based on looks? The five factors that influence personal attraction are proximity, reciprocal liking, physical attractiveness, similarity, and evolution, which consists of the partner being able to reproduce (Aronson et al.). Once attraction brings two people together, what happens next? Read on to find out!

In exchange type relationships, the individuals in the relationship exchange benefits evenly (Aronson et al., 2010). When one person provides a favorable action or behavior, the other is expected to reciprocate (Aronson et al.). For instance, if one partner offers a back rub to the other, the one who offered, is expecting a favorable action in return, such as a massage or foot rub. The problem here is that partners keep track of their efforts, and feel neglected or taken advantage of when they are exerting more than they are getting in return (Aronson et al.).

In communal relationships, partners do things for the other without the need or expectation of repayment. Partners fulfill the other’s needs, and do not care whether or not they are paid back (Aronson et al., 2010). Following the example above, in this case, if one partner gives a back rub to the other, it is done out of kindness, and nothing is expected in return. Communal relationships are expected to be long lasting and intimate (Aronson et al.). These relationships are hard, because we have to be willing to give up our selfish desires. I don't know about you, but I would rather have my back rubbed then give a back rub! Speaking of back rubs, when I receive one, my husband uses this amazing tingler on my scalp, and it is worth a million bucks! It makes my whole body tingle, and for the price, it can't be beat!

Amazing Body Tingler

Hand Held Scalp Head Massager - Pack of Two (Colors May Vary)
Hand Held Scalp Head Massager - Pack of Two (Colors May Vary)

If you have never tried this before, I seriously recommend buying one now. I use them when I have a headache, and they work wonders! At that price, they can't be beat and you can get endless fun out of them. We use them on our toddler sometimes and the way it makes him squirm is hilarious! I also recommend trying it on your dog, you won't be dissapointed!


Attachment Styles

Attachment styles refer to “the expectations people develop about relationships with others, based on the relationship they had with their primary caregiver when they were infants” (Aronson et al., 2010, p. 284). There are three different styles, and those are secure, avoidant, and anxious or ambivalent (Aronson et al.). Attachment styles have an impact on the level of intimacy shared in friendships in relationships. Those who grew up with the secure attachment style, for instance, are expected to have mature, long-lasting relationships with their partner (Aronson et al.). Those with the avoidant attachment style, on the other hand, have a hard time developing intimate, close relationships (Aronson et al.). Last, those with the anxious or ambivalent attachment style spend much of their time worrying. Though they crave closeness, they worry that their partner does not return the strong feelings they have for him or her (Aronson et al.).

Social Exchange Theory

Relationships are easier to maintain when the couple has similar attitudes (Aronson et al., 2010). This is because having similar attitudes helps the individuals in the relationship to feel that spending time together is worthwhile and satisfying (Aronson et al.). People also feel satisfied when they are around someone who likes them (Aronson et al.). In terms of the social exchange theory, how people sense a relationship depends on their “perceptions of the rewards they receive from it, their perceptions of the costs they incur, and their beliefs regarding what kind of relationship they deserve” (Aronson et al., p. 287). Relationships are more likely to last when the social rewards outweigh the costs (Aronson et al.). On the other hand, a relationship is more likely to end when the relationship experiences more turmoil than praise or validation (Aronson et al.).

My husband and I spend most of our time dealing with our children, but when we aren't we like to play games together for fun! Neither one of us are board game people, but went out and bought one when we were stuck in a hotel one night, and have been addicted ever since! They cause much needed laughter and bring us close together, a feeling we miss when we are ships passing in the night.


Battle Of The Sexes Board Game
Battle Of The Sexes Board Game

The only real point to this game is fun. I highly recommend it if you and your significant other are looking for some humor or laughing.




Risk Game: Global Domination
Risk Game: Global Domination

We play this when the kids go to bed early and we are tired of sitting there watching TV every night. It actually gets good conversation going, and we don't just play for fun! To spice it up, play for back rubs or dates. I am typically the winner, so I have gotten a few foot massages and a movie night where I got to pick the movie off this game!


Equity Theory

Different from the social exchange theory, the equity theory highlights the need for fairness in relationships (Aronson et al., 2010). The equity theory believes that people in relationships want the rewards they experience to be equal to the rewards the other person in the relationship experiences (Aronson et al.). It is thought that equitable relationships are the most rewarding and stable (Aronson et al.). Relationships are maintained when both parties feel an equal amount of rewards from the relationship. On the other hand, relationships end when one partner is feeling over benefited, and the other is feeling under benefited (Aronson et al.). What that means is that one person is getting most of the rewards and yet incurring few costs, while the other is not getting many rewards, but sustaining many costs (Aronson et al.).

Penetration Theory

The social penetration theory refers to the corresponding actions that take place between a couple in the expansion of a mutual relationship (Taylor, 1968). The behaviors in reference include an interchange of little details such as viewpoints or values, an interchange of emotions bearing positive or negative affect, and mutual activities such as athletics or reading (Taylor). Relationships start off much like friendships, as two individuals take time getting to know one another. This is when casual conversations take place, before private and personal matters become the topic of discussion (Taylor). Relationships are maintained when the couple can predict the emotional reactions of one another and important matters can be discussed (Taylor). Relationships end, however, when costs exceed the benefits and there is a withdrawal of disclosure (Taylor).

Are You Thinking About Your Relationship?

Relationships are everywhere, and there are many different types. Two different types along with theories on satisfaction in relationships were discussed above. Exchange relationships versus communal relationships was one concept explored. Also explored were three different attachment styles; secure, avoidant, and anxious or ambivalent. Last, the three theories were social exchange theory, equity theory, and penetration theory.

Are you in a committed relationship? Maybe you just have a best friend, mom, sibling that you care for. Either way, relationships are a meaningful part of this life, and they are worth holding on to. Work hard, and remember, all relationships take work.


If you could be granted someone to spend the rest of your life with or endless money until you die, which would you choose?

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Does Your Relationship Look Like This?


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