Relational standards: Rules and expectations in romantic relationships

PhD Thesis

West, Alexandra Elizabeth. (2006). Relational standards: Rules and expectations in romantic relationships [PhD Thesis].
AuthorsWest, Alexandra Elizabeth
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Romantic relationships are assumed to be guided by norms and rules, however research in the field of personal relationships has not directly addressed the area of relationship rules in romantic relationships, but has investigated their violations, with a specific focus on examples such as infidelity and deception. The present research program provides the first comprehensive study of rules and expectations in romantic relationships. The overall aim of the research is to explore the types of rules and expectations, or relational standards that exist in romantic relationships, how they come to exist, and their function within relationships. Given the lack of research on relational standards, a program of four studies, utilising both qualitative and quantitative methods was proposed to address the research aims. A combination of methods was deemed appropriate as qualitative methods would allow exploration of the types of relational standards that exist in romantic relationships, while quantitative methods could be used to explore their structure, function, and potential correlates. An initial study of the use of deception was based on previous work by the author. This study aimed to combine research on the strategies of deceptive use, with the motivations that are provided for engaging in deception, in order to further understand how deception is used in romantic relationships. A survey of 152 individuals currently in romantic relationships demonstrated that individuals tend to use multiple strategies when they engage in deception, and prefer to use less overt strategies than lying. Consistent with research on victim and perpetrator accounts, individuals believed their partners would view the deception as more serious than they themselves would.;Deception can be viewed as one example of the violation of major relationship rules and expectations regarding trust and honesty, which prompted the question of what other rules and expectations exist in romantic relationships. This question provided the impetus for the subsequent studies, the aims of which were to explore what rules and expectations exist in romantic relationship, and how they come to exist. A qualitative study using focus groups and interviews with couples enabled the development of 16 categories about which rules and expectations typically exist. These categories described both the emotional aspects of a relationship, such as loyalty, fidelity, help and support, and the day-to-day functioning of a relationship, such as those regarding roles and time allocation. A third study, using quantitative methods, presented the 16 categories to 106 individuals in order to validate the categories, investigate how they come to exist (whether they are discussed or exist as expectations) and explore their function in terms of their importance to the relationship and levels of threat and (un)forgivability when they are violated. It also sought to explore whether relational standards were related to a measure of adjustment, specifically one.s self-restraint. All 16 categories were endorsed, and were generally seen as being common in most relationships, and important to a relationship.s functioning. The categories differed in their importance, threat and unforgivability, with rules and expectations about the emotional aspects of a relationship consistently rated as more important than rules and expectations about the procedural aspects of a relationship. The number of rules endorsed, and the types of rules discussed and expected, were not related to an individual.s adjustment. A final study of 45 couples aimed to replicate the results from the third study, as well as explore whether there was agreement in partners. responses.;The final study also investigated whether relational standards were related to individual factors such as adjustment, personality, and the tendency to betray, and relationship variables such as trust, satisfaction and commitment. The results confirmed the pattern of endorsement found in the third study, that rules and expectations regarding the emotional aspects of relationship are regarded as the most important, and the most threatening and unforgivable when violated. Rules and expectations regarding the procedural aspects or the day-to-day functioning of the relationship are seen as least important to therelationship, and least threatening and easily forgiven when violated. The present research program demonstrated that there are identifiable areas about which couples have rules and expectations, and that these form a hierarchy based on their importance to the relationship. No differences were found in the way that relational standards come to exist, and relational standards were not found to be related to either individual or relationship factors. The identification of rule and expectation categories may help couples clarify their expectations of each other, and reduce potential areas of conflict. They also provide a starting point from which to further explore the importance of relational standards to relationship functioning.

PublisherAustralian Catholic University
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Final version
Publication dates
Online01 Jun 2006
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