Interpersonal relationships are social bonds and affiliations that people develop. These social connections are varied such as parent-child, siblings, friendships, romantic partners, etc. People having interdependence and impact on each other are said to be in a relationship. It is defined as an enduring association between two persons.
A number of psychological theories and researches suggest how relationships play a significant role in an individual’s life. Relationships have been found to be one of the most powerful sources of support throughout the life span. Being involved in satisfying relationships is associated with enhanced emotional and physical health.
Relationships involve varied social processes (forms of social interactions) that are powerful psychological predictors of physical health. Social interactions play important roles in both the development and exacerbation of physical health conditions.
Relationships have been found to buffer people from pathogenic effects of stress. The buffering model of stress suggests that social support promotes health and that it diminishes the negative effects of stress in a person’s life. The buffering model suggests that social relationships buffer or protects individuals from the potentially pathogenic influence of stressful events.
The perception of receiving social support from others alters the appraisal of the situation as being highly stressful and works as a coping mechanism. The perceived availability of social support buffers the effect of stress on psychological distress, depression, and anxiety. Deprivation of social support may lead to adverse effects on both physical and emotional health.
The interpersonal approach to psychology emphasizes the importance of relationships with others for psychological adjustment. Interpersonal theorists place special emphasis on interpersonal processes in behavior. Interpersonal theorists suggest that unfavorable interpersonal environments have adverse effects on psychological wellbeing. A variety of psychological disorders such as substance abuse, depression, personality disorders, and even schizophrenia have been associated with inadequate interpersonal relationships and social networks.
The pioneer of the interpersonal approach, Harry Stack Sullivan, suggests that enduring patterns of human relationships form the essence of personality. Sullivan locates psychological development in reactions of one’s relationships. Accordingly he suggests that significant psychosocial threats to an individual’s wellbeing are inherently social in nature. These threats are loneliness, isolation, and rejection. Interpersonal loss contributes to clinical symptomatology.
The object relations theories describe the process of developing a psyche as one grows in relation to others in the environment. The term object relations is used in the context to refer to the mental representation of significant others.
Margaret Mahler, an object relations theorist, in her theory of symbiosis suggests that forming healthy ties with the mother is of utmost importance to the psychological health of children. Children who form normal ties with their mothers, according to Mahler, are referred to as normal symbiotic children. Such children develop empathy and a sense of being a separate but loving person.
The object relations theorist, Heinz Kohut, suggests that empathic reactions from significant others is important for healthy development of the individual. He further suggests that people who have a lack of acceptance from parents are prone to develop narcissistic personality disorder, which involves projection of self-aggrandizement even though they actually feel powerless and dependent.
Kohut also suggests that when a child is not reassured about his/her strengths and unique qualities then it might lead to sensation seeking, substance abuse, low self-esteem, and perception of the world as a hostile and dangerous place.
The attachment theory, by John Bowlby, suggests that attachment - the affectionate bond between the child and primary caretaker - is the basic determinant of adult personality. The theory suggests that to grow up mentally healthy individuals should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with their caretaker, during the growing up years.
The theory further suggests that poor attachment or inadequate parental care may lead to psychological disorders in adulthood. Inadequate parental care may lead to the development of the anxious attachment pattern, which involves insecurity and dependency, and makes the individual prone to phobias, hypochondriasis, and eating disorders. Inadequate parenting may also lead to the development of the pattern of emotional detachment in which the individual feels serious deprivation of affection, and makes the person prone to antisocial and hysterical personality disorders.
Poorly functioning relationships (unsatisfying, unstable or heavily conflicted relationships) have an increased likelihood of distress, illness, and poor adjustment. Relationships that do not allow confiding, fail to provide beneficial effects. People with inadequate relationships have higher risks for developing psychological and physiological illnesses. They may develop depressed immunology functioning, vulnerability to feelings of loneliness, and a more likelihood to develop symptoms of psychological disturbance.
Theories and research, therefore, indicate that relationships are highly impactful and very significant in the healthy psychological development of an individual. Satisfying relationships are associated with a wide range of aspects of positive wellbeing, whereas, disturbed relationships are associated with a number of psychological problems.