Human interactions and their circumstances, connections, and context to them create interpersonal relationships together. The bonds people share are intricate and are classified into types, stages, theories, and more. Interpersonal relationships fall into the following categories: friendship, romantic relationship, family relationship, and professional relationship. The stages of a relationship include contact, involvement, intimacy, deterioration, repair, and dissolution. Each stage symbolizes a particular phase of a relationship’s development.
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During the contact stage, the two individuals become aware of each other’s existence, take in each other’s physical features and make assumptions. The involvement stage is about the “perception of similarities in demographic background, values and interests, and personality through observation and interaction” (Berscheid & Regan, 2016, p. 199). The intimacy stage takes place when the individuals become romantic partners and establish an interpersonal commitment. This phase makes the individuals open up to each other more, and share their personal feelings and struggles, forming an even deeper bond. Eventually, the deterioration stage happens, which is a challenging time for any couple. Human relationships are constantly tested by such “obstacles” as work, hobbies, children, and personal issues. The feelings that partners have for each other start to alter and make them question whether their relationship is right and their bond is strong enough to handle the hardships. During this complicated period, the partners must speak about their concerns, be honest and not discredit the effort put into the relationship. That is why the deterioration stage is followed by the repair stage, where the partners acknowledge the aspects of their relationships they have to improve or work on separately. Identifying the weak points of the relationship and finding ways to improve them is an essential part of this stage. Ideally, this period is followed by personal and collaborative growth and brings the connection to the next, more mature level. Lastly, if two individuals fail to understand each other and cannot continue the relationship for some reason, it results in dissolution.
Due to the complexity of human nature, there is a wide range of interpersonal communication theories. For example, action assembly theory establishes the origins of people’s thoughts and describes how they are put into verbal and nonverbal communication. Communication accommodation theory considers that humans tend to adjust their communication choices to different life situations. Similarly, politeness theory claims that individuals “use different messages depending on their perception of the situation and the listener” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2006, p. 549). Uncertainty reduction theory states that “people want stable and predictable interactions, which lead people to reduce their uncertainty about others and events” (Littlejohn & Foss, 2006, p. 549). According to these theories, it is clear how selective humans are towards each other.
Despite the numerous ways of communication available to humans, there are situations where they fail to understand each other. Webb et al. (2017) stress that “interpersonal conflicts are an inevitable and often detrimental consequence of social life” (p. 621). Task conflict, relationship conflict, and value conflict are the three types of conflict that are most common. Task conflict arises due to misunderstandings, contradicting opinions, and different perceptions of facts. Relationship conflict occurs because of the differences in characters and approaches to various issues. Finally, value conflicts imply fundamental disagreements on sensitive topics like religion, politics, social norms, and ethics. Value conflicts are more difficult to solve than task and relationship conflicts because they are based on identities and beliefs. Nevertheless, the notion that such disputes cannot be solved is a myth. The resolution always lies in active listening, mutual respect and understanding, and discovering common ground.
Interpersonal Relationship and Conflict in “Malcolm and Marie”
Sam Levinson’s latest project with Netflix, “Malcolm and Marie”, depicts a story of young lovers who are experiencing a never-ending interpersonal conflict. The relationship between the two is filled with fighting, yelling, sarcastic remarks, and passive aggression. There is no background about the early stages of Marie and Malcolm’s relationship, so they appear to the viewers as a couple that has passed through the intimacy stage and is now facing deterioration. The couple has experienced many life challenges together, seeing how their accusations are based on the build-up and repressed emotions and dissatisfaction. Both Malcolm and Marie undergo many different emotional stages throughout the movie as they relive good times and breakdowns. Their communication style seems irrational because, even though they are trying to have a conversation with each other, their pride and bitterness interfere with their arguments. The values and needs they have in life and their relationship do not correlate, as Malcolm discredits Marie’s contribution to his artistic achievements, while all Marie wants is to be appreciated by Malcolm. When Mary recalls the after-party and exclaims “every single person … kept coming up to me and going “You’re probably a little upset right now because he forgot to thank you, but you know how much he depends on you” (Levinson, 2021, 15:14), it shows how tired she is of being constantly disregarded as a person. Marie’s character is dominant not because she is angry and emotional, but because she is bold and genuine, yet acknowledges her weaknesses. Malcolm, on the other hand, wants to appear successful and all-knowing, while in reality, he is projecting all his insecurities on Marie and everyone around him. Marie and Malcolm do not succeed at the repair stage and find themselves in a state of dissolution, as they are uncertain about their shared future. It feels as if the pair is a wrong and toxic fit for each other because they have different objectives, and the only possible consensus, in this case, is for them to pursue their happiness separately.
Berscheid, E. S., Regan, P. C. (2016). The psychology of interpersonal relationships. Routledge.
Levinson, S. (2021). Malcolm and Marie. [Film]. Netflix.
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Littlejohn, S. W., Foss, K. A. (2006). Encyclopedia of communication theory. Sage.
Webb, C. E., Coleman, P. T., Rossignac-Milon, M., Tomasulo, S. J., & Higgins, E. T. (2017). Moving on or digging deeper: Regulatory mode and interpersonal conflict resolution. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 112(4), 621–641. Web.