Benefits of Relationships

  • Created by: VerrW
  • Created on: 27-05-15 15:05


Argyle (1985) said that relationships are good for us, if we have the right kind of social attachments; we are likely to live longer, to have better physical and mental health and to feel happier. Relationships are perceived to be important, but what benefits do we get from a good relationship?

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The Buffering Hypothesis

There is a lot of evidence to suggest that there is a connection between having good social relationships and the risk of mental health issues. Many studies have found that there is a link between high stress, low social support and mental illness. This connection has not just been found in marriage, but with general social support (such as friends and family).

Schwarzer and Leppin (1992) found a -0.22 correlation between social support and depression through a meta-analysis of 70 studies, thus indicating that individuals with the most support are least likely to be depressed.

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The Buffering Hypothesis

Similarly, Cochrane (1988) investigated the connection between relationship status & admission to mental hospitals. He discovered that being married led to a much lower rate of admission (0.26%) compared to being divorce which produced the highest rate (1.40%).

Therefore this research implies that stress can lead to mental health problems when there is low social support. The buffering hypothesis suggests that people with strong social relationships (romantic or not) can call upon social support when stressed which has the effect of reducing the impact (buffering) of the stress. 

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The Buffering Hypothesis

Argyle & Henderson (1985) found that those who are divorced or separated are more likely to suffer from mental health or commit suicide than those married. Therefore this proposes that being in a relationship helps maintain an individual’s mental health and acts as a ‘buffer’ reducing the risk of mental illness. However it might not be the lack of a close relationship which is necessarily the cause of high levels of depression in single people but rather they may work in a very high pressured job or have financial difficulties

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The Buffering Hypothesis

Evidence presented by Sutherland & Davidson (1989) found that a lack of support from a spouse or partner was related to poor mental well-being, anxiety and depression amongst male construction workers. This study suggests that it is not just the presence of the spouse but also the quality of the relationship which has a buffering effect. The buffering hypothesis suggests that a good relationship with a spouse provides protection from the negative effects of stress, however this only applies if the relation is of a ‘good’ quality otherwise the ‘buffering’ effect would diminish

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The Buffering Hypothesis- Evaluation

Moreover, while it may be argued that marriage can protect people from stress, it could be that marriage is actually the source of it. Stress scales such as Holmes and Rahe (1967) SRS lists several life changing events which cause stress related to relationships such as the death of a spouse or divorce. Therefore, whilst relationships provide support they can also be the root cause of many negative effects. 

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The Buffering Hypothesis- Evaluation

As the buffering hypothesis applies to friendships and family relationships too, studies of patients diagnosed mentally ill have found that they’re particularly short of family relationships rather than friendships. During times of need, contact with siblings and close family are the source of help they require. Nonetheless, the majority of research concerning the buffering hypothesis focuses solely on romantic relationships. 

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The Buffering Hypothesis- Evaluation

Evidence on the buffering hypothesis is correlational, although there is a link between poor social relationships and mental illness, cause and effect relationships are impossible to establish. Whilst it may be that having good relationships protect you from stress as the buffering hypothesis suggests, on the other hand it may be that people who suffer from mental illness find it difficult to develop and therefore maintain close relationships which are supportive.

Not all research supports the buffering hypothesis; Hobfall & London (1986) found that women living in the war between Lebanon and Israel who had more intimacy with their friends and emotional support actually experienced more stress than those who did not. Researchers attributed the constant discussion of the situation created a “pressure cooker” which caused stress.

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In terms of happiness, Bradburn (1969) carried out a study in the US, where he asked people who were married, divorced or single about their general level of happiness. Those who reported as being ‘very happy’ were married men (35%) and married women (38%) compared those never/were married. In contrast, those who reported being ‘not too happy’ were those who were separated (40%) or divorced (30%) compared to those never married/married. Overall, Bradburn concluded that marriage is good for us and that being married leads to higher levels of happiness than those who are not.

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However there are numerous limitations with this study. Carried out during 1969, marriage was still the norm whilst couples who cohabited were considered as ‘outrageous’ and divorce was less acceptable than it is in modern society.Consequently, those married would have conformed to the answer that was desired about their marriage being happy rather than anything else, thus demonstrating demand characteristics. Conversely, those single may have exaggerated their unhappiness as they should’ve been aspiring to marriage. As a result, this research is very historically biased and is reflecting the social views of the time rather than how the participants actually feel.

Bradburn doesn’t explain what constitutes a happy marriage even though his research suggests that people in marriage are happier than those who are not. Argyle & Furnham (1983) found that the highest scoring relationship had a spouse who provided the following three factors; material and instrumental help, social and emotional support, and common interests

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In terms of longevity, Valiant & Valiant (1993) recorded marital satisfaction over a 40 year period. They found that the husband’s satisfaction rate was stable throughout the marriage, whilst the satisfaction of the wife showed a decline.

Overall, happiness is not necessarily a stable factor and can alter over time i.e. stress brought with raising a child. 

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General Evaluation

Much of the research conducted into the psychological benefits of marriage is outdated. In previous decades, the only acceptable route to instigate a sexual relationship, cohabit and have children was to marry. Society has changed along with the views on marriage so they may not be applicable today. 

Additionally, divorce is more socially acceptable and that perhaps the high levels of happiness reported by Bradburn may have been due to the negative perception of divorce.

It is difficult to ascertain how honest people are when asked about happiness, for example, married couples report being happy yet nearly half end in divorce. Therefore either people lie, overestimate their happiness or it is not simply a predictor of marital breakdown.  

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Mother:Child Realtionships

Likewise to the buffering hypothesis, mother-child relationships have always been of interest to psychologists. Bowlby suggested that this relationship provides the basis for all future social and emotional development and therefore can have a life-long impact on our psychological well-being.

Genie a feral child who spent nearly 13 years of her life locked away demonstrates the negative psychological effects of not having a good mother: child relationship. Having been deprived of the vital bond with her primary caregiver, Genie suffered from poor social skills, below average cognition, an inability to form relationships and low self-esteem. Hence our ability to form good secure attachments with our primary carer is instrumental for our future happiness and psychological well-being.  

However there is no way of telling whether Genie’s behaviour is a result of deprivation or whether other factors are to blame such as brain damage at birth. As well as this, as Genie was part of a case study, generalisations cannot be made due to the factor of case studies being unique and applicable to that person only.   

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