Understudied relationships

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Types of couples

Most research into relationships has been concentrated on face to face heterosexual couples. However there are millions of people in the world who are involved in different types of relationships (homosexual, mediated etc).

Historically, homosexuality had been condemned or outlawed and until 1973 it was class as a mental illness in DSM. Today, while the public perception of homosexuality has changed there is still some significant social stigma against homosexuality and gay and lesbian people. It is often assumed that homosexual relationships are greatly different from heterosexual.

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Same sex relationships

It is believed that same sex relationships have a shorter durations than heterosexual ones. Blumstein and Schwartz studied the difference in duration of relationships between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. They found that more lesbian and gay couples broke up within two years of being interviewed, compared with heterosexual relationships suggesting that gay relationships are less stable than heterosexual ones.

In terms of similarity in same sex couples, research is mixed. Kurdek and Schmitt found that there was very little similarity apart from age. However a later study by Kurdek found that same sex couples were similar in terms of age, educations and income.

Gotman et al focussed on relationships satisfaction and found that gay and lesbian couples were more satisfied when the partners identified more benefits and fewer costs. This is similar to heterosexual relationships.

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Strengths and weaknesses

A strength of Kurdek and Gottman's studies were that they were both longitudinal which allowed rich data to be collected over time. Kurdek and Schmitt study on the other hand was a snapshot study which might not truely represent relationships as they are something that endures over time which questions the validity of the research.

A limitation with any relationship research is that the partner may not be objective in reporting their own or their partner's behaviour or feelings. This research maybe at threat if social desirability bias. e.g. Kurdek found that lesbians reported greater relationship satisfaction than gay relationships but they were no more likely to avoid dissolution than gay relationships.

However Gottman used direct observations of emotional behaviours between partners (vocal tonem facial expression etc) and measured physiological changes (pulse rate) during interactions. A strength of these direction observations is that more objective measures and could possibly provide more valid findings than subjective interpretations.

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Further difficulties in researching homosexual relationships are linked with prejudice and discrimination, as these make it is almost impossible to obtain a representative sample. Unlike, heterosexuality, homosexual individuals may hide their sexuality, and be unwilling to share personal information with researchers. This would bias the sample considerably, as it would not include those homosexual individuals who are not “out”.

Another weakness of research into homosexual relationships is that the majority of it took place over a decade ago. Society’s attitudes towards gay relationships may have changed considerably in that time, for example, none of the research above takes into account the recent changes in the legality of same sex relationships. Civil partnerships introduced in 2004 allow same sex couples to have some of the legal rights of married couples.

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Mediated communication

Nowadays, most relationships include some form of mediated communication, which is interaction that isn’t face to face (FtF). The most common form of mediated communication is ‘computer-mediated communication’ (CMC) including text messages, social networking, simulated worlds etc.


There is no doubt that the internet has revolutionised the way in which we communicate, and it has been argued, it has altered the way in which relationships are carried out. As CMC is text based it does lack physical and social cues such as eye contact. The reduced cues theory of CMC (Culnan and Markus) suggests that this makes CMC less effective than FtF interaction in the development of relationships. Things like physical attractiveness, facial expressions and conversational skills are all very important in the formation and maintenance of relationships and this would be lacking in CMC. It is also difficult to portray emotions and can lead to deindividuation which would suggest it is a less successful way of forming a relationship.

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The Social identify model of deindividuation effects (SIDE) suggests that CMC is not impersonal. It suggests that a social identity is created when in a group but this can produce deindividuation due to the anonymity of being in a group. This anonymity and deindividuation strengthen social identity. The reduced cues theory states that individual differences are hidden and the limited information that is available makes people rely on perceived similarities so a strong social identity develops. Therefore, according to SIDE, CMC will help relationships form within a group.


A02: Supporting evidence for reduced cues theory comes from Dubrovsky et al, who found that that CMC groups were more verbally aggressive and blunt thus suggesting that CMC relationships are less successful than FtF relationships.


A02: However, Whitty compared flirting in FtF situations and online and flirting offline included giggling and facial expressions that cannot be used in CMC but typing LOL and using smiley/winking faces mimic these cues suggesting an online substitute in displaying facial expressions. It was also observed that men might use more of these in CMC than they would FtF which questions reduced cues theory.

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The speed of reply in CMC has been analysed to interpret the meaning. A quick response can indicate interest, whereas a slow one might indicate a lack of interest. If CMC, lacked emotion then it wouldn’t be able to be used to hurt people but we know this isn’t the case as bullying by text and email is becoming increasingly common in schools. Therefore, contradicting reduced cues theory.


However, CMC does carry the threat of deception as the honesty of people in online dating can be questioned. Men tend to lie about their occupation, education and income and women lie to protect their identity. This reduces the success rate of online dating.


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Arranged Marriage

Another area that has been understudied is arranged marriages. In many cultures in the non-Western world and even some parts of the western world, love is not a requirement for marriage. In fact, most of the world's marriages are arranged by parents or matchmakers (Penn). In such marriages, if love emerges at all, it does so overtime. Understanding how love grows in such marriages might be beneficial for people living in Western countries.Gupta & Singh suggests that love in love marriages decreases somewhat over time and love in arranged marriages grows over time


A02: This is supported by Yelsma & Athappilly, who found that the satisfaction level in arranged marriages in India were higher than love marriages in the US. However, a similar, more recent study carried out by Myers et al, found no difference in marital satisfaction between these groups. This contradicts the idea that couples in arranged marriages will end up more in love.

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