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date: 18 April 2024

Relational Turbulence Theorylocked

Relational Turbulence Theorylocked

  • Jennifer A. TheissJennifer A. TheissDepartment of Communication, Rutgers University

Summary

Transitions are pivotal junctures in close relationships that have the potential to transform relational roles and disrupt interpersonal routines in ways that contribute to upheaval and turmoil for relationship partners. Relational turbulence theory identifies the mechanisms and processes that account for challenging relational circumstances emerging during relationship transitions. This framework was initially articulated as a model that was applied to relationships at moderate levels of intimacy when couples transition from casual to serious involvement. The model asserted that relational uncertainty and interference from partners are heightened during this transition and intensify emotional, cognitive, and behavioral reactivity to relationship events, creating a climate of turbulence in the relationship. As research on the relational turbulence model continued to evolve, scholars moved beyond transitions to intimacy within dating relationships and began to apply the model’s logic to a wide range of transitions across various types of relationships.

The theorists sought to clarify and refine the theoretical mechanisms underlying the associations that had been documented in empirical tests of the model and advanced relational turbulence theory. The theory advances axioms around five core processes that occur in relationships during transitions. First, the theory proposes that relational uncertainty corresponds with biased cognitive appraisals due to its deleterious effects on message processing, and that interference and facilitation from partners are associated with emotional reactivity due to the arousal that is generated by interrupted routines. Second, the theory articulates the processes underlying associations between emotions, cognitions, and the engagement and valence of communication behavior during interpersonal episodes. Third, the theory explains how repeated interpersonal episodes marked by polarized emotions, cognitions, and communication accumulate over time and coalesce into a global sense of the relationship as turbulent. Fourth, the theory illuminates how relational turbulence affects various personal, relational, and social processes due to restricted relational construal levels and disrupted dyadic synchrony under these relationship conditions. Finally, the theory highlights the potential for reciprocal effects between features of communication episodes and the relationship mechanisms that create conditions for turbulence. The theory continues to evolve and be thoroughly tested through a variety of methods and measures.

Subjects

  • Communication Theory
  • Interpersonal Communication

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