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Relational Turbulence Theory  

Jennifer A. Theiss

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.

Article

Military Families and Communication  

Steven R. Wilson and Leanne K. Knobloch

Since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil on September 11, 2001, communication scholars have turned their attention to understanding family communication processes across the deployment cycle. Military families are composed of service members as well as their spouses/partners, children, and extended family members. In 2012, U. S. Department of Defense statistics indicate that 53% of U.S. military personnel are married and 44% have children. Although scholars from fields such as family studies, psychology, and sociology have been studying military families since World War II, family communication scholars are relative newcomers to this topic. There are several reasons why communication scholars have spent the past decade investigating how service members, spouses, and children interact with each other as well as their larger social networks. One reason is the length and scope of the post 9/11 conflicts, such that millions of families in the U.S. and abroad have been impacted by these wars. A second is that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq represent the first time the U.S. has fought two wars simultaneously with an all-volunteer force. This has meant that the burden of service has fallen on a small percentage of the U.S. public, which sometimes has left military families feeling isolated from their civilian counterparts. Third, communication technologies have evolved in comparison to prior conflicts, such that service members often have had the opportunity to interact regularly with family via multiple channels (e.g., phone, video, email, and social networking sites as well as letters/packages) during recent deployments. A fourth reason is that deployments create a context in which families are faced with choices and potential dilemmas about communicating. From the time that deployment orders are received, throughout months of separation, and after the service member returns home, military families must decide what to talk about (or avoid talking about) openly. During deployment, family members must find ways of maintaining their relationships while coping with new stressors. After the service member returns home, families often must manage relational uncertainty while renegotiating routines. In cases where service members have difficulty readjusting to civilian life, family members must find ways of navigating dilemmas that can arise when they attempt to voice their concerns. Most military families display remarkable resilience in responding to these communicative transitions and tensions. By conducting research framed by a number of theories, family communication scholars have worked towards better understanding the experiences of military families and producing knowledge useful for those serving with military families. Although comparative work on military families in other countries is starting to emerge, most research on communication processes has focused on U.S. military families. Research grounded in the relational turbulence model, communication privacy management theory, multiple goals theories, relational dialectics, and intergroup communication theories has helped clarify how military families communicatively navigate the process of having a service member deployed.