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Review: The Dark Side of Close Relationships II

Edited by William R. Cupach, Brian H. Spitzberg

As featured in the following journal:
PsycCRITIQUES
20 July 2011, Vol. 56, # 29, Article 1

Reviewed by Karen Wilson

Whereas the obvious focus of the chapters is on the dark side of relationships, many of the chapters also discuss lighter, positive aspects as well. For example, in their chapter on infidelity (Chapter 7), Tsapelas, Fisher, and Aron point out that evidence suggests that infidelity has been shown in some cases to improve one’s relationship and can result in greater efforts at communicating.

Another example is in Spitzberg’s chapter on one of the darkest sides of relationships, intimate partner violence. Spitzberg points out that there may be positive outcomes such as greater relationship satisfaction for some couples, and among victims of stalking many perceive positive outcomes. For example, having been the victim of stalking is related to an increase in resilience. In exploring both the positive and negative outcomes of dark topics, the chapters demonstrate the complex, multifaceted nature of close relationships and show that even the darkest of topics may have a bright side.

The chapters include discussions of newer theories as well as classic ones such as social exchange theory (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) and the investment model (Rusbult, 1980). Some of the chapters demonstrate that while these classic theories still do well at predicting various aspects of relationship functioning, they don’t necessarily generalize to all populations. One example is the chapter by Miller and Felmlee (Chapter 11), which presents empirical data rather than being a traditional literature review. Miller and Felmlee tested aspects of social exchange theory and the investment model with women who had incarcerated male partners.

Their research demonstrates that social exchange theory variables, in large part, generalize to this population; however, variables that were measured as costs, such as the expense of visits and of children, did not predict satisfaction or commitment. One explanation that the authors offer is that these costs may also be seen as positive investments. Qualitative data collected by the authors suggest that this was the case with their sample.

Lehmiller and Agnew’s chapter on age-gap relationships (Chapter 2) also demonstrates the limits of the investment model. In the research they present, among women who had older partners, only relationship satisfaction predicted commitment, whereas the common finding with the investment model is that investments, satisfaction, and quality of alternatives predict commitment. Although the research presented by Lehmiller and Agnew is certainly interesting, very little of the chapter is actually devoted to discussing the dark side of age-gap relationships; the focus is primarily on theoretical models that may explain age-gap relationships.

Chapters by Koenig Kellas, Willer, and Kranstuber (Chapter 3) and Floyd and Pauley (Chapter 6) explore aspects of the dark side of communication in relationships. Koenig Kellas et al. discuss research on the dark side of how we tell stories to make sense of and manage our personal relationships. Floyd and Pauley review research on dark and light sides of expressing affection in relationships, examining the benefits of affectionate communication to relationships and the persons in the relationship as well as the risks to senders and receivers of such communication. Both chapters provide a good theoretical overview of the research, drawing from both psychological and communications research.

Scholars interested in family dynamics may find chapters by Morr Serewicz and Hosmer (Chapter 9) and Schrodt and Braithwaite (Chapter 10) particularly interesting. Morr Serewicz and Hosmer discuss issues with in-law relationships, an area that, according to the authors, is relatively understudied in relationship research. They discuss the various theoretical perspectives that have been used to study in-law interactions and summarize the current research in the field, highlighting both dark and light aspects of in-law relationships.

Schrodt and Braithwaite explore stepfamily relationships, an area of research that has grown substantially in the last 20 years (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2000; Sweeney, 2010), presenting research on the functional and dysfunctional aspects of ambivalence inherent in stepfamily relationships, focusing specifically on role ambivalence, relational and emotional ambivalence, and communicative ambivalence. Both chapters would be useful for clinical psychologists dealing with family dynamics.

Chapters by DeAndrea, Tong, and Walther (Chapter 4) and Sprecher (Chapter 5) focus on the dark side of a relatively new phenomenon—the Internet. DeAndrea et al. discuss computer-mediated communication (CMC). The authors review research on topics such as Internet addiction and online social communities (virtual communities), particularly those that advocate dark topics such as eating disorders and racism. Despite the evidence for a dark side to CMC, a recent article by Baker and Oswald (2010) suggests that CMC can also help provide a safe form of communication for shy individuals.

Sprecher discusses the dark side of Internet matchmaking services, addressing topics such as sexual predatory behavior and misrepresenting oneself to potential partners. She also discusses research evidence that relationships formed online may be more shallow than those formed offline, as research suggests that spending an inordinate amount of time pursuing relationships online may cause one to miss opportunities for social interaction offline. Both chapters provide a good review of the literature on the Internet and relationships and would be particularly useful for scholars interested in relationship formation.

The book ends with a provocative chapter by DePaulo on living single (Chapter 15). She reviews the literature on singlehood and debunks the conventional wisdom that singles are less happy and healthy than are married individuals. In fact, those who have never married may in some cases be better off than people who marry, especially those individuals who eventually divorce. According to DePaulo, the dark side of being single, it seems, is more about discrimination, negative stereotypes, and social exclusion of those who are single by those who are coupled rather than about being more lonely, depressed, or prone to poorer physical health. She takes many researchers to task who assume that coupledom is best and let their personal biases about being single or coupled affect their interpretations of their data.

Overall, The Dark Side of Close Relationships II does a good job of presenting current research in the field of close relationships. An examination of topics in relationship journals over the past two years (i.e., Journal of Social and Personal Relationships and Personal Relationships) shows a number of articles on topics central to this text such as infidelity, stepfamily relationships, relational turbulence, intimate partner violence, and online dating.

The chapters provide useful reviews of the issues, along with suggestions for new directions that will help guide future research. The book is a good addition to any relationship scholar’s collection, especially for those scholars interested in the dark side of relationships. The book would be appropriate for graduate seminars in close relationships in a number of disciplines such as social psychology and communications.

References
• Baker, L. R., & Oswald, D. L. (2010). Shyness and online social networking services. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27, 873–889. doi:10.1177/0265407510375261
• Coleman, M., Ganong, L., & Fine, M. (2000). Reinvestigating remarriage: Another decade of progress. Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 1288–1307. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2000.01288.x
• Rusbult, C. R. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 16, 172–186. doi:10.1016/0022-1031(80)90007-4
• Sweeney, M. M. (2010). Remarriage and stepfamilies: Strategic sites for family scholarship in the 21st century. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72, 667–684. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00724.x
• Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York, NY: Wiley.

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