This essay will discuss sociological research and theories that offer the potential for advising people on aspects of creating and sustaining satisfying relationships across a number of perspectives and evaluate the evidence provided. The essay will then focus on the question of whether the role of giving advice is valid for social psychologists and the potential problems in offering relationship advice.
Social psychology can be used in different contexts for different purposes. While many reasons for starting and maintaining the great variety of relationships in which people are involved have been scrutinised, the functions of relationships identified by researchers are dependant to a very great extent on what any particular theoretical perspective identifies as the ‘goal of relating’(Miell and Croghan 2002 cited in Miell and Dallos 2002). To tell us anything of functional value as individuals about creating and sustaining relationships, the different perspectives of social psychology must stand up to robust investigation around issues of personal relevance. To do this we must assess how well evidence and theory from social psychology relate directly to our personal lives, our interpersonal relationships and our social roles. We must ask how we can draw upon these to help in the process of living our lives.
The humanistic perspective places emphasis on particular ways of relating to others such as openness, acceptance of the uniqueness of others and willingness to accept responsibility for our contributions to relationships. It has at its core the assumption that change is possible in individuals, relationships and society. It relates directly to our personal lives since it provides us with insights into ourselves and others and suggests goals towards which we may strive. It offers us a way to get in touch with our own feelings and enhance the quality of our personal and intimate relationships.
The experience of existential isolation generates profound anxiety from which all of us seek to escape (Fromm 1957 cited in Miell and Dallos 2002) and relationships offer us a means of doing this by connecting with other people. For relationships, with their intersubjectivity, to work good communication is vital. People must be able to share what they feel and think about what is going on and humanistic psychology, taking as its ‘reality’ the feelings of participants in relationships, provides useful methodologies and guidelines (Rogers 1951 cited in Miell and Dallos 2002). Humanistic approaches acknowledge that distortions are produced by hierarchical structures hindering effective communication. They claim that open, democratic structures allow more open relating to take place and the potentials and feelings of individuals have more scope for productive expression (Maslow 1965 cited in Miell and Dallos 2002).
Aside from stimulating productive thought about the human condition, the humanistic approach invites us to think about our own potential and about ways ‘we might be’ and the high quality relationships we could have. It directs us towards thinking about aspects of being and relationships that we may be unaware of or have not reflected upon. It increases our awareness of possible techniques for changing ourselves and our relationships and how they work.