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Interpersonal relationships are social associations, connections, or affiliations between two or more people who may interact overtly, covertly, face to face or may remain effectively unknown to each other such as those in a virtual community who maintain anonymity and do not socialize outside of a chat room.

The interactions that define an interpersonal relationship can be observable and explicit such as body language or dialogue. Or they can be implicit such as standing in a shopping line or in an emergency room. They are usually a mixture of both. An interpersonal interaction can constitute a social transaction such as the form, 'you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours'. Some transactions facilitate further interaction between the participants and some are show stoppers. Interpersonal violence is action, interaction and transaction, which doesn't always terminate the relationship.

Context is everything when it comes to meaningfully describing a particular interaction between people. Meaning itself results from interpersonal interactions, most significantly in the developmental stage of life with peers, parents and teachers. Culture is transmitted by socialization. Culture forms how we construct our world and the relationships in it.

An interpersonal relationship may be viewed as focussed such as a sales assistant and customer or as un-focussed such as passengers on a bus. People traveling to a football match share a relationship whether they support the same team or opposing teams. The significance of the relationship may not be apparent until they cheer or boo. In each case culture will tend to define the forms of both accepted and unacceptable interactions.

Interpersonal relationships vary in their degree of self-disclosure, feedback, power and respect to name a few. They vary in the extent to which they are defined or constructed by culture and language. They vary in whether the relationship is open to question, challenge or change, which itself can demonstrate power differentials in a variety of interpersonal relationships and settings.

They vary in the degree to which intimacy and sharing occur - implying the discovery or establishment of common ground, are present. They may or may not be centered around something(s) shared in common.

[edit] Study of interpersonal relationships

The study of relationships is of concern to mathematics, sociology, psychology and anthropology to name a few. Every branch of science is to some extent a study of relationship and occurs in the context of interpersonal relationships. The culture of science and its paradigms are formed and maintained by interpersonal relationships that are often more influential than the evidence which contradicts a theory.

Game theory is a branch of applied mathematics and economics that studies two person interactions in decision making. This can be distinguished from the games people play, which is a branch of transactional analysis and of relationship therapy.

The meaning of a particular relationship depends on the definition of the situation. The work of the sociologist Erving Goffman and particularly in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life points to the degree to which one manages presentation of the self in every interaction.

This points to the ultimate source of interpersonal relationship in intrapersonal communication. What is within each person and how they communicate within themselves is the source of meaning, self-definition and self-presentation in interpersonal relationships.

Martin Buber has written eloquently on this aspect of dialogue with oneself and with an other.

[edit] Stages of formation

1) Contact:

a) Perceptual - notice how a person looks at the other and their body language.

b) Interactional cues - nodding, maintaining eye contact, etc.

c) Invitational - encouraging the relationship (e.g. asking if they want to meet up later for coffee)

d) Avoidance strategies - if one person discloses and the other does not, minimal response, lack of eye contact, etc.

2) Involvement

a) Feelers - hints or questions (ex. asking about family)

b) Intensifying strategies - further the relationship (ex. meeting old friend, bringing the other to meet family, becoming more affectionate, etc.)

c) Public - seen in public together often (ex. if in a romantic relationship, may be holding hands)

3) Intimacy - very close, may have exchanged some sort of personal belonging or something that represents further commitment. (ex. may be a promise ring in a romantic relationship or a friendship necklace symbolizing two people are best friends)

4) Deterioration - things start to fall apart. In a romantic relationship, typically after approximately six months, people are out of what is sometimes referred to as the "honeymoon stage", NRE, or limerence and start to notice flaws. The way this is addressed determines the fate of the relationship.


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