AskDefine | Define interpersonal

Dictionary Definition

interpersonal adj : occurring among or involving several people; "interpersonal situations in which speech occurs"

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Between two or more people.


Extensive Definition

expert-subject Psychology In the contexts of sociology and of popular culture, the concept of interpersonal relationships involves social associations, connections, or affiliations between two or more people. Such persons may interact overtly, covertly, face-to-face; or may remain effectively unknown to each other (as in a virtual community whose members maintain anonymity and do not socialize outside of a chat-room).

Analyzing interpersonal relationships

Sometimes an observer can detect explicit interactions that define an interpersonal relationship — such as body-language or dialogue. Erving Goffman and his followers see any public appearance as a ritual built from a "ceremonial idiom".
On the other hand, implicit interactions include standing in a shopping-line or in an emergency-room.
Human interactions often mix the explicit and implicit interaction modes.
An interpersonal interaction can constitute a social transaction of the form "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours". Some transactions facilitate further interaction between the participants and some act as Interpersonal violence consists of action, interaction and transaction — without necessarily terminating the relationship.
Context has great importance in meaningfully describing any particular interaction between people. Meaning itself can result from interpersonal interactions, most significantly in the developmental stage of life when one interacts with peers, parents and teachers. Socialization transmits culture. Culture — in the light of social constructionism — forms how people construct their world and the relationships in it.
Analysts of interpersonal relationships (namely, any functioning humans) may view a relationship as focused (such as the sales-oriented relationship between a sales assistant and a customer) or as unfocused (as between 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 become 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 but a few aspects. They vary in the extent to which culture and language define or construct them. They vary in the degree to which people can question, challenge or change relationships of relevance to themselves; and that degree of changeability itself can demonstrate power-differentials in a variety of interpersonal relationships and settings.
Relationships vary in the degree to which both intimacy and sharing occur — implying the discovery or establishment of common ground over time. They may or may not center around things shared in common.

The concept of relationship

Interpersonal relationships as a category may have escaped public attention until the late 20th century:
The term "relationship", as applied to personal life, came into general use only twenty or thirty years ago, as did the idea that there is a need for "intimacy" or "commitment" in personal life."
If valid, this view raises questions as to what has changed — and how — to bring about the result where interpersonal relationships receive so much attention — both in academia and in popular lore.
Teens and parents go through a stage where relationships are lost or broken up by the changes kids go through as they mature into adults.
Over 90% of all failed relationships result from a lack of honest communication and awareness.

Interpersonal relationships and other fields of study

The study of relationships beyond the merely personal involves fields such as mathematics, sociology, psychology and anthropology, to name but a few. Every branch of science — to some extent — studies relationship and occurs in the context of interpersonal relationships. (Interpersonal relationships form and maintain the culture of science and its paradigms, and often prove more influential than evidence which may contradict a theory.) Game theory, a branch of applied mathematics and economics, studies two-person interactions in decision-making. Game theory can stand distinct from the "games people play" of transactional analysis, which may relate to relationship therapy.
The meaning of a particular relationship depends on the definition of the situation. The work of the sociologist Erving Goffman — particularly in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life — suggests 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 lies within each person and how each person communicates internally provides the source of meaning, of self-definition and of self-presentation in interpersonal relationships.
Martin Buber has written eloquently on this aspect of dialogue — with oneself and with an Other.

Possible stages in the course of interpersonal relationships

1) Contact:
a) Perceptual: noticing how parties look at each other and their body-language.
b) Interactional cues: nodding, maintaining eye-contact, etc.
c) Invitational: encouraging the potential relationship (for example, suggesting a later meeting involving some social lubricant such as 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 (for example: asking about family)
b) Intensifying strategies: furthering the relationship (for example meeting an old friend, bringing the other to meet family, becoming more affectionate, etc.)
c) Public: parties seen in public together often (if in a romantic relationship, may involve holding hands)
3) Intimacy: parties very close; may have exchanged some sort of personal belonging or something that represents further commitment. (For example, a promise ring in a romantic relationship or a friendship-necklace identifying two people as best friends)
4) Deterioration: things start to fall apart. In a romantic relationship, typically after approximately six months, people move out of the so-called "honeymoon stage", NRE, or limerence and start to notice flaws. The way they address this determines the fate of the relationship (see relationship counseling).

Types of interpersonal relationships

Examples of categories of personal relationships may include:

Factors in establishing and maintaining relationships

The discovery or establishment of common ground between individuals provides a fundamental component for enduring interpersonal relationships. Loss of common ground, which may happen over time, may tend to end interpersonal relationships.
An observer of relationships can consider the motivation of each participant in the relationship. Does X love Y — or simply love what Y does for X? And vice versa.
In a longitudinal research study, psychotherapist Emily Kensington asked one hundred couples, “What do you love most about one another?" Answers indicating little depth generally correlated with the relationship experiencing "negative" outcomes. According to, replies such "Because she's pretty" or "he's fun" emerge as negative predictors, indicating surface attraction. Relationships can evolve from the meeting of facile needs to a stable, committed companionship, and couples that can identify their attraction to positive partner-qualities such as compassion, intelligence, and an ability and willingness to communicate effectively have "better" outcomes. Self-aware couples have a greater ability to recognize areas for potential growth, and to develop a plan to work on their relationship jointly.
Each relationship-type demands essential skills, and without these skills more "advanced" relationships cannot develop. Systemic coaching advocates a hierarchy of relationships, from friendship to global order. Expertise in each relationship-type (in this hierarchy) requires the skills of all previous relationship-types. (For example partnership requires friendship and teamwork skills).
Interpersonal relationships through consanguinity and affinity can persist despite the absence of love, affection, or common ground. With such relationships within prohibited degrees, sexual intimacy becomes the taboo of incest.
Legal sanction reinforces and regularizes marriages and civil unions as perceived "respectable" building-blocks of society. In the United States of America, for example, the de-criminalization of homosexual sexual relations in the Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas (2003) facilitated the "mainstreaming" of gay long-term relationships, and broached the possibility of the legalization of same-sex marriages in that country.
Intimate relationships often (but not always) involve an implicit or explicit agreement on monogamy — an agreement that the partners will not have sex with any third party. The extent to which society and partners may accept physical intimacy with other people varies. For example, a husband may react more favorably to his wife demonstrating physical affection with a female friend than to a similar demonstration with a male friend (see also jealousy).
Friendship may involves some degree of transitivity: one may become a friend of an existing friend's friend. However, if two people have a sexual relationship with the same person, they may become competitors rather than friends. Accordingly, sexual behavior with the sexual partner of a friend may damage the friendship. See love triangle.
Sexual relations between two friends may alter that relationship: either by "taking it to the next level" or by severing it. Sexual partners may also class as friends: the sexual relationship may either enhance or depreciate the friendship.
The rise of popular psychology has led to an explosion of concern about one's interpersonal relationships (often simply called: "relationships"). Intimate relationships receive particular attention in this context, but sociology recognises many other interpersonal links of greater or less duration and/or significance.
One need not always regard relationships as necessarily healthy. Unhealthy examples include abusive relationships and codependence.
Some sociologists recognize a hierarchy of forms of activity and interpersonal relations, divided into:

Theories concerning interpersonal relationships

Social psychology and related spheres propose several approaches to the study and fostering of interpersonal relationships, among them:
  • trust, as trust between parties can become mutual. This may lead to enduring relationships.
  • social exchange theory, which interprets relationships in terms of exchanged benefits. People will regard relationships in the light of the rewards of the relationship, as well as rewards they may potentially receive in alternate relationships.
  • systemic coaching, which analyzes relationships as expressions of a perceived human need to give and receive love. Transferences, entanglements and substitution can complicate relationships. Systemic coaching claims to offer solutions for many difficulties in relationships.
  • equity theory, which stems from a criticism of social exchange theory. Proponents argue that people care about more than just maximizing rewards: they also allegedly want fairness and equity in their relationships.
  • relational dialectics, which regards relationships not as static entities, but as continuing processes, forever changing. This approach sees constant tension in the negotiation of three main issues: autonomy vs. connection, novelty vs. predictability, and openness vs. closedness.
  • attachment styles, which analyze relationships in yet another way. Proponents of attachment styles argue that styles developed in childhood continue influential throughout adulthood, influencing the roles people adopt in relationships.



interpersonal in Danish: Mellemmenneskelige forhold
interpersonal in German: Zwischenmenschliche Beziehung
interpersonal in French: Relation humaine
interpersonal in Dutch: Relatie (personen)
interpersonal in Portuguese: Diplomacia interpessoal
interpersonal in Russian: Личностные социальные отношения
interpersonal in Finnish: Ihmissuhde
interpersonal in Tagalog: Pakikipag-ugnayan sa ibang tao
interpersonal in Chinese: 人际关系
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