Party of four: creating closeness between couples
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In recent years, a small but growing number of psychologists have begun to examine how the quality and stability of people's romantic relationships can be influenced by people outside of those relationships. Couples' friendships with those in their social networks appear to be particularly relevant determinants of what makes for a happy and lasting relationship. However, previous studies only have indirectly addressed underlying psychological mechanisms that may explain why friendships are beneficial for couples or how such friendships arise in the first place. This dissertation examines how friendships between couples form and potential implications for within-couple processes (e.g., the effects of friendships between couples on relationship quality within a couple). Pairs of unacquainted heterosexual couples in committed dating relationships were randomly assigned to one of two conditions where they engaged in a 45-minute interaction. In one condition, couples carried out self-disclosure tasks that gradually escalated in intensity; in the other condition, couples engaged in non-emotional small talk discussions. The procedure used was a modified version of the closeness induction task developed by Aron and colleagues (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator, 1997) to generate interpersonal closeness between individual strangers--in this case modified to generate closeness between couples. One day later and one month later, participants were asked to complete brief online follow-up measures to assess long-term effects of the experimental manipulation on perceptions of the other couple, feelings of closeness toward romantic partners, and whether or not they had contacted the other couple. Those in the high-disclosure condition felt closer to the couples they interacted with and closer to their own partners after the interaction compared to those in the small talk condition. Further, couples in the high-disclosure condition were significantly more likely than those in the small talk condition to contact and meet up with the other couple they had met in the study. Mediation analyses suggested several possible processes underlying these effects. Implications for studying the interplay of social networks and romantic relationships are discussed.