Developing a synthesis of relationship principles
The literature on close relationships is dense, with several established models and a lot of experimental data. It's hard to put it all together. There is no single over-arching framework which synthesizes elements identified across multiple research-supported theoretical models.
Scholars Finkel, Simpson and Eastwick (2017) set out to create an integrative perspective on the relationship literature with the goals of refining existing theories, generating new theories, and attempting to move relationship science forward by providing a framework which increases cohesion and reduce conflict among various models. (Warning: there will be jargon, hopefully worth it for folks who like things in plain English, though I've tried to keep it to what is necessary).
Presented here is a synopsis of their framework and findings. The authors review the existing literature, distilling down fourteen core principles of relationship function. The fourteen principles are grouped into four "sets" (see below) based on key organizing questions about what relationships are, how they work, what people bring to relationships as individuals, and how outside factors, such as culture, affect relationships.
The authors incorporate multiple models and cite supporting scientific studies, drawing on attachment theory and interdependence theory as the two most influential over-arching frameworks, in addition to drawing upon risk regulation theory, self-expansion theory, the communal/exchange model, the interpersonal process model of intimacy, and the vulnerability-stress-adaptation model.
In addition to richly cited experimental findings, textbooks, and review articles, the authors refined their meta-framework with review and input from sixteen preeminent relationship researchers in psychology. Much of what the authors review is familiar and immediately relevant. The work is clear and logically organized, with practical implications. The fourteen factors are comprehensive and intuitive, often immediately relevant for thorny relationship situations.
Readers can go to the original publication for more detail and specific references. Future research could examine the factors they have developed to determine if they are fully independent of one another, or break down into fewer factors.
The factors described by Finkel, Simpson and Eastwick are distinct from one another, though interrelated, in how they influence relationships. The fourteen core principles are organized into the sets mentioned above as follows:
The fourteen core relationship principles
So, those are the 14 core principles in a nutshell. I found it an edifying and organizing schema, and a stimulating read. I am grateful to the authors for synthesizing so much and putting it into a straightforward and commonsense framework.
There's much more to say about each factor, a wealth of data to integrate, and many possibilities for future development. Which factors carry the most weight? What can be modified to have better relationships and avoid common pitfalls? Is there a way to tell at the beginning if a relationship will work out in the long run?
Rather than draw any conclusions at this point, I'm more focused on how having a coherent framework opens up possibilities, and I hope you are, too.
Finkel, E.J., Simpson, J.A., Eastwick, P.W. (2017). The psychology of close relationships: Fourteen core principles. Annual Review of Psychology, 68, 383-411.