What Do You Strive for in Relationships?

Understanding what motivates you in relation to others.

Posted Jun 10, 2016

Personal strivings are defined as the types of goals that folks try to achieve through their everyday behavior. We can think of relational strivings as referring to the broad themes of what folks want in their relations with others. To get a clear sense of this, think for a moment about what you try to do in relation to others. Do you typically try to help others? Do you typically try to lead others? To get others to like you and approve of you? To admire and respect you? To fear you? Do you try to identify with some groups? Or do you try to avoid conflict?

Based on much research in personality and social psychology, the Influence Matrix offers a map of our foundational relational strivings. The Matrix identifies one core relational motive, and then highlights several key other relational motives that are connected in various ways to the core motive. The core motive is called the Relational Value/Social Influence (RV-SI) motive and it refers to the degree to which you feel known and valued by important others. Behaviorally, it refers to the extent to which important others will share and invest in your interests, which is the degree of social influence one has—you put them together to get the RV-SI line.

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

So now think broadly about yourself in relations with others and your relational strivings. From this perspective, a very common theme should be that you are striving to be known and valued by others and that you attend to the extent to which important others respect you and work for--or at least appropriately consider--your interests. So think about your relational strivings in terms of needing to be respected, valued, appreciated, cared for, or admired. And then one can consider the opposites (i.e., being rejected or held in contempt or ignored by important others) and we can see these are things folks generally fear and try to avoid. The vast majority of people can see that these are major themes in their relational world.

Although RVSI is the core motive, we can go further and assert there are various ways folks try to gratify their RVSI needs. There are two “competitive” (or vertical) ways folks try to obtain RVSI. One common and directly competitive way is via power. Power in the form of direct dominance, leadership and control over others is a way to insure social influence. Another competitive but more indirect RVSI motive is Achievement. Achievement refers to accomplishing markers of skill and status which are valued in a society or group.

If you regularly try to lead, control or direct other people and enjoy asserting your dominance, then you have a power striving. If you are consistently competing in games or grades or often attempting to show that you are more competent and more deserving of some recognition of your performance, then you have an achievement striving, which is an indirect form of power.  

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

There are also two forms of positive “horizontal” or cooperative relating that relates to RVSI. These kinds of relating involve joining interests and affiliating with others. One form of affiliative motive is called Belonging, which refers to being a part of a group or identity. So, if you take pleasure in rooting for a sports team or feel a close identification with your religious group or nationality, then you are experiencing the need to belonging. The other affiliative urge is Intimacy. This involves letting others know the real you and joining with them at a much more personal level. Intimacy involves breaking down public filters and sharing authentically to allow for a more genuine joining of interests and private feelings.

We have identified a core relational motive (RVSI) and four common relational strivings (achievement, power, belonging and intimacy). Another common relational striving is independence and self-reliance. That is, although we are clearly social animals and deeply seek connection and approval, it is also the case that we needs of separation and individuation to combat being completely dependent on the whims and desires and opinions of others. To the extent that you advertise your self-reliance, diminish your needs for approval and connection, or try to buck the trend, defy social norms and carve your own unique path you are engaged in Autonomous strivings.

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

Finally, there are relational “avoidance strategies”, where individuals strive to avoid the negative consequences of trying to achieve the approach strivings. Submitting or surrendering in competition is one such avoidance strategy. Many individuals are plagued by self-conscious, shameful thoughts about how inferior they are. The root of this behavior is that these folks are striving to avoid competition or conflict which would then cause them to lose respect or be embarrassed.

Whereas shame and submission are about avoiding relational conflict and competition, hostility and contempt are about avoiding affiliation or connection (and often then justifying power). These are “othering” strategies designed to avoid betrayal and others' control and to remove any sense of obligation to them (i.e., make them unimportant). In existing affiliative relations, we use anger and hostility to remind those close to us of their obligations to us and to remove or diminish their tendency to betray us (or we use it to move away from them after we feel they have betrayed us and we can no longer have an intimate relation with them). Notice that a difference between avoidance strategies and approach strategies is that folks don't engage in avoidance strategies for the just sake of doing so. Very few people strive to be hostile or ridden with shame. But they are activated in the service of avoiding some even worse outcome.  

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

The bottom line is that much of our everyday life can be thought of in terms of our relational strivings. When our relational strivings are met, we feel secure, fulfilled and whole. When they are not, we feel distraught, distressed and unhappy. As such, it is crucial that we understand what are our core relational strivings and what are the various elements that go into them.

Gregg Henriques
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Source: Gregg Henriques

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