When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Creating closeness between couples
RICHARD B. SLATCHER
Wayne State University
Romantic relationships do not occur in a vacuum. They begin, develop, and change within a larger environment. The individual characteristics of couple members (e.g., their personalities, feelings of attachment) and the
one-on-one interactions that couple members have with each other are critical forces in shaping the future path of a romantic relationship, but the environmental context in which couples interact is vitally important as well.
This environment includes both the physical context (e.g., proximity and physical setting) and social context (e.g., family and friends) in which couples are embedded. Couples’ friendships with those in their social networks may
be particularly relevant determinants of what makes for a strong and stable romantic relationship
(Agnew, Loving, & Drigotas, 2001; Milardo, 1982; Sprecher, Felmlee, Orbuch, &
There is growing empirical evidence that shared friendships are beneficial for couples.
One of the most robust findings in this area of research is that couples who have a larger
percentage of shared friends (vs. individual friends) tend to have happier and longer lasting
relationships (Ackerman, 1963; Agnew et al., 2001; Milardo, 1988). From a sociological
perspective, the more that couples are integrated into their social networks, the more likely they are to have happy and satisfying romantic relationships. However, it is unknown whether social networks have an inherent benefit for couples or just that people who are happier in their relationships are more likely to make friendships with others together as a couple. By studying how friendships between couples form in a controlled laboratory setting, we may be able to better understand the processes through which friendships between couples are generated, and gain insight into the directionality of social network–romantic relationship quality links.