The Role of Intimacy in the Production and Perception of Relationship Talk Within Courtship

The Role of Intimacy in the Production and Perception of Relationship Talk Within Courtship

The authors define relationship talk as content messages that reference the nature of the relationship between people. They seek to contribute to the literature by (a) conceptualizing relationship talk in ways that attend to its nuances, and (b) evaluating how intimacy predicts the production and perception of relationship talk. They conducted an observational study of conversations between 120 dating couples. Length of romantic interest,compared to intimacy, was the more proximal predictor of the prominence, explicitness, depth, and negative valence of relationship talk. In general, relationship talk was positively associated with people’s perceptions of the relational impact of conversation, but intimacy was unrelated to relational impact. The prominence of relationship talk noted by third-party judges was positively associated with relational impact when intimacy was low but not high. The authors discuss how their findings illuminate content messages about relationships.
Keywords: intimacy; relationship talk; conversation; courtship Aguiding principle within the field of interpersonal communication is that both a content message and a relational message are embedded in every utterance. A content message is the denotative meaning of an utterance, and a relational message is the information an utterance provides about the nature of the relationship between interactants (Burgoon & Hale, 1984; Watzlawick, Beavin, & Jackson, 1967). All relational messages convey information about the relationship between people, even when the corresponding content messages are virtually equivalent (cf. “Please pass the salt.”“Give me the salt.”“Is there any salt left for me?”). Not all content messages reference the nature of the relationship (“Close the door.”), but content messages can allude to the relationship with varying degrees of specificity (“Thanks for being a good friend.” “Our relationship has been tense lately.” “Will you marry me?”).

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