Balancing the need to be "me" with the need to be "we": Applying Optimal Distinctiveness Theory to the understanding of multiple motives within romantic relationships

Erica B. Slotter*, Caitlin W. Duffy, Wendi L Gardner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations

Abstract

Two distinct tensions can arise between individuals' relational-fulfillment and personal-fulfillment needs in close relationships. The first tension is a conflict of potential behaviors and arises between serving the relationship by meeting one's partner's needs versus serving the self by meeting one's/own needs (e.g., your versus my needs). The second tension is a conflict of potential identities and arises between needs to identify as embedded within the relationship versus a unique individual (e.g., relational versus individual me). Although much work has explored how individuals navigate the former, little research has examined the latter. The present research applied Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (ODT; Brewer, 1991), a theory of dynamic identity processes in groups, to examine how individuals balance individual versus relational identities. We predicted that, just as individuals negotiate their social identities within groups to satisfy both affiliation and distinctiveness needs, individuals in romantic relationships strive to balance similar needs at the dyadic level. We predicted that when individuals' needs for affiliation were satisfied, they would emphasize their individual identity over their relational identity. We also predicted that fluctuation in these perceptions reflects satisfaction of individual identity needs within the relationship and would not influence relationship quality. Four studies supported these hypotheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-81
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
Volume52
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2014

Keywords

  • Close relationship
  • Optimal Distinctiveness Theory
  • Social identity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science

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