Emotional Communication in Close Relationships

Lisa Gaelick, Galen V. Bodenhausen, Robert S. Wyer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations


Emotional communication patterns characterizing interactions between partners in close relationships were investigated by asking 29 couples who were married or living together to engage in a videotaped discussion of a problem they were having in their relationship. In a later experimental session, partners identified specific communications that they believed had an important influence on the discussion and then rated the communications in terms of the feelings the communicator intended to convey and the recipient's reactions. Partners attempted to reciprocate both the positive and negative feelings that they perceived their partner to express toward them. However, only negative feelings were actually reciprocated. This was because subjects were sensitive to differences in the negative feelings their partners reported expressing and interpreted those feelings correctly, but they were inaccurate in perceiving their partners' expressions of positive feelings. Men (but not women) interpreted their partners' failures to express love as an indication of hostility, whereas women (but not men) interpreted their partners' lack of hostility as an indication of love. These and other results were conceptualized in terms of a general model of emotional communication. Parameters of the model pertaining to the hostility of partners' communications were often related to women's satisfaction with their relationship and their beliefs about relationships in general. However, they were unrelated to men's satisfaction and general beliefs. This suggested that women are generally more adversely affected by overt expressions of hostility than are men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1246-1265
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 1985

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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