In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Relationships

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Textbooks
  • Journals
  • Evolutionary Theory
  • Attachment Theory
  • Interdependence Theory
  • Cognition
  • The Self
  • Emotion
  • Attraction and Relationship Initiation
  • Relationship Development and Maintenance
  • Relationship Deterioration, Breakup, and Divorce
  • Love
  • Sex and Sexuality
  • Stress, Support, Mental Health, and Physical Health
  • The “Dark Side” of Relationships
  • Relationships in Context
  • Methods and Measures

Psychology Relationships
Benjamin Le, Lydia F. Emery
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 July 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199828340-0084


Close relationships play a central role in individuals’ lives, influencing physical health and psychological well-being. Many of the highs and lows that people experience have their roots in the relationships they have with others. Beginning in the late 1960s and coalescing into a major topic in social psychology in the 1980s, psychological research on romantic relationships has grown steadily. Although there are many forms of close relationships (e.g., friendships, family), much of the field centers on the study of romantic relationships (e.g., marriage and dating), which is the focus of this bibliography. Much of the research on close relationships has been conducted in Western countries, however, and the research represented in this article does not necessarily apply to all cultures around the world. The article begins with overview chapters that review the research in the field of close relationships, and romantic relationships in particular, with much of the empirical studies reviewed in these chapters coming from the journals highlighted in the following section. Several textbooks that are commonly used in classes focusing on relationships are suggested, as well as professional handbooks that include chapters on all of the major topics in relationship research. The article then suggests readings for each of the major theoretical perspectives in the field, including Evolutionary Theory, Attachment Theory, and Interdependence Theory. After reviewing these three approaches, the article offers a series of specific topics that are relevant to the study of romantic relationships and cut across these theories. For example, cognitive processes are essential to understanding relationship functioning, and relationships are important determinants of how people define themselves and experience emotions. Likewise, attraction is often an important first step in the formation of relationships, and the interpersonal processes that facilitate relationship development and maintenance are critical in predicting if relationships continue or terminate. Other important topics that are relevant to close relationships include Love, Sex and Sexuality, and the role of relationships in understanding stress, physical health, and mental health. Although research often focuses on the positive side of relationships, they can produce very negative experiences as well. Furthermore, because romantic relationships occur within social and physical environments, this article includes a section on the interface between relationships and contextual factors (e.g., social networks, geographic separation, availability of partners). Finally, the article also provides resources regarding how researchers go about studying close relationships.

General Overviews

Berscheid and Reis 1998 is an excellent starting point as an overview of the major topics in the field of relationships. That chapter, along with Harvey and Wenzel 2006, outlines the major theoretical perspectives that form the foundation for much of the research in the field. Similarly, Reis 2012 traces the relatively brief history of the field. Two Psychological Bulletin articles, Baumeister and Leary 1995 and Reis, et al. 2000, provide important discussions of how relationships are central to well-being and development, with the psychology of relationships as an elemental pillar of social psychology. Aron, et al. 2010 gives a concise review of the importance of relationships and outlines important directions for future research. Finally, Berscheid 1999 provides an accessible entry to the issues faced by relationship scholars within an interdisciplinary context.

  • Aron, Arthur, Margaret S. Clark, and Harry Reis. October 2010. NSF White Paper: How and why do close relationships shape human behavior?. Arlington, VA: National Science Foundation.

    Reviews literature to show the importance of relationships for numerous areas of life, discussing previous research as well as crucial areas for the field to study in future years.

  • Baumeister, Roy F., and Mark R. Leary. 1995. The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin 117.3: 497–529.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.117.3.497

    Reviews literature and argues that the need for belonging is a fundamental human motivation. The scope of this article is not limited to close relationships research, but its argument has implications for the study of close relationships.

  • Berscheid, Ellen. 1999. The greening of relationship science. American Psychologist 54.4: 260–266.

    DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.54.4.260

    A brief overview of the importance of relationship science and the obstacles that it faces; provides a good introduction to the field.

  • Berscheid, Ellen, and Harry T. Reis. 1998. Attraction and close relationships. In The handbook of social psychology. 4th ed. Vol. 2. Edited by Daniel T. Gilbert, Susan T. Fiske, and Gardner Lindzey, 193–281. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

    A thorough review of the extant literature on close relationships as it stood in 1998.

  • Harvey, John H., and Amy Wenzel. 2006. Theoretical perspectives in the study of close relationships. In The Cambridge handbook of personal relationships. Edited by Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman, 35–50. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511606632

    Reviews common theoretical approaches in the field of close relationships, including evolutionary, social exchange and equity, cognitive-behavioral, and attachment perspectives.

  • Reis, Harry T. 2012. A history of relationship research in social psychology. In Handbook of the history of social psychology. Edited by Arie W. Kruglanski and Wolfgang Stroebe, 363–382. New York: Psychology Press.

    Traces the history of the field from its roots in other psychological concepts to the development of its primary theoretical perspectives. Touches also on the future of the field—both where it seems to be going and where it needs to go.

  • Reis, Harry T., W. Andrew Collins, and Ellen Berscheid. 2000. The relationship context of human behavior and development. Psychological Bulletin 126.6: 844–872.

    DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.126.6.844

    Reviews the literature on close relationships and argues that human behavior can be best understood within the context of close relationships.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.