There are a number of reasons why we form social and intimate relationships and why they sometimes fail. Most of them are related to our perceptions, which in turn can be affected by a range of other factors, such as our socio-economic or cultural background, gender, education, social learning, personality, experience and so on. The key influences on relationship formation that have been identified by psychologists are briefly discussed below.
Physical attractiveness plays a vital role in relationship formation, particularly in the early stages. Research shows that we tend to be attracted to physically attractive people, yet we tend to end up in close relationships with people who are of a similar level of attractiveness to ourselves. Perhaps we are more comfortable with someone who is not too much more or less attractive that we are.
While attractive people tend to receive more positive responses, in a wide range of situations, very attractive people can suffer from low self-esteem due to the fact that many people only relate to them on a surface level. Also, it appears that physical attractiveness during youth bears no correlation to happiness in later life.
Proximity tends to have a positive influence on attraction. Those who spend much time together, such as at work, are more likely to form a relationship than those who go to a bar in the hope of meeting someone. Proximity bears no relation on the quality of the relationship, however.
Research has consistently found that perceived similarities in terms of such things as age, interests, personality, and education are a good indicator of increased attraction in both short and long-term relationships. Most significant have been findings with regard to similarities of attitudes, beliefs and values (Byrne et al., 1986). Other research (Cattell and Nesselrode, 1967) has shown that those with more similar personalities are likely to have more successful partnerships
Sometimes people fool themselves into thinking that many similarities exist where they don’t. The relationship counsellor can work on these areas.
Influence on the counsellor
Most studies have been inconclusive with regard to similarities in the client and counsellor on the dimension of age, sex and ethnicity, and therapy outcomes. The only significant findings have been with regard to similarities in values. Here, studies have shown a positive outcome on therapeutic results for such things as wisdom, intellectual pursuits, honesty and knowledge. It may be because these values are humanistic pertaining to the upkeep of social order.
Certain discrepancies in values between the client and counsellor have also been associated with positive therapeutic outcomes. These have been with regard to social status and friendships and it has been supposed that the reason for this is due to the fact that these are often the issues for which the client is seeking counselling.