An Investigation Into the Effects of Cross-Sex Friendships on Heterosexual Romantic Relationship Dynamics

Date

2019-12

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Abstract

Friendships outside of a heterosexual romantic relationship are common and fulfill needs for social support and intimacy. Cross-sex friendships (i.e., friendships with members of the opposite-sex) are generally as fulfilling as same-sex friendships and provide many of the same benefits (Monsour, 2001). However, cross-sex friendships may pose unique challenges to those in heterosexual romantic relationships. Using two studies, this research aimed to investigate the consequences of cross-sex friendship maintenance for different features of relationship functioning in heterosexual romantic relationships as well as potential mechanisms underlying these associations. For Study 1 (n = 347 individuals), I employed a cross-sectional (non-dyadic) design with participants in heterosexual romantic relationships to test whether individuals with a greater number of cross-sex friendships, or who believe that their romantic partner has a greater number of cross-sex friendships, report lower levels of three macro-level relationship outcomes: commitment, relationship satisfaction, and trust. In Study 2 (n = 108 dyads), I used a daily diary design with heterosexual romantic dyads to evaluate whether individuals’ and their romantic partners’ daily interactions with cross-sex friends predict changes in individuals’ relational maintenance behaviors and romantic relationship satisfaction. In both studies, I also examined the indirect effect of friendship maintenance on relationship outcomes via feelings of jealousy and perceived availability of alternatives to one’s own partner. Friendship maintenance was unrelated to romantic relationship outcomes in both Study 1 and Study 2. However, Study 1 provided support for the hypothesis that the cross-sex friendships individuals and their partners hold are indirectly related to participants’ relationship outcomes via availability of alternatives and feelings of jealousy, respectively. Additionally, Study 2 provided evidence that daily contact with friends (regardless of gender) is related to lower levels of relationship satisfaction via a greater availability of alternatives. Interestingly, there was not much evidence to suggest that these effects are moderated by characteristics of the friendships, the romantic relationships, or the individuals. Taken together, this research increases our understanding of how heterosexual couples successfully navigate the challenges of cross-sex friendships and two of the mechanisms underlying these experiences.

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Keywords

Man-woman relationships, Heterosexuals, Friendship, Male friendship, Female friendship

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©2019 Conrad Alexander Corretti. All Rights Reserved.

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