2-3 PAGES DOUBLED SPACED. PICK A PROMPT.
This analysis paper encourages you to become a critical observer of interpersonal communication skills by conducting an analysis of a Modern Love story. Modern Love originated in 2004 as a New York Times column cataloging real, personal love stories for the public record. In the column (which has become a book and a popular series), “love” means a lot of things to the people who share their experiences—the trials of midlife marriage, the strains of parenthood, self-love in contexts of loneliness, the loss of loved ones.
Your job is to pick one of the tales of love (either an episode from the Modern Love series available on Amazon Prime Video or one of the essays in the Modern Love book you’ll find in the Resources folder—your choice) and critically analyze it using at least two major theories or concepts from the readings/chapters in the second half of the course (e.g., Knapp or Baxter’s models of relational dynamics, conflict styles, triangular theory of love, emotional labor, emotional fallacies, four horsemen, communication climate…you have a lot of options!). What you choose is up to you, but the success of your analysis depends on being thoughtful about your choices with respect to the story you are analyzing, so you will want to view/read the story and take notes on your observations before selecting the theories/concepts you’ll use.
You may choose one of the two following prompt options to follow for your paper.
PROMPT ONE: The Plot Prompt
In an introduction, briefly identify and summarize the episode or essay chapter so your reader has a general idea of the overall story. End with a thesis statement about your application of two major interpersonal communication theories or concepts used in your analysis.
For each of the interpersonal communication theories/concepts you have chosen, consider how they figure into the plot and/or development of the characters.
Describe how both theories/concepts apply to the story. Be specific as you describe the character(s) and/or event(s) where each theory/concept is demonstrated (using subconcepts where necessary).
Evaluate how the story reflects the theories/concepts (consider what the story illustrates in terms of each theory/concept, or what putting them together helps you uncover. (Hint: This step will help you come up with your thesis statement).
Analyze the consequences of the theories/concepts (and/or their connection) in your analysis. For example, consider short-term and long-term consequences to the character(s) and/or plot (think beyond what you saw/read in the story). Take a position and explain, with evidence, WHY you believe as you do.
In a conclusion, summarize your insights regarding interpersonal communication as demonstrated in the story. What are the major lessons to be learned, especially via your analysis?
PROMPT 2: The Character Prompt
In an introduction, briefly identify and summarize the episode or essay chapter so your reader has a general idea of the overall story. Identify ONE CHARACTER who, if this person were real, would benefit from taking COMM 120. End with a thesis statement about at least two interpersonal communication theories/concepts that you believe this person would benefit from learning; you will develop a rationale for your claim in the body of your paper.
For each of the interpersonal theories/concepts you believe this one character should learn:
Identify a specific interpersonal communication skill or competence that the theory or concept would help this person foster.
Describe specific examples from the story which demonstrate weakness in the identified skill or competence area. Your reader should be able to picture the weakness from your description.
Explain what you would teach this person, and why. Use appropriate terms from the text (e.g., subconcepts from the theory), and support your recommendations with clear and logical reasoning.
Analyze how the skill or competence, if developed, would change the person’s character and/or affect the plot of the story. Consider short-term and long-term outcomes (think beyond what you saw/read in the story).
In a conclusion, summarize your insights regarding interpersonal communication as demonstrated in the story. What are the major lessons to be learned?
Your paper (whether you follow Prompt 1 or 2) should be typed, double-spaced, and around 1,000 words. The largest portion of your paper should be devoted to your analysis. Your paper should have a clear introduction and conclusion. It should also have a clear point, meaning somewhere near the beginning you should have a thesis statement that clearly explains the point you will make in the paper (you may not know this right away). Any material drawn from outside of your own head should be cited in the paper.
THE THEORIES ARE BELOW THIS!
Emotional labor is an important concept that gets relatively short shrift in Interplay. While the textbook chapter touches on its instrumental importance in some occupations, there is another set of considerations we should have when discussing the value–and costs–of emotional labor. For these reasons, I’ve included in your reading for the week the first chapter of Arlie Hothschild classic work, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling. Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor,” and–as you’ll observe as you read–it was meant to recall Karl Marx’s theory of labor for a new, service-based labor economy in the late 20th century. For Hochschild, emotional labor “requires one to induce or suppress feeling in order to sustain the outward countenance that produces the proper state of mind in others–in this case [on an airline], the sense of being cared for in a convivial and safe place.” Hochschild is interested in how the service economy facilitates the alienation of workers from emotional expression through its valuation on the job. While emotional labor can be a good thing in some contexts, what are its costs–personally and socially? To what degree can we say emotional labor is exploited? How is emotional labor distributed socially (e.g., on the basis of gender, or race)? How does the prevalence of emotional labor in the economy affect our ability to express and manage our private emotions? How does it change our understanding of “labor” and “emotion”? These are just some of the questions Hochschild poses for us.
Because the term has entered popular consciousness in the past few years (in part, due to the prevalence of the gig economy and informal work arrangements), there has been some misapplication of her original use of the term. For this reason, I’ve also included in your reading this week a recent interview where she clarifies some misconceptions.
art of assessing the contexts of listening in relationships requires understanding the dynamics of your relationships in the first place. The concept of “relational dynamics” describes how interpersonal relationships start, maintain, transform, and end. In interpersonal communication theory, there are two primary relationship models: developmental relationship models and dialectical relationship models. These models seek to explain the nature of relationship development and maintenance, but they do so from different perspectives. Both are useful in some ways and not in others. These models are helpful in organizing how to think more generally about relationship formation and maintenance.
As noted in Interplay, developmental models assume that the nature of relationships changes drastically over time, and that there are certain distinct phases in every relationship. Dialectical models do not ascribe to this idea of relational stages and instead focus on the constant ebb and flow of relationships, and the idea that relationships are not linear, they are making, remaking, and breaking all the time. It is best to understand these models not as opposing, but as complementary—they both tell us something valuable from different vantage points about relationships. In the following lecture, I’ll zoom in on each model in turn, as well as a few criticisms where applicable, and what they do help us understand the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Remember again that these models are referring to generic intimate or friendly relationships, so they do not account for relationship roles (such as family or work relationships), context, issues of power, and some of the other things we’ve talked about that affect relationship formation and maintenance.
Next comes the bonding stage. In the bonding stage, couples make symbolic commitments to one another, showing the world that they truly are committed. For adults, the public gesture of commitment is usually some type of marriage ceremony. Part of the frustration communicated by gay marriage advocates prior to it being legalized was related to the bonding stage—the desire to have access to the quintessential symbolic commitment in Western relationships, a legally recognized marriage. But, the bonding stage is also illustrated in other ways. Teens and young adults who can’t get married make similar public gestures such as giving promise rings, changing their Facebook relationship status, appearing in public together at rituals like prom, getting matching tattoos, and so on. With this stage, you should be thinking about how it connects with cultural rituals and symbols, and also the role of language. Psychological research studies have illustrated that publicly announcing relationships does increase the odds people will stay together, in some part due to psychological discomfort of being wrong, and the self-monitoring we do in the maintenance of our self-image. If you tell people, “Jackie and I will be together forever,” and then you divorce or break up, it makes you look bad! Self-image plays a huge role in why people stay in bad relationships, or why they hang onto stock they’ve invested in even when it’s tanking beyond repair.
The next stage in relational development is kind of ironic because at the height of our commitment to another person, at the time when we’ve obligated ourselves to that person in the most serious way, we decide we need our space. According to the developmental model, it is at this point that the differentiating stage has begun. It’s important to note that differentiating isn’t a bad thing; it’s actually a good way to stave off codependency, which is an unhealthy reliance on another person. Managing differentiation is the most important part of any long-lasting relationship. The key to successful differentiation is to maintain a commitment to the relationship while nurturing your individual interests at the same time. If you differentiate successfully, more than likely you’ll stay together. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in a deteriorating relationship.
If that’s you, the actual first move in the coming apart phase is the circumscribing stage. In this stage, communication becomes routine, static, and uninvolved. For example, instead of talking about a problem with your partner, you might choose to ignore it because discussing or arguing takes time and energy.
In the next stage, stagnating, communication becomes nothing more than practical—your other communicative needs stop being addressed by this relationship. There are typically two reasons people in the stagnation stage communicate: to coordinate activities (such as their children’s soccer games, rides to school, birthdays, or household chores), or to make requests or demands (like asking for money or to borrow the car). Obviously, even though a stagnant relationship isn’t fulfilling your other communicative needs (emotional, intellectual, physical, and so on), that doesn’t mean you don’t still have them and want them met. For instance, if you feel like you have made an effort to fix the relationship and the other person has not, you might get angry or experience feelings of deprivation. If you feel like the other person has let you down by becoming too needy, physically unattractive, or uninteresting, you might experience feelings of disgust or loathing toward them. Either way, you will typically start to avoid the other person while in the stagnation stage.
Avoiding is final stage of a deteriorating relationship before someone finally breaks it off. Again, this pattern of coming apart is not inevitable. Communication is only one of many factors that contribute to relationships lasting or ending.
DIALECTICAL TENSIONS MODEL
Not quite a model per se, the dialectical tensions perspective on relationships is attributed to Leslie Baxter and Williams Rawlins. Whereas developmental models like Knapp’s, which we just discussed, argue that relationships occur in distinct stages, a dialectical perspective assumes that communication struggles occur throughout relationships in a nonlinear way. From the dialectical perspective, communicators in intimate romantic or close-friend relationships in any stage face inevitable incompatibilities, called dialectical tensions, both internally (in the relationship) and externally (looking outward from the relationship) that must be resolved if relational satisfaction is to be achieved.
First, dialectical theorists argue that in every relationship there exists an integration-separation dialectic in which participants struggle between connecting with their partners versus maintaining their own autonomy and including others in their relationship versus secluding themselves from interference. Our simultaneous desire to relate and spend time with others, and to maintain our own identity and spend time alone, can cause problems for two reasons. First, the need for connection and autonomy differs from person to person. How much time do you like to spend alone, and how much time do you like to spend with someone you love? How much input do you like to get from your family on how to raise your children, and how much do you want to just try things out on your own? So, everybody has different social and identity needs; however, be aware that our needs change over the course of our lives and over the course of relationships.
The second dialectical tension that occurs in every relationship is finding balance in the stability-change dialectic. Internally, on one hand, we need to be able to predict others’ behavior to some degree. If you bring your significant other over to your parents’ house for dinner, you want to be reasonably sure that they’ll compliment your mom’s or dad’s cooking regardless of how it tastes. On the other hand, there also needs to be an element of novelty in our relationships. If you know exactly what your boyfriend or girlfriend, husband or wife, or even best friend is going to say or do before they do it, where is the growth and fun for you? Externally, we have to deal with our differing desires for our relationships to follow cultural conventions and to seem unique and special to others. In this way, relationships are like movies—if you knew the ending, would you still want to go see it as much?
Third, all relationships are characterized by an expression-privacy dialectic. Can you use the bathroom in front of your significant other? Depending on where you fall on this dialectic internally, you might think that is great for your relationship, or you might think that is something that should always be private. Even regular friends struggle between being too open or too private. Externally as a couple, you might struggle with how much of your relationship you reveal to others and how much you keep concealed.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
So, what do these different relationship perspectives and models do for us and not do for us? I want to revisit Knapp’s developmental model for a moment. As I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, relationships don’t have to end: stagnating doesn’t always lead to avoiding, and avoiding doesn’t always lead to terminating, and even couples who terminate their relationship can decide to start over. My friends Jack and Ashley met in elementary school, dated the last two years of high school and the first year of college, they broke up and dated other people for a few years, and now they are getting married. Relationships are not stagnant; they are not even cyclical. If you have a big life change with your partner, you might have to go from bonding back down to experimentation and work your way back up. The model gets critiqued for implying that relationships are linear, but you should understand these stages more as guidelines because they build on each other. We can skip stages and jump around, and for long-lasting relationships, you should plan on going through these different stages multiple times!
Another thing to remember is that each time you experience a stage, it will be different than the last time because you are different. For example, in a romantic relationship, you might go through the intensifying stage for the first time while dating and experience it as mostly physical and reckless. As the relationship goes on (and you integrate, bond by getting married, and then differentiate by falling into the young married couple’s lifestyle of work and hanging out at night with friends), you might experience the intensifying stage again in a new way after having kids or buying a house together. But now, you’re both older, have more responsibility and stress, and your body is more worn. So while physical intimacy is a part of your renewed intensity, it will look and feel different. Perhaps instead your emotional and intellectual intimacy are what intensifies more strongly.
Developmental models give us a good framework for thinking about the big picture movement of our relationships, while the dialectical perspective helps us understand the more micro-processes of relationship maintenance. Taking the two together, you should now have a better sense of how all the things we’ve been talking about so far work together to form, sustain, and dissolve our interpersonal relationships.