Facebook as a Communicational Tool in Romantic Relationships of European and North American Adolescents and Young Adults

A Literature Review

Bachelor Thesis, 2017

63 Pages, Grade: 1.7


Table of Contents


Table of Contents

Table of Abbreviations

List of Figures and Tables

1. Introduction
1.1 Method
1.2 The Sociological Problem of Romantic Relationships

2. Theories
2.1 Social Exchange Theory
2.2 Social Exchange Theory and Romantic Relationships
2.3 Social Network Theories and Analysis
2.4 Knapp’s Relational Stage Mode
2.5 Baxter’s Relational Dialectics Theory

3. Communication on Facebook and Facebook User Demographics
3.1 Understanding Facebook Communication
3.2 Internet and Facebook Usage
3.2.1 Facebook usage in general population
3.2.2 Facebook usage in adolescents and young adults
3.2.3 Facebook relationship status distributions Relationship status distributions of all ages Relationship status distributions of young adults
3.2.4 Gender differences
3.3 Conclusion

4. Romantic Relationships and Facebook
4.1 Romantic Relationship Formation and Facebook
4.1.1 Facebook’s role in early romantic relationship stages. Usage and strategies Implications for social acting
4.1.2 Becoming Facebook official
4.2 Romantic Relationship Maintenance and Facebook
4.2.1 Maintaining a romantic relationship on Facebook
4.2.2 Representing a romantic relationship on Facebook
4.3 Romantic Relationship Dissolution and Facebook

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion




A relatively small amount of research addresses romantic relationship communication on Facebook. However, the aim of this literature review was to conclude current research about romantic relationship communication of European and North American adolescents and young adults on Facebook. Communication behaviours were observed in Knapp’s (1978) three relational stages: formation, maintenance, and dissolution. Facebook was found to be a significant communicational tool for adolescents and young adults in romantic relationships. Findings displayed that not only communication between partners but also between couple and network influence relationship outcomes. The availability of information can lead to dialectical struggles between relationship partners (Baxter, 2011), and high levels of social control from romantic relationship partners’ networks. A special importance of Facebook was found in the relationship formation, where Facebook serves as the main tool to communicate and to gather information about potential and existing partners. Relationship maintenance on Facebook requires publications of relationship information. The frequency and importance of those publications depends on the relationship partners and their Facebook networks. No research has been conducted on relationship dissolutions on Facebook yet. Although, research on behaviours after the dissolution revealed that former partners cleared their profiles from information connected to ex-partners. Harassment and monitoring of ex-partners were also reported behaviours. More research is needed to provide sufficient evidence to validate the presented data. Additionally, only a small amount of research addresses the reliability of offline behaviour and links between offline and online behaviour in the field of romantic relationships.

Keywords: Romantic Relationship Communication, Online Social Media, Social Networking Site, Facebook

Table of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

List of Figures and Tables


Figure 1: Embeddedness of Dyadic Romantic Relationships.

Figure 2: Knapp’s Relational Stages Model.


Table 1: Used Sources to Describe All Facebook Users as well as Adolescent and Young Adult Facebook Users.

Table 2: Facebook Relationship Status Distribution Compared to Countries’ Offline Relationship Distribution

Table 3: Facebook Relationship Status of All Age Groups and 18-24-year-olds and Facebook Penetration Rate for All Age Groups by Country.

1. Introduction

Romantic relationships can be found in every culture and in every historical period (Aron, Fisher & Strong, 2006). Relationships are defined by a certain amount of interactions (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959) and embedded in social networks of social relations (Lincoln et al., 2014). It can be expected that interactions within romantic relationships differ qualitatively or quantitatively from interactions within other kinds of relationships, such as friendships, business relations, etc. (see Prell, 2012). According to Putnam (cited in Lincoln et al., 2014), romantic relationships are close social ties or bonding social capital. Close social ties relate to high amounts of social exchange. This makes romantic relationships, together with work or education, the most time-consuming activity of many adolescents’ and adults’ lives. Romantic relationships are also crucial for reproduction and the creation as well as maintenance of families.

Non-verbal and verbal communication are essential tools to establish, maintain or end romantic relationships (Knapp, 1978). Nowadays, there are several different ways of communicating beyond face-to-face interactions or telephone calls. Globalisation and technological developments, such as the Internet and Social Media, offer new dimensions of communication and for creating social networks and relations (Turner, 2006; Abraham, 2012). Since the millennium, especially online social media (OSM) became of global importance for romantic and all other kinds of relationships (Fox, Warber & Makstaller, 2013; Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012). However, only one OSM website has gained more members than any other in the history of the internet: Facebook (Statista, 2017a).

Facebook is a social networking site, which was originally used to connect to other people (Veer, 2011). However, the variation of functions is growing and so is Facebook itself. Additionally, Facebook already has a high number of active members; 1.94 billion users are online monthly, 1.28 daily respectively (Statista, 2017b, Facebook, 2017a). Therefore, Facebook, or individuals’ actions on Facebook, help researchers to better understand human behaviour by examining users ‘behavioural online traces’ (Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012). Hence, Facebook can be understood as a steadily growing database on human behaviour with new information added in real time. From business relations to marriages – Facebook occupies an important part of many people’s lives (Fox, Osborn & Warber, 2014) and has become a crucial communicational tool for many kinds of relationships, such as romantic relationships (Veer, 2011). Therefore, the research question of this literature review will be: “How do European and North American adolescents and young adults in romantic relationships use Facebook to communicate in different romantic relationship stages?”. In the following section 1.1 the methodology of this review will be described and in section 1.2 the sociological problem of romantic relationships will be addressed.

1.1 Method

In this literature review recent North American and European research on Facebook usage in a romantic relationship context will be reviewed. Mainly English and German online literature, which is not older than 10 years, will be considered. Due to the novelty of Facebook, a great amount of qualitative research will be included. A theoretical framework will be used to structure the data and for its interpretation. Research trends will also be acknowledged.

Young adults and adolescents represent nearly 40% of all US American (Saul, 2017) Facebook users and 39% of all Facebook users worldwide (Kemp, 2017). They are ‘born into’ a world in which Facebook is a significant factor – not only for romantic relationships but for the daily life – as Facebook became one of the main tools to communicate. This is shown by the fact that 18 to 24-year-olds have the highest Facebook penetration rate of all age groups (Kemp, 2017). Until 2015, the internet and smartphones became commonly used in Europe and North America, especially by adolescents and young adults (Poushter, 2015). 1.15 billion Users visit Facebook with their mobile devices on a daily base (Statista, 2016). A large amount of this daily-user group is expected to be adolescents and young adults (e.g. Facebook, 2017b; Wiese et al., 2014). Further, older users spend less time on Facebook and use fewer functions than younger users (Mc Andrew & Joeng, 2017). Hence, this literature review will focus on data on adolescents and young adults (aged from 13 to 25 years). Due to the data availability and to minimise cultural biases and/or misinterpretations and misunderstandings, observed continents will be Europe and North America.

Several theories offer explanations for social interactions between individuals in social networks and for communication within romantic relationships. First, the relevance of interactions for romantic relationships will be described by Social Exchange Theories (SET), and second, the embeddedness of romantic relationships with Social Network Theories (SNT). Third, Knapp’s (1978) Relational Stage Model will be used to explain romantic relationships in different stages to better understand relationships’ developments. Fourth, Baxter’s (1990, 2011) Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT) will give deeper insights into communication behaviour within relationships.

Afterwards, mainly quantitative data will be presented to give an overview of European and North American Facebook usage and the network’s user groups. Firstly, communicational dimensions of Facebook will be named and explained shortly. Secondly, Internet and Facebook penetration rates of all age groups and specifically adolescent and young adults will be presented. Thirdly, relationship status distributions offline and online will be comparted, as well as relationship status distributions between the group of all ages and young adults. Fourthly, selected adolescent and young adult Facebook users’ gender differences will be presented.

Thence, due to the novelty of the field, mainly qualitative data will be used to described how Facebook is used as a communicational tool by romantic relationship partners in the 3 different stages of their relationships; relationship formation, maintenance, and dissolution. In the chapter about relationship formation, the role of Facebook at the beginnings of relationships and especially the publication of a relationship status change on Facebook will be discussed. In the chapter about relationship maintenance, firstly, relationship partners’ maintenance behaviours will be presented, and secondly, how relationship partners represent romantic relationships on Facebook. The chapter about relationship dissolution focuses on behaviours after the termination of the relationship. Afterwards, the reviewed data will be discussed, and the reliability of online behaviour and its applicability to offline worlds will be discussed shortly. The final chapter will conclude the findings of this review.

1.2 The Sociological Problem of Romantic Relationships

Research on romantic relationship faces two major problems: first, a lack of theory, terminology, definitions and components of the term; and second, the issue of measuring specific variables, such as love, affection, attraction, relationship satisfaction, etc. (Rusu, 2017).

Romantic relationships are a specific kind of relationships often associated with love or romance. Sociological approaches to define and theorise about love or romance differ from each other (Rusu, 2017). Furthermore, in the last century, love and romance were labelled to be psychological phenomena only, as for example psychological terms feelings and emotions can be used as tools to analyse romantic relationships (Rusu, 2017). This led to scientific work on love and romantic relationships including more often a rather psychological than a sociological terminology (see Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012; or Collins, Welsh & Furman, 2009). Variables, such as commitment, satisfaction (Sprecher, 1988), closeness and intimacy, seem to be connected to love and romantic relationships (Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012). However, also sociological terms, such as power and dependency, may be used to characterise romantic relationships (Thibaut & Kelly, 1959). Difficulties arise when these variables ought to be measured consistently as their definitions are inconsistent and the theoretical framework does not cover individual differences. This methodological problem caused by missing theoretical and consistent work characterises the sociological problem of (studying) romantic relationships. Furthermore, variables, such as commitment, intimacy, satisfaction, but also power and dependence, can be found within friendships as well (Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012). However, sexuality is a special component of romantic relationships which makes the difference to other types of relationships (Wilson, Gosling & Graham, 2012). Despite that, romantic relationships do not have to include romantic love, but can also exist due to their utilitarian meaning/function (e.g. Blau, 1964). Finally, it must be stated that it needs further research and theoretical work on love, romance and romantic relationships to establish universal models and terms (Rusu, 2017).

Therefore, romantic relationships shall be defined in this work as relationships between two or more individuals which include not only a certain level of intimacy but also physical and/or non-physical sexual components. Variables, such as love, romance, power, dependency, et cetera, will not be considered in this review as the focus will be on communication on Social Media only. However, the terms commitment, satisfaction and jealousy will be used in the context of communication in romantic relationships throughout the review.

2. Theories

There are several perspectives and theories which can be used to explain communication behaviour in romantic relationships. While romantic relationships are often seen as exclusively dyadic phenomena, they are still embedded in social networks. This makes it crucial to mention social network theories and their analysis besides theories of acting and relationship process and communication.

Interpersonal relationships are defined by frequently maintained interactions (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). These interactions represent behaviour in each other’s presence, communication or the creation of something for each other. Therefore, interpersonal relationships can be seen as exchanges, which will be explained at the beginning of this chapter via the Social Exchange Theory (SET; Thibaut & Kelley, 1959). Firstly, principles of the SET will be explained. Secondly, some applications of the SET to romantic relationships will be presented. Thirdly, due to the embeddedness of both interpersonal, or romantic, relationships and interactions, such as communication, Social Network Theories (SNT) will be discussed. Afterwards, romantic relationships shall be described; by, fourthly, explaining the development of romantic relationships in stages with Knapp’s (1978) Relational Stage Model, and fifthly, describing relational communication with Baxter’s (1990, 2011) Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT).

2.1 Social Exchange Theory

According to the SET, interactions are exchanges of material (a child’s toy, a car, clothes, etc.) and non-material goods (rituals, from emotional to military assistance, etc.; Homans, 1958; Blau, 1964). Therefore, interactions have costs which lead to rewards. Consequently, actors try to minimise costs and maximise rewards (Homans, 1958; Blau, 1964). Homans (1958) describes that costs subtracted from rewards equal the profit. The more rewards one achieves through a certain behaviour the more likely the individual will repeat this behaviour and the less likely it is to repeat other behaviours (Homans). Homans stated that profits or rewards from exchanges “decrease with the number of exchanges” (cited in Blau, 1964, p. 90). Thus, actors try to stabilise the level of transactions to the most profitable for both interaction partners (Blau, 1964). Moreover, not only maximising the own profit is the actors’ aim, also a balanced level of profit in the group is wanted, which means that nobody should have more than oneself (Homans, 1958). Furthermore, social exchanges contain unspecific obligations and are therefore different from economic exchanges (Blau, 1964). In economic exchanges, a certain amount of money is paid to purchase an object (e.g. a house or a car), while social exchanges involve the principle of doing each other favours which will be returned in the future (Blau, 1964). However, the exact nature of the obligation – the return of the favour(s) – is not stipulated (Blau, 1964.). Therefore, social exchanges create diffuse obligations, instead of precisely defined ones which can be found in economic exchanges (Blau, 1964). Accordingly, the decision about the nature of the returned favour is dependent on the actor who is returning the favour (Blau, 1964; Homans, 1958). Those reciprocal obligations of returning favours are results of social interactions and therefore difficult to avoid (Blau, 1964). Furthermore, status differences are generated by emerging imbalances of those obligations between actors (Blau, 1964).

2.2 Social Exchange Theory and Romantic Relationships

Walster and colleagues (1978) applied the idea of social exchange to close relationships in the Equity Theory (ET). The ET focuses on the principle of justice and fairness in relationships (Sprecher, 1988). According to Walster et al.’s (1978) ET, costs and rewards are called inputs and outputs and a total outcome is defined by punishments subtracted from rewards. Hence Berscheid and Walster (1969), rewards can be used to create attraction. Equity within a relationship is established when both partners feel like achieving the same total outcome (Walster et al., 1978). This state of equity depends on individual perceptions and evaluations of given inputs and outputs (Sprecher, 1988). Therefore, conclusions about equity may differ among individuals (Sprecher, 1988). Inequity in a relationship causes distress and several negative emotions, such as frustration and anger (Sprecher, 1988).

Sprecher (1988) stated that both outcome-interdependence theory (OIT) and investment model (IM) “focus on rewards and costs derived from the relationship for an individual” (p. 33). The OIT includes the variables costs, rewards, comparison level (CL) and comparison level for alternatives (CLA; Thibaut & Kelly, 1959; Sprecher, 1988). The CL is used to evaluate the relationship, as it describes expectations about what one deserves, the attractiveness of or satisfaction with a given relationship (Sprecher, 1988). The CLA “affects how dependent one feels on the relationship” (Sprecher, 1988., p. 34). The CLA represents actors’ (subjectively perceived) comparisons of outcomes and expected outcomes (Sprecher, 1988). The CLA can also be defined by the minimum level of expected outcomes a relationship member expects (Thibaut & Kelly, 1959). This means that if the outcomes of a relationship are better than from the best alternative relationship, then the individual feels dependent on the relationship (Sprecher, 1988). This dependency creates commitment and commitments which make it more likely for the individual to stay in the relationship (Sprecher, 1988). Accordingly, CL is crucial to determine one’s attraction to a relationship, and CLA to determine both the individual’s dependency and power within the relationship (Thibaut & Kelly, 1959).

According to Rusbult’s (1980, 1983) extensions of the interdependence theory, not only greater satisfaction but also investments can increase the level of commitment. Investments are defined as “resources one gives to the relationship that cannot be retrieved if the relationship were to end” (Sprecher, 1988, p. 34).

A problem of the Social Exchange Theory (SET) is measuring its variables (Sprecher, 1988). Social expectations, resulting in diffuse obligations as well costs and rewards are difficult to measure, as they differ between individuals (Sprecher, 1988). SET simplifies humans in their intentions and behaviour. Actors are presented rather egoistic and therefore in SET mainly describable through the model of the homo oeconomicus (Kirchgässner, 2013), partly with the model of the homo sociologicus (Dahrendorf, 1973). However, there are reasons for human behaviour beyond the explanatory force of those two models. Furthermore, SET considers that there are no altruistic acts, which touches a philosophical problem (especially applicable to romantic relationships) which is not solved yet.

2.3 Social Network Theories and Analysis

Social Network Theories (SNT) can also be described by embeddedness theory, social capital theory and diffusion theory. In the following part definitions and most important terms of the SNT will be mentioned. To give insights on the usage of the SNT, dyadic and network levels of social network analyses will be described briefly in the following.

Everybody has an own social network defined by family, friends, work colleagues, etc. (Prell, 2012). A social network is “a set of relationships that apply to a set of social entities, and any additional information on those actors and relationships” (Prell, 2012, p. 9). Further, social networks can be understood as structural dimension of social capital (Dakhli & de Clercq, 2004). Networks represent “multi-centered micro-[and macro-] level connections between [actors]” (Turner, 2006, para.1). Within those networks ties between ego and alters are observed. Ties connect actors, while the ego is the actor of interest in a network or the actor which is used as a starting point to describe a network. Alters are actors to whom the ego is tied. Relations are characterised by a “set of ties among a set of actors” (Turner, 2006, p. 9).

Dyadic networks refer to relations between two actors (Turner, 2006). They differ, firstly, in terms of the kind of the relationship (e.g. mentor, romantic partner); secondly, tie strength (e.g. intimate or impersonal); thirdly, tie direction (none, one or both directions); and fourthly, in the duration of the tie (e.g. long-lasting or short-lasting; Turner, 2006). Those differences will be explained further in following paragraphs.

Firstly, different kinds of relations and connected roles can represent the kind of the dyad. As roles are sets of expectations, actors’ appropriate role-taking becomes necessary to fulfil social expectations (Bruce & Yearley, 2006). The relation between students and a teacher in an educational environment is defined by other roles than a relation between romantic partners. For example, a teacher should not ask students out, while students among themselves are allowed to do so.

Secondly, Granovetter (1973) argued that the tie strength is a “combination of the amount of time two actors spent together; the emotional intensity of their relationship; the level of intimacy and/or mutual confiding between two actors; and the amount of reciprocal services or favours” (Prell, 2012, p. 138).

Thirdly, dyads occur in three different states defining their direction; dyads are mutual, asymmetric, or null (Prell, 2012). A dyad is mutual when ties are reciprocated, which means actor A sends ties to actor B and B to A. In asymmetric dyads, ties are only sent one-sided, which means that only one actor (A) sends ties to another actor (B) or only B to A, but not both ways. The dyad is null when ties are nether sent from actor A to actor B nor from B to A (Prell, 2012).

Fourthly, the longer the duration of a tie or relationship the higher is the level of emotional intensity, intimacy and amount of reciprocal favours (Prell, 2012).

Figure 1 gives an example of a (dyadic) romantic relationship which is embedded in possible bigger networks. Romantic relationships are dyadic networks. The romantic relationship represents the strongest tie, which is illustrated by the connection between actor A and B. However, relationship partners also have their own networks including differing ties (Network A and Network B), which can be overlapping due to ties between actors of both relationship partners’ networks (Network C).

Accordingly, it is possible to analyse romantic relationships out of a network perspective as well. Bigger networks are defined by their stability, the extent of which they remain (or stay in cohesion) or to break apart (Prell, 2012). In the following paragraph, the focus will be on the first characteristic of networks, its cohesion. Cohesion is important for networks, as a higher level of cohesion leads to more interactions within a network (Homans, 1958). Two measurements used to predicate assertions about cohesion will be described in the following: (1) the network’s density and (2) networks’ diameter as well as path length (Prell, 2012). (1) Density describes the percentage of the actual network’s ties on the potential

Figure 1. Embeddedness of Dyadic Romantic Relationships

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

number of ties (Prell, 2012). That means when the density equals 0.5, then 50% of the networks potential ties are present (Prell, 2012). A network’s density is calculated by dividing the number of ties by n(n-1)/2, while n is the number of actors in the network (Prell, 2012). Even though density is a popular means for analysing networks, there are some problems with it (Prell, 2012). First, one individual can significantly influence the network’s density by having a large network (Prell, 2012). Second, the density usually becomes smaller for larger networks (with more actors), as they have a higher potential for ties than smaller networks (Prell, 2012). And third, density (only) and a high number of subgroups in a network do not necessarily mean that the network is cohesive (Prell, 2012). This effect occurs because low densities in large networks allow a higher cohesion than in smaller networks, as large networks have fewer cohesive subgroups, which leads to less fragmentation (Prell, 2012). Therefore, density can be problematic in its ability of direct predictions of cohesion (Prell, 2012). (2) The diameter of a network shows ‘how close’ actors are to each other, by their average path lengths, and therefore how cohesive a network is (Prell, 2012). The smaller the path length the closer are actors to each other (Prell, 2012).

I must criticise that the social network analysis is rather descriptive than explanatory as it describes the network and its structure, but not the quality of interactions occurring within the networks.

2.4 Knapp’s Relational Stage Model

Knapp’s Relational Stage Model (RSM) assumes, as well as the Social Exchange Theory, that relationship partners engage or disengage in relationships, based on their evaluation of equity of costs and rewards (Fox, Warber & Makstaller, 2013). Furthermore, the model shows 5 positive developmental stages, the coming together, and 5 negative developmental stages, the coming apart, and in between the relationship maintenance (Knapp, 1978). Thence, the model elaborates “how relationships escalate, stabilise, and descend over time through communication processes” (Fox et al., 2013, p.773). Therefore, relational developments will be concluded in this review in the three different stages of formation, maintenance and dissolution including several sub-stages which have functional or dysfunctional outcomes for the relationship developments.

The functional/positive development of relationships is divided into the five stages (see Figure 2): (1) initiating, (2) experimenting, (3) intensifying, (4) integrating, and (5) bonding (Fox et al., 2013). The dysfunctional/negative development of relationships is divided into five stages as well; (6) differentiation, (7) circumscribing, (8) stagnation, (9) avoiding, and (10) terminating (Knapp, 1978; West & Turner, 2016).

Figure 2. Knapp’s Relational Stages Model

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Figure 2. Knapp’s Relationship Escalation Model. Reprinted from Communication Theory . All About Theories for Communication. n.d., Retrieved June 23, 2017 from http://communicationtheory.org/knapps-relationship-model/. Copyright 2017 by the Communication Theory.

Coming together (1) Initiating describes first interactions between actors after meeting each other the first time, online or offline. Initiating includes first impressions of a potential partner and is dominated by social norms and rules and therefore superficial conversations (West & Turner, 2016; Fox et al., 2013). (2) Experimenting individuals seek for information to confirm whether another individual would fit as a potential partner and might, therefore, include ‘secret tests’ of the potential partner. (3) In the next stage, intensifying, individuals are less driven by rules and norms. Instead, self-disclosure dominates this stage and helps to establish a higher commitment to the relationship. (4) In the integration stage a relationship identity, referred to as “we” or “us”, is created, which allows relationship partners to rely more on norms created in the relationship dyad than from society. (5) Bonding includes the public announcement of the romantic relationship, which can be a Facebook relationship status change, an announcement in the family or an official event, such as a wedding (West & Turner, 2016; Fox et al., 2013).

(6) Differentiating couples individualise and ‘grow apart’ which results in decreasing commitment and a possibly fading relationship (West & Turner, 2016; “Knapp’s Relationship Model”, 2017). (7) Circumscribing appears after relationship partners differentiated, and describes a situation in which the communicating within the relationship is already restricted and limited. In this stage, partners try to avoid arguments and already have their own, individual lives (while still being in the romantic relationship). (8) Stagnation means further limitations of the relationship communication, leading to a situation in which relationship partners only stay together because of unavoidable reasons (e.g. children). (9) In the avoidance stage contact with the relationship partner is tried to be prevented resulting in physical detachment and any eschewal of any communication. (10) Finally, in the terminating stage, the relationship comes to an end (West & Turner, 2016; “Knapp’s Relationship Model”, 2017).

Facebook can have an influence on all described ‘stages’ of the relationship and be used in each of them (Fox, Osborn & Warber, 2014). This depends on the importance of Facebook as a communicational tool for the relationship. As the Relational Stage Model (RSM) considers not only past communication but also future expectations to analyse present dialogues in romantic relationships, methodological problems can arise due to problems in measuring expectations. Different stages can also overlap and might be difficult to distinguish. Further on, dialectics are unique for each couple and, at least to a certain extent, dependent on experience, which would make generalisations and large-scale research on this theory problematic. Impacts of experience are difficult to measure as every relationship is unique and experience patterns, which are contributing to a functional relationship A can have negative consequences in relationship B. Griffin (2008) mentioned that the RSM is mainly proved by anecdotal evidence. Further on, Griffin stated that possible elements of relational communication, such as shared meaning, warm communication and increasing certainty are not considered elements of RSM. While previous research acknowledges aspects of the RSM, there is only little known about its applicability to social networking sites (Fox et al., 2013).

2.5 Baxter’s Relational Dialectics Theory

Baxter’s (1990, 2011) Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT) can serve as a communication theory for studying romantic relationships. The RDT describes that discursive struggles or dialectics occur in relationships, firstly, within the couple, and secondly, between relationship partners and their environment. According to Baxter, dialectics are contradictory and can both pull partners apart but also bring them together. Relationships also are always in flux (Baxter, 1990, 2011). To maintain a long-lasting relationship, it becomes therefore crucial to balance those dialectical forces (Fox, Osborn & Warber, 2014). Every romantic “relationship is defined by a unique set of interrelated dialectics” (Fox et al., 2014, p. 528). Fox et al. stated that those dialectics can gain importance and become centripetal, or they become marginalised and centrifugal. Further, dialectics are expressed through statements or utterances which are part of utterance chains. Those chains are not only linked to utterances in the past, but also to future utterances (Fox et al., 2014). Due to the consideration of future utterances, expectations of social exchanges play a crucial role in romantic relationships (e.g. Thibaut & Kelly, 1959).

There are two types of utterances, proximal and distal utterances (Fox et al., 2014). Proximal utterances are individual-based utterances, for example, the need for food, rest or compliments (Fox et al., 2014). Distal utterances reflect society’s norms and rules on how to behave within the relationship (in public or privately; Fox et al., 2014). Distal utterances can be expressed by expectations on how to behave while a dinner with parents-in-law, in the bus or in school, or at home together with the relationship partner (Fox et al., 2014).

Another important element of RDT is praxis (Fox et al., 2014). Baxter (2011) describes praxis as the ability to make sense of “the interplay of competing discourses” (p. 121). According to Baxter, dialectics can create dialectic tensions which lead to different strategies or praxes of coping with those tensions. Therefore, praxis leads to praxis patterns; which can contribute to both positive or functional and negative or non-functional communication developments (Fox et al., 2014). There are 8 different praxis patterns, which are (1) denial, (2) disorientation, (3) spiralling alteration, (4) segmentation, (5) balance, (6) integration, (7) recalibration, and (8) reaffirmation (Baxter, 2011; Fox et al., 2014).

Denial and disorientation are non-functional responses to dialectics (Griffin, 2008). (1) Denial only considers one of the interacting individuals and ignores the other. (2) Disorientation arises from helplessness and results in stopping the dialogue. (3) Spiralling alteration is the consideration of one interacting individual first and then the second one later. (4) Through segmentation, relationship parts are categorised and isolated, which is for example shown in the openness or closeness of relationship partners to communicate about a specific subject. (5) For balance, both interacting individuals are treated to be equally legitimate, which requires compromises. Nonetheless, a compromise which is fully satisfying for both sides is not easy to find. (6) Integration represents a technique to respond to opposing forces with integrity and understanding instead of misunderstanding and dilution. A couple which is in a difficult part of their relationship might still remember themselves to the ‘good times’ they had before the difficult period. (7) Recalibration is a change on the situation so that partners’ attempts (or pushing the partner) do not seem to lead towards opposite directions. (8) Reaffirmations is the acknowledging of both partners that dialectic tensions will not pass and that these specific tensions additionally show and/or reaffirm intimacy (Griffin, 2008).

Dialectics vary by relationships, however, Fox, Osborn and Warber (2014) stated that research identified three primary dialectics: expression-privacy, stability-change, and integration-separation (see also Baxter, 2011).

First, expression-privacy refers to the struggle between what is uttered or said and what not (Baxter, 1990; Fox et al., 2014). Facebook presents a medium where both extremes of this dialectic can be found (Fox et al., 2014). While some individuals post large amounts of personal and relational information, others are less comfortable with disclosing any information on Facebook (Fox et al., 2014). Moreover, “both expression and privacy are necessary for effective relationships” (Fox et al., 2014, p. 529). Applied to Facebook, that means that information is shared within the couple and between relationship partners and social network. Information published in the network is available for more individuals than information shared between the relationship partners. Relationship partners’ expectations towards their partner about privacy may differ for each of those entities and can, therefore, create tensions (Fox et al., 2014).

Second, stability-change denotes the struggle between constancy/continuity and transition/discontinuity (Baxter, 1990; Fox et al., 2014). Fox and colleagues (2014) stated that research refers to stability-change often in terms of un-/certainty, as relationship partners judge relationship-stability through an experienced level of uncertainties. However, the desirability to increase or decrease the level of uncertainty is dependent on and differing between individuals and romantic relationships (Fox et al., 2014).

Third and finally, integration-separation treats the struggle between interdependence and individuation (Baxter, 1990; Fox et al., 2014). This dialectic helps to define the couple as it describes how the partners’ try to find the balance between, first, an internal unity and losing individuality; and second, between an external separation from the rest of the network and too high levels of isolation from social networks. Both dialectics - integration and separation - occur when individuals publish information about themselves only or information that includes the partner. Examples are Facebook profiles where posts, photos, activities, etc. can be posted about the individual only (separation) or include the relationship partner, for example, by posting relationship statuses or conjoint photos, events, etc. (integration; Baxter, 1990; Fox et al., 2014).

Communication with relationships of all kinds is a complex matter. However, Baxter (1990) simplified relational communication in the Relational Dialectics Theory (RDT)by concluding it with only 3 dialectics. Considering individual differences, 3 dialects may be too general to allow to separate information appropriately and further sub-categories might be needed. According to me, RDT can also be criticised on the ground that it lacks prediction capacity, as it rather describes communicational behaviour. Dialectics are also difficult to measure. The RDT emphasises a holistic view on several combined dialectics. Therefore, not only one but several dialectics need to be measured to explain relational communication and development. Further, the dialectics’ connectedness may exacerbate clear separations of different dialectics. Thus, RDT explains rather individual communication in romantic relationships than generalised and large-scale phenomena (Baxter & Braithwaite, 2008).

Social exchanges and their creation of expectations are important and can lead (communication) behaviour in romantic relationships. Exchanges between romantic relationship partners are not only influenced by individuals in the romantic relationship. Members of relationship partners’ social networks and the networks themselves also play a role for social exchanges and the creation of expectations within and around romantic relationships. Relationship developments were described by the Knapp’s (1978) Relational Stages Model. Communication is one possible social exchange. Communication in romantic relationships was described by Baxter’s (1990) relational dialectics theory. Relational dialectics play a role in all relational stages and can, therefore, help to understand potential influences of Facebook on romantic relationships due to RDT’s communicational focus (Fox et al., 2014).

3. Communication on Facebook and Facebook User Demographics

What are Facebook’s communicational functions? How is the network used? And who uses the social networking site? Those questions arise in non-users as well as in frequent Facebook visitors and will be answered in the following chapter. The first part of the chapter shall give a short description of the different dimensions of communication or communicational functions provided by the Social Networking Site Facebook. Therefore, Communication, Computer-Mediated-Communication (CMC), and Social Networking Sites (SNS) will be defined. Then, communicational dimensions/functions of Facebook will be named and described. In the second part, the focus will be on demographics describing Internet and Facebook usage, as well as romantic relationship status distributions and gender differences on Facebook in North America and Europe to show the impact of Facebook and differences between user groups. The high-population countries USA, Canada, UK, Russia, France, and Germany were selected for the description as they represent large amounts of the North American and European populations and Facebook users. Penetration rates of European and North American Internet and Facebook users, as well as adolescent and young adult Facebook users will each be presented, firstly, by continent, and secondly, by country. Selected differences within and between adolescent and young adult users will be named. Thence, Facebook relationship status distributions of all Facebook users will be compared to countries’ (offline) relationship status distributions in the general population, and thenceforth relationship statuses distributions of European and North American Facebook young adult users will be compared to those of all age groups by country. Finally, selected studies’ results showing gender differences will be presented.

3.1 Understanding Facebook Communication

To understand communication on Facebook it is crucial to understand communication itself. Luhmann (1985) stated that communication has 3 the unified parts “information, activity and understanding” (p. 6) which synthesise within social systems. This means that both the information and the communicative act are separate parts which can create further information through meanings while communicating. Those meanings can be created by social norms and rules, personal thoughts, experiences, background (information), and so forth. Understanding this complex of information is not only difficult but nearly impossible (Luhmann, 1985). Thus, Luhmann (1996) stated that actors cannot communicate as they cannot complete the process of communication. Despite this problem of communicating, to transfer an information ‘to its full extent’, communication produces and changes society (Luhmann, 1985). Computer-Mediated-Communicatio n (CMC), on the other hand, describes “all types of communication via computers, such as electronic conferencing and chat” (Helicon, 2016).

It is important to understand that Facebook and other Social Networking Sites (SNS) are not only chat programs or newsfeeds. SNS will be defined as online services allowing individuals to use 3 different main functions (Ellison, 2007). First, to “construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system” (Ellison, 2007, p. 211), second, to create and access “a list of other users with whom they share a connection” (p. 211), and third, to “view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system. The nature and nomenclature of these connections may vary from site to site.” (p. 211). Ellison stated that SNS are not unique because of the services they offer to connect with each other (or ‘to network’), but to make an own social network visible. The visibility of networks allows SNS to connect individuals who would not have been connected without the network, for example, by proposing new friends (Ellison, 2007). Therefore, individuals are expected to use SNS primarily to communicate with individuals who are already part of their extended network (Ellison, 2007). SNS allow to actively connect not only to random people but also to access friends’ social networks and establish social ties which would otherwise not be established (Ellison, 2007). The SNS Facebook contains functions which propose to invite individuals out of extended networks (Facebook friends’ friends) to ‘become friends’ with oneself (Ellison, 2007). Besides that, Facebook has several communicational functions and their number is still growing. Three communicational dimensions of Facebook will be presented. Facebook users have options to communicate, firstly, through/on their own profile; secondly, by commenting and ‘liking’ others’ contents; and thirdly, by using chat, call and video call functions (Kelsey, 2010).


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Facebook as a Communicational Tool in Romantic Relationships of European and North American Adolescents and Young Adults
A Literature Review
University of Bremen  (Department of Sociology)
B.A. Sociology
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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973 KB
SocialNetworkingSite, OnlineSocialMedia, RelationshipCommunication, SocialMedia, Facebook, Relationshipsonline, Relationships, RomanticRelationships, ModernRelationship
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Max Korbmacher (Author), 2017, Facebook as a Communicational Tool in Romantic Relationships of European and North American Adolescents and Young Adults, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/386683


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