In this chapter, we discuss implications of our work on communal and exchange relationships (Clark & Mills, 1979, 1993; Mills & Clark, 1982, 1994) for understanding the maintenance and enhancement of close romantic relationships. At the outset, we need to make clear that we consider close romantic relationships to be communal relationships as we have used that term in our previous writings. That is, a close romantic relationship is a relationship in which each member has a concern for the welfare of the other. In a communal relationship, benefits are given to the other when that other has a need for the benefit or to show concern for the other. Members provide each other with help of many kinds, including providing resources, information, and companionship, sometimes because the other has a specific need for those things and sometimes just to show they care for the other. Members of a communal relationship are motivated to provide benefits to the other without expecting a specific benefit in return, as would be the case in an exchange relationship. (By a benefit we mean something that one person intentionally gives to another, or does for another, that is of use to the person receiving it.)
An important aspect of communal relationships is that they vary in strength, which refers to the degree of motivation to be responsive to the other’s needs. For instance, if a person asks a stranger for the time of day and the stranger responds by stating the time without expecting anything in return, that would constitute a very weak communal relationship. The cost of providing the benefit (looking at one’s watch and stating the time)
is minimal, requiring very weak motivation. We assume close romantic relationships are strong communal relationships in which there is a very high degree of motivation to be responsive to the other person’s needs and thus willingness to incur large costs to meet the other’s needs. Communal relationships can be one-sided, such as the relationship between a parent and an infant. We assume that close romantic relationships are mutual communal relationships. In a strong mutual communal relationship, both partners have a high degree of motivation to be responsive to the other’s needs.