In 1966, William Schutz developed a model to describe how people relate and why. Today, we’re going to talk about the why. Basically, Schutz observed that people seemed to be driven by three major things that drive us to form relationships and be social. These not only dictate how important forming relationships are, but also the kind of relationships we form. Most importantly, they affect how the relationship pans out. What are they? Well:
- The need for Belonging
- The need for Affection
- The need for Control
The need for Belonging
The need for belonging refers to the instinctive human drive to be associated with other people or to have a network. We need some kind of company or assistance in life and it’s pretty important that we have a sense of community. This idea drives a great deal of personal and interpersonal activities; we take care of ourselves, we are social; we try to become more socially attractive. This need might even be the reason you’re reading this now! It’s thought to be very much evolutionarily related; a throwback to a time where being alone was synonymous with death. Only those with some kind of community; those who worked together would survive.
According to Schutz, to fulfil this need, we need a certain amount of connections. These connections also need to be of a certain quality. We will be driven to connect until we have found a sense of a social network. As for the quality, this is explained soon, when we talk about the need for affection. We are driven to find a number of connections because our brains know that no one can necessarily be entirely relied on individually. We must have some sort of group in case one important connection closes for whatever reason; be it a fight, moving country or even a death. This is best illustrated in the case of serial monogamists. I’m sure many of you have experienced or know someone who has experienced the loneliness felt after a close friend or partner has moved out of your life which is followed by the realisation that they have let a lot of other connections slide. When someone feels like they belong, they think faster and better, they are happier and they a physiologically healthier. A lack of a sense of inclusion is closely related to depression and if one consistently fails to connect, then it is not uncommon to see them withdraw entirely from social life, believing they are socially inept. This then leads to more social failures and it becomes a pretty vicious cycle.
The need for Affection
The need for Affection refers to what Schutz described as a need for quality relationships. We have a desire to be liked and have a sense of psychological closeness. Quality relationships fill our need to have close bonds with people. They are relationships characterised by warmth and are expressed with generally non-verbal cues; touching, orienting one’s body towards the other, standing close. These sorts of cues fill our need for affection and are extremely important for relationships. Gaining these cues help people to become more confident about other relationships and make them build healthier relationships in the future. If one lacks relationships that give these cues, they may end up creating clingy and dysfunctional relationships in the future; the ‘clingy person’. Either that or they may start to develop a fear of affection which will eventually stop them from forming affectionate relationships; the ‘cold’ people. As we’ve talked about in other articles, this can happen as early as infancy and if you’ve read this article you’ll know that once the process begins, it can be difficult to escape. Physical affection and warmth are also super important for our physical health. Thought to have a relationship with that evolutionary need to belong, it further drives us to stick together, protect each other and so; survive.
The need for Control
Schutz noticed that all people want to have some kind of influence over our relationships, whether it’s forming them or controlling them once they’ve been formed. If we don’t have this, we start to feel taken for granted and upset. We want to control how close we get to people or how the quickly the relationships develop. This need for control can be very problematic for us when we’re trying to make and maintain relationships. Wanting too much control can make us undesirable to be in a relationship with. Not having enough will make us unhappy. It’s can often be hard to find the balance. Understanding the things we do to gain control in relationships can help us find that balance and maintain stable and happy relationships and Schutz and his colleagues categorised them nicely into two groups:
To show our dominance, we tend to do things that make us appear bigger. We’ll sprawl in our seats, take up more space, use big hand gestures and the like. We’ll wear clothing and accessories that make us seem bigger; stripes, boots, hats and high heels. We also tend to try to dominate conversations. We’ll talk longer and elaborately (sometimes unnecessarily) on our points, we’ll interrupt or speak loudly. This is all because these things help us take control of the conversation; generally people don’t want to fight this sort of thing and will allow it to happen. Interestingly, the higher status people are, the more they display these characteristics. What we don’t know is whether their dominance got them there or is a result.
These behaviours are normally sneaky. If we feel like we are not in control or are losing control, we’ll try to do these things. We might hide how good we are at something, so later we can show it off unexpectedly. We might ‘over-help’, in which when someone asks for or looks like they need help, we’ll start to help but end up taking over the whole task. Funnily enough, in this case, the person trying to control the situation will resent this; they’ll feel victimised even though they were the one who had more control. Another relational control behaviour is unnecessary granting permission, in which one party declares they are going to do something and the other grants permission (even though it was unwarranted). Think ‘I’m going out with the girls/boys tonight honey, I won’t be home for dinner’, ‘Yeah, that’s okay that should be fine’. This gives the illusion that the only reason the first party can do the activity is because the other gave permission (or at least this is the intended outcome). These behaviours are often used by women as women can often approach relationships with the idea that they automatically have less control; a result of very unfortunate socialisation by our culture.
Tying it all together
As his theory got worked on by various researchers, they found that not all people need the same amount of belonging, affection and control. Men often need more control, whilst women often need more affection. These needs also differ throughout our lives. Teenagers and older generations feel the need for more belonging and more control than our younger and middle years. For teenagers and belonging it is because our whole status as people is determined by our popularity in our teens. For the elderly it is because the older we get, the smaller our network. For both and control, it is because they don’t want to rely on others, but they are being told that they have to; teenagers by their parents and older generations by adult children or nursing staff. In our middle age, we generally seek more affection; we’ve usually worked out how to get our control and form relationships, so affection is all that is left!
Of course these things also change within relationships. These things very much affect the quality of connections. If people have the same level of needs, it works out wonderfully. If there are opposing levels of needs then things can become distressing (unless there is a low need vs. a high need for control). If these needs continue to be at a mismatch, it can end the relationship. If the relationship ends due to a lack of met needs, it could lead to an even worse relational decision; if we lose even more needs satisfaction, we may try to jump into a relationship to get those needs satisfied. For anyone confused about what I’m saying, this is most commonly referred to as a ‘rebound’. We choose someone to fill the holes left who may not be a good match. Generally speaking we mostly want to have our need for inclusion and affection met. If we don’t have these met, we often try to pull people into our lives to fill this that may not offer us much value. Instead they often try to steal it. If our inclusion and affection needs are met, we tend to be more picky about who we include in our social circles.
So keep this in mind next time you’re wondering about the relationships in your life. Think of it in terms of Schutz’s three interpersonal needs. Maybe you’ll be able to solve some of the less tangible problems in your social and romantic lives.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on Schutz’s needs. Do you think he has the measure of a relationship or is there more involved? What about those things you’ve learned from our other articles? How do you think they fit in? If you don’t know where to start, why don’t you read over what the point of love is or the four types of relationships? Giving you the dirt on your search for understanding, psychological freedom and ‘the good life’ at The Dirt Psychology.