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Obligation May Harm Relationships During Social Distancing

Publish On: 23 Mar, 2020 09:55 AM | Updated   |   Shivalik  

'Obligations'-- in the form of checking up on parents to running an errand for an elderly neighbour - benefit or harm a relationship especially at a time where social distancing is the need of the hour and other people are counting on their immediate social circles more than they usually do? 

As per researchers from Michigan State University, an obligation is usually the "glue that holds relationships together," but it often carries negative connotations.

"We were looking to find whether obligation is all good or all bad," said William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at MSU and co-author of the study. 

"We found that people were responding to types of obligations in different ways. People distinguished between requests that were massive obligations and requests that were simple. There's this point that obligation crosses over and starts to be harmful for relationships," Chopik mentioned.

The findings reveal that there is a definite point at which obligation pushes individuals to the brink of feeling burdened, which may start to harm their relationships.

"We found that some obligations were linked with greater depressive symptoms and slower increases in support from friends over time,: said Jeewon Oh, MSU doctoral student and co-author of the study.

However, other obligations were linked with both greater support and less strain from family and friends initially.

"While engaging in substantive obligation can benefit others and make someone feel helpful, it is still costly to a person's time, energy and money," the authors noted.

Until now, similar research showed inconsistencies in how obligation impacts relationships. 

This ranges from light obligation, like keeping in touch with a friend, to substantive obligation, like lending a friend a significant amount of cash.

"In a way, major obligations violate the norms of friendships," Chopik said. "Interestingly, you don't see that violation as much in relationships with parents or spouses".

Friendships are viewed as low-investment, fun relationships that make people feel good.

"Our longest lasting friendships continue because we enjoy them. But if obligations pile up, it might compromise how close we feel to our friends," Chopik noted in a paper appeared in International Journal of Behavioral Development.

Since friendships you get to choose, people can distance themselves from friends more easily than other sorts of relationships when faced with burdensome obligations.

Additionally, substantive obligations may create strain during a friendship as we attempt to encourage our friends to try to an equivalent even once they won't be ready to do so, Oh said.

"Although we may feel good once we do things for our friends, and our friends are grateful to us, we may start to desire we are investing an excessive amount of therein relationship," Oh added.

"Even for things we might expect relations to try to, some within the study did them begrudgingly," Chopik said.