The Symbolic Meaning of Relationships: Implications for Psychological Distress Following Relationship Loss
AbstractPrevious studies have argued that the symbolic meaning of relationships affects individuals' psychological well-being and that the particular symbolic meanings attached to relationships may affect how individuals respond to the loss of those relationships. However, previous research has not directly studied the symbolic content of relationships and how that content is linked to well-being. In this study, we focus on the adult child/parent relationship because it is often viewed as a social relationship with significant symbolic value. We analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to: (1) identify symbolic meanings that relationships with parents hold for adult children; (2) consider how particular symbolic meanings are related to more traditional measures of relationship quality; and (3) examine how symbolic meanings are associated with adults' psychological reactions following the death of the parent. We provide theoretical and empirical support for the argument that the symbolic meanings of relationships should be considered in addition to more traditional measures of relationship quality in assessing the impact of relationships and relationship loss on individual well-being.