7.2 The Dark Side of Relationships

Learning Objectives

  1. Define relationship transgressions.
  2. Explain how lying affects relationships.
  3. Contrast types of aggression.

In the course of a given day, it is likely that we will encounter the light and dark sides of interpersonal relationships. So what constitutes the dark side of relationships? There are two dimensions of the dark side of relationships: one is the degree to which something is deemed acceptable or not by society; the other includes the degree to which something functions productively to improve a relationship or not (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). These dimensions become more complicated when we realize that there can be overlap between them, meaning that it may not always be easy to identify something as exclusively light or dark.

Some communication patterns may be viewed as appropriate by society but still serve a relationally destructive function. Our society generally presumes that increased understanding of a relationship and relational partner would benefit the relationship. However, numerous research studies have found that increased understanding of a relationship and relational partner may be negative. In fact, by avoiding discussing certain topics that might cause conflict, some couples create and sustain positive illusions about their relationship that may cover up a darker reality. Despite this, the couple may report that they are very satisfied with their relationship. In this case, the old saying “ignorance is bliss” seems appropriate. Likewise, communication that is presumed inappropriate by society may be productive for a given relationship (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). For example, our society ascribes to an ideology of openness that promotes honesty. However, as we will discuss more next, honesty may not always be the best policy. Lies intended to protect a relational partner (called altruistic lies) may net an overall positive result improving the functioning of a relationship.

Relational Transgression

Relational transgressions occur when people violate implicit or explicit relational rules. These transgressions include a wide variety of behaviors. Scholars tend to delineate relational transgressions into three categories or approaches. The first approach focuses on the aspect of certain behaviors as a violation of relational norms and rules. The second approach focuses on the interpretive consequences of certain behaviors, particularly the degree to which they hurt the victim, imply disregard for the victim, and imply disregard for the relationship. The third and final approach focuses more specifically on behaviors that constitute infidelity (a common form of relational transgression).

Rule violations

Rule violations are events, actions, and behaviors that violate an implicit or explicit relationship norm or rule. Explicit rules tend to be relationship specific, such as those prompted by the bad habits of a partner (e.g., excessive drinking or drug abuse), or those that emerge from attempts to manage conflict (e.g., rules that prohibit spending excess time with a friends or talking about a former girlfriend or boyfriend). Implicit rules tend to be those that are accepted as cultural standards for proper relationship conduct (e.g., monogamy and secrets kept private). The focus on relational transgressions as rule violations presents an opportunity to examine a wide range of behaviors across a variety of relationship types. This method facilitates the analysis of transgressions from a rules perspective. In a study of college students’ relational transgressions, the following nine categories emerged consistently.

  1. Inappropriate interaction: Instances in which a partner performs badly during an interaction, typically a conflict episode.
  2. Lack of sensitivity: Instances in which a partner exhibits thoughtless, disrespectful, or inconsiderate behavior. The offender demonstrates a lack of concern or emotional responsiveness when expected and appropriate.
  3. Extrarelational involvement: Sexual or emotional involvement with persons other than the offended party. The offender does not confound involvement with deception.
  4. Relational threat confounded by deception: Instances in which a partner participates in sexual or emotional involvement with persons other than the offended party and then uses deception to conceal the involvement.
  5. Disregard for primary relationship: Actions that indicate the transgressor does not privilege the primary relationship; chooses other people or activities over the partner or changes plans.
  6. Abrupt termination: Actions that terminate a relationship with no warning and no explanation.
  7. Broken promises and rule violations: Occasions during which a partner fails to keep a promise, changes plans with no warning or explanation or violates a rule that the offended person assumes was binding.
  8. Deception, secrets, privacy: Instances in which a partner lied, kept important information a secret, failed to keep sensitive information private, or violated privacy boundaries.
  9. Abuse: Verbal or physical threats or behavior.

Cameron, Ross, and Holmes (2002) identified 10 categories of common relational negative behavior that constitute relational transgressions as rule violations:

  1. Broken promises
  2. Overreaction to the victim’s behavior
  3. Inconsiderate behavior
  4. Violating the victim’s desired level of intimacy
  5. Neglecting the victim
  6. Threat of infidelity
  7. Infidelity
  8. Verbal aggression toward the victim
  9. Unwarranted disagreement
  10. Violent behavior toward the victim


Infidelity is widely recognized as one of the most hurtful romantic relational transgressions. It is typically among the most difficult transgressions to forgive. There are typically four methods of discovery:

  1. finding out from a third party;
  2. witnessing the infidelity firsthand, such as walking in on your partner with someone else;
  3. having the partner admit to infidelity after you question her or him; and
  4. having the partner tell you on his or her own.

Partners who found out through a third party or by witnessing the infidelity firsthand were the least likely to forgive. Partners who confessed on their own were the most likely to be forgiven.

Sexual vs. emotional infidelity

Sexual infidelity refers to sexual activity with someone other than a person’s partner. Sexual infidelity can span a wide range of behavior and thoughts, including sexual intercourse, heavy petting, passionate kissing, sexual fantasies, and sexual attraction. It can involve a sustained relationship, a one-night stand, or a prostitute. Most people in the United States openly disapprove of sexual infidelity, but research indicates that infidelity is common. Men are typically more likely than women to engage in a sexual affair, regardless if they are married or in a dating relationship.

Emotional infidelity refers to emotional involvement with another person, which leads one’s partner to channel emotional resources to someone else. Emotional infidelity can involve strong feelings of love and intimacy, nonsexual fantasies of falling in love, romantic attraction, or the desire to spend time with another individual. Emotional infidelity may involve a coworker, Internet partner, face-to-face communication, or a long-distance phone call. Emotional infidelity is likely related to dissatisfaction with the communication and social support an individual is receiving in his or her current relationship.

Each type of infidelity evokes different responses. Sexual infidelity is more likely to result in hostile, shocked, repulsed, humiliated, homicidal, or suicidal feelings. Emotional infidelity is more likely to evoke feelings of being undesirable, insecure, depressed, or abandoned. When both types of infidelity are present in a relationship, couples are more likely to break up than when only one type of infidelity is involved.

Internet infidelity

More recent research provides support for conceptualizing infidelity on a continuum ranging in severity from superficial/informal behavior to involving or goal-directed behavior. This perspective accounts for the varying degrees of behavior (e.g., sexual, emotional) on the Internet. A number of acts not involving direct, one-to-one communication with another person (e.g. posting a personal ad or looking at pornography) can be perceived as forms of infidelity. Thus, communication with another live person is not necessary for infidelity to occur. Accordingly, internet infidelity is defined by Docan-Morgan and Docan (2007) as follows: “An act or actions engaged via the internet by one person with a committed relationship, where such an act occurs outside the primary relationship, and constitutes a breach of trust and/or violation of agreed-upon norms (overt or covert) by one or both individuals in that relationship with regard to relational exclusivity, and is perceived as having a particular degree of severity by one or both partners” (Docan-Morgan, & Docan, 2007). 


Characteristics of jealousy

Jealousy can be a result of a relational transgression, such as a partner having a sexual or emotional affair. Jealousy can also be seen as a transgression in its own right when a partner’s suspicions are unfounded. Thus, jealousy is an important component of relational transgressions. There are several types of jealousy. Romantic jealousy occurs when a partner is concerned that a potential rival might interfere with his or her existing romantic relationship. Sexual jealousy is a specific form of romantic jealousy where an individual worries that a rival is having or wants to have sex with his or her partner.

Other forms of jealousy include:

  • Friend jealousy – feeling threatened by a partner’s relationships with friends.
  • Family jealousy – feeling threatened by a partner’s relationships with family members.
  • Activity jealousy – perceiving that a partner’s activities, such as work, hobbies, or school, are interfering with one’s relationship.
  • Power jealousy – perceiving that one’s influence over a partner is being lost to others.
  • Intimacy jealousy – believing that one’s partner is engaging in more intimate communication, such as disclosure and advice seeking, with someone else.

Jealousy is different from envy and rivalry. Envy occurs when people want something valuable that someone else has. Rivalry occurs when two people are competing for something that neither person has.

Experiencing romantic jealousy

Individuals who are experiencing jealous thoughts typically make primary and secondary cognitive appraisals about their particular situation. Primary appraisals involve general evaluations of the existence and quality of a rival relationship. Secondary appraisals involve more specific evaluations of the jealous situation, including possible causes of the jealousy and potential outcomes of the situation. There are four common types of secondary appraisals:

  1. jealous people assess motives;
  2. jealous people compare themselves to their rivals;
  3. they evaluate their potential alternatives;
  4. finally, jealous people assess their potential loss.

Jealous individuals make appraisals to develop coping strategies and assess potential outcomes.

Jealous individuals normally experience combinations of emotions, in addition to the aforementioned cognitive appraisals. The most common emotions associated with jealousy are fear and anger; people are fearful of losing their relationship and they are often angry at their partner or rival. Other common negative emotions associated with jealousy are sadness, guilt, hurt, and envy. Sometimes, however, jealousy leads to positive emotions, including increased passion, love, and appreciation.

Relational partners sometimes intentionally induce jealousy in their relationship. There are typically two types of goals for jealousy induction. Relational rewards reflect the desire to improve the relationship, increase self-esteem, and increase relational rewards. The second type of goal, relational revenge, reflects the desire to punish one’s partner, the need for revenge, and the desire to control one’s partner. The tactic of inducing jealousy may produce unintended consequences, as jealousy often leads to other relational transgressions including violence. 

Communicative responses to jealousy

Jealousy can involve a wide range of communicative responses. These responses are based upon the individuals’ goals and emotions. The most common of these responses are negative affect expression, integrative communication, and distributive communication. When people want to maintain their relationship, they use integrative communication and compensatory restoration. People who are fearful of losing their relationships typically use compensatory restoration.

Conversely, people who are concerned with maintaining their self-esteem allege that they deny jealous feelings. When individuals are motivated to reduce uncertainty about their partner, they use integrative communication, surveillance, and rival contacts to seek additional information. Communicative responses to jealousy may help reduce uncertainty and restore self-esteem, but they may actually increase uncertainty and negatively impact relationships and self-esteem in some instances. The type of communicative response used is critical.

For example, avoidance/denial may be used to protect one’s self-esteem, but it may also result in increased uncertainty and relational dissatisfaction if the jealous partner is left with lingering suspicions. Similarly, compensatory restoration may improve the relationship in some instances, but it may also communicate low self-esteem and desperation by the jealous individual. Distributive communication, which includes behaviors such as yelling and confrontation, may serve to vent negative emotions and retaliate by making the partner feel bad. This may exacerbate an already negative situation and make reconciliation less likely.[11]


From the aspect of jealousy, rumination reflects uncomfortable mulling about the security of a relationship. Rumination refers to thoughts that are conscious, recurring, and not demanded by the individual’s current environment. Ruminative thoughts occur repetitively and are difficult to eliminate. In the context of relational threats, rumination can be described as obsessive worry about the security of the current relationship. Individuals who ruminate are very likely to respond to jealousy differently from individuals who do not ruminate. Rumination is positively associated with several communicative responses to jealousy (e.g. compensatory restoration, negative affect expression, showing signs of possession, and derogation of competitors) that attempt to strengthen a relationship. Rumination is also associated with responses that are counterproductive. Despite efforts to restore relational intimacy, rumination sustains uncertainty, which thereby forms a cycle where rumination is sustained. Rumination intensifies over time and serves as a constant reminder of the threat to the relationship, resulting in increased negative affect. This negative effect is associated with destructive responses to jealousy including violent communication and violence towards objects. Finally, jealous rumination is associated with relational distress and counterproductive responses to jealousy.

Sex differences in jealous emotions and communication

Women generally experience more hurt, sadness, anxiety, and confusion than men, perhaps because they often blame themselves for the jealous situation. Conversely, men have been found to deny jealous feelings and focus on increasing their self-esteem. Generally speaking, women tend to be more focused on the relationship, while men tend to be more focused on individual concerns. In communicative responses, women tend to use integrative communication, express negative affect, enhance their appearance, and use counter jealousy induction more often than jealous men. Jealous men more often contact the rival, restrict the partner’s access to potential rivals, and give gifts and spend money on the partner. Jealous men also engage in dangerous behaviors, such as getting drunk and engaging in promiscuous sex with others. Analysis from an evolutionary perspective would suggest that men focus on competing for mates and displaying resources (e.g., material goods to suggest financial security), while women focus on creating and enhancing social bonds and showcasing their beauty.


Deception is a major relational transgression that often leads to feelings of betrayal and distrust between relational partners. Deception violates relational rules and is considered to be a negative violation of expectations. Most people expect friends, relational partners, and even strangers to be truthful most of the time. If people expected most conversations to be untruthful, talking and communicating with others would simply be unproductive and too difficult. On a given day, it is likely that most human beings will either deceive or be deceived by another person. A significant amount of deception occurs between romantic and relational partners.

It’s important to note that deception doesn’t always constitute a “dark side” of relationships. Although many people have a negative connotation of lying, we have all lied or concealed information in order to protect the feelings of someone else. One research study found that only 27 percent of the participants agreed that a successful relationship must include complete honesty, which shows there is an understanding that lying is a communicative reality in all relationships (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2007). Given this reality, it is important to understand the types of lies we tell and the motivations for and consequences of lying.

We tend to lie more during the initiating phase of a relationship (Knapp, 2006). At this time, people may lie about their personality, past relationships, income, or skill sets as they engage in impression management and try to project themselves as likable and competent. For example, while on a first date or meeting new friends, a person may lie and say they recently won an award at work. People sometimes rationalize these lies by exaggerating something that actually happened. So perhaps this person did get recognized at work, but it wasn’t actually an award. Lying may be more frequent at this stage, too, because the two people don’t know each other, meaning it’s unlikely the other person would have any information that would contradict the statement or discover the lie.

Aside from lying to make ourselves look better, we may also lie to make someone else feel better. Although trustworthiness and honesty have been listed by survey respondents as the most desired traits in a dating partner, total honesty in some situations could harm a relationship (Knapp, 2006). Altruistic lies are lies told to build the self-esteem of our relational partner, communicate loyalty, or bend the truth to spare someone from hurtful information. Part of altruistic lying is telling people what they want to hear. For example, you might tell a friend that their painting is really pretty when you don’t actually see the merit of it, or tell your mom you enjoyed her meatloaf when you really didn’t. These other-oriented lies may help maintain a smooth relationship, but they could also become so prevalent that the receiver of the lies develops a skewed self-concept and is later hurt. If your friend goes to art school only to be heavily critiqued, did your altruistic lie contribute to that?


Some lies are meant to protect someone or make someone feel better.

As we grow closer to someone, we lie less frequently, and the way we go about lying also changes. In fact, it becomes more common to conceal information than to verbally deceive someone outright. We could conceal information by avoiding communication about subjects that could lead to exposure to the lie. When we are asked a direct question that could expose a lie, we may respond equivocally, meaning we don’t really answer a question (Knapp, 2006). When we do engage in direct lying in our close relationships, there may be the need to tell supplemental lies to maintain the original lie. So what happens when we suspect or find out that someone is lying?


Deception includes several types of communications or omissions that serve to distort or omit the complete truth. Deception itself is intentionally managing verbal and/or nonverbal messages so that the message receiver will believe in a way that the message sender knows is false. The intent is critical with regard to deception. Intent differentiates between deception and an honest mistake. The Interpersonal Deception Theory explores the interrelation between communicative context and sender and receiver cognitions and behaviors in deceptive exchanges.

Five primary forms of deception consist of the following:

  • lies: making up information or giving information that is the opposite or very different from the truth.
  • equivocations: making an indirect, ambiguous, or contradictory statement.
  • concealments: omitting information that is important or relevant to the given context, or engaging in behavior that helps hide relevant information.
  • exaggeration: overstatement or stretching the truth to a degree.
  • understatement: minimization or downplaying aspects of the truth.


There are three primary motivations for deceptions in close relationships.

  • Partner-focused motives: using deception to avoid hurting the partner, helping the partner to enhance or maintain his or her self-esteem, avoiding worrying the partner, and protecting the partner’s relationship with a third party. Partner-motivated deception can sometimes be viewed as socially polite and relationally beneficial.
  • Self-focused motives: using deception to enhance or protect their self-image, wanting to shield themselves from anger, embarrassment, or criticism. Self-focused deception is generally perceived as a more serious transgression than partner-focused deception because the deceiver is acting for selfish reasons rather than for the good of the relationship.
  • Relationship-focused motives: using deception to limit relationship harm by avoiding conflict or relational trauma. Relationally motivated deception can be beneficial to a relationship, and other times it can be harmful by further complicating matters.[2]


Deception detection between relational partners is extremely difficult unless a partner tells a blatant or obvious lie or contradicts something the other partner knows to be true. While it is difficult to deceive a partner over a long period of time, deception often occurs in day-to-day conversations between relational partners. Detecting deception is difficult because there are no known completely reliable indicators of deception. Deception, however, places a significant cognitive load on the deceiver. He or she must recall previous statements so that his or her story remains consistent and believable. As a result, deceivers often leak important information both verbally and nonverbally.

Deception and its detection are a complex, fluid, and cognitive process that is based on the context of the message exchange. The Interpersonal Deception Theory posits that interpersonal deception is a dynamic, iterative process of mutual influence between a sender, who manipulates information to depart from the truth, and a receiver, who attempts to establish the validity of the message. A deceiver’s actions are interrelated to the message receiver’s actions. It is during this exchange that the deceiver will reveal verbal and nonverbal information about deceit.[14] Some research has found that there are some cues that may be correlated with deceptive communication, but scholars frequently disagree about the effectiveness of many of these cues to serve as reliable indicators. Noted deception scholar Aldert Vrij even states that there is no nonverbal behavior that is uniquely associated with deception. As previously stated, a specific behavioral indicator of deception does not exist. There are, however, some nonverbal behaviors that have been found to be correlated with deception. Vrij found that examining a “cluster” of these cues was a significantly more reliable indicator of deception than examining a single cue.

Truth bias

The truth bias significantly impairs the ability of relational partners to detect deception. In terms of deception, a truth bias reflects a tendency to judge more messages as truths than lies, independent of their actual veracity.[16] When judging message veracity, the truth bias contributes to an overestimate of the actual number of truths relative to the base rate of actual truths. The truth bias is especially strong within close relationships. People are highly inclined to trust the communications of others and are unlikely to question the relational partner unless faced with a major deviation of behavior that forces a reevaluation. When attempting to detect deceit from a familiar person or relational partner, a large amount of information about the partner is brought to mind. This information essentially overwhelms the receiver’s cognitive ability to detect and process any cues to deception. It is somewhat easier to detect deception in strangers, when less information about that person is brought to mind.


Relational Aggression

Relational aggression is defined as behaviors that harm others. Harm is created through damaging social relationships or feelings of acceptance. Research on relational aggression indicates that it involves both confrontational and nonconfrontational behaviors. Specific behaviors associated with confrontation, or direct behavior, include name-calling, cruel teasing, ridicule, and verbal rejection directed at the target. Nonconfrontational or indirect behaviors include spreading rumors, gossiping, and social manipulation. Adolescents use indirect aggression more than direct aggression to harm relationships.

Relationally Aggressive Categories

When researching 11 to 13-year-olds, five categories of relationally aggressive behaviors were identified. The categories are labeled inconsistent friendships, rumors/gossip, excluding/ditching friends, social intimidation, and notes/technological aggression. Additional research identified seven types of relationally aggressive behaviors among high school girls. Based on open-ended descriptions from high school girls, the following categories of relational aggression were found: physical threat/physical attack, rejection, humiliation, betrayal, personal attack, boy manipulation, and relational depreciation. In addition to the categories of relationship aggression, it is essential to note that gossiping and spreading rumors were the most common forms of relational aggression across age groups.

Verbal Aggression

Verbal aggression is defined as communication that attacks an individual’s self-concept intending to create psychological pain. If you have ever had an argument and been called a name or been put down, then you have been the target of verbal aggression. Verbal aggression is considered a destructive form of communication. Because verbal aggression is regarded as a negative form of communication, researchers have worked to determine characteristics that may increase the likelihood of individuals behaving in an aggressive manner. Researchers found that six dimensions of self-esteem (defensive self-enhancement, moral self-approval, lovability, likability, self-control, and identity integration) were significantly and negatively related to trait verbal aggressiveness. History of familial verbal aggression was positively associated with the perceived acceptability of verbal aggression against a romantic partner, and this association was stronger for individuals with higher behavioral inhibition system scores. Individuals with high behavioral inhibition are more likely to be anxious and react nervously when facing punishment. In other words, people who have been exposed to verbal aggression are more likely to find it acceptable to engage in verbal aggression against a relational partner, especially when the individual also scores high in behavioral inhibition. Also, individuals who score high in behavioral inhibition are more likely to find verbal aggression acceptable regardless of whether they have been exposed to verbal aggression in the past.

Perceptions of Verbal Aggression

If your parents/guardians ever told you that it wasn’t what you said, it was the way you said it, then they were offering you sage advice. Research shows that when engaged in interpersonal disputes, smaller amounts of verbal aggression were perceived when the affirming communicator style (relaxed, friendly, and attentive) was used. Thus the communicator’s style of communication impacted the perception of the message. Table 14.2.1 provides a list of the ten most common examples of verbally aggressive messages (McGuire, McHale, & Updegraff, 1996).

Table 14.2.1 Verbally Aggressive Messages
Type of Message Example
Character Attacks You’re a lying jerk!
Competence Attacks You’re too stupid to manage our finances.
Background Attacks You don’t even have a college degree!
Physical Appearance You are as fat as a pig!
Maledictions I wish you were dead.
Teasing Your hair color makes you look like a clown.
Ridicule Your nose looks like a beak.
Threats I’ll leave you and you won’t have a dime to your name.
Swearing Go to _____!
Nonverbal Emblems shaking fists, “flipping off”


Bullying is a form of communication in which an aggressive individual targets an individual who is perceived to be weaker. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which a person of greater power attempts to inflict harm or discomfort on individuals. This definition also indicates that the behavior is repeated over time (Stopcker & McHale, 1992). For example, a child might call his friend an idiot on the playground one day. A single incident of name-calling would not be considered bullying, but if it happened day after day, then the name-calling would be considered bullying. You may have been bullied or known someone who was bullied. It is also possible that you bullied someone. Bullies use their authority, size, or power to create fear in others. Bullying is known to have negative consequences, such as dropping out of school. It was found that the actions of bullies leave their victims feeling helpless, anxious, and depressed. Other researchers report three types of bullying: physical, verbal, and relational (Padilla-Walker, Harper, & Jensen, A. C. 2010).

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, pulling hair, strapping a female’s bra strap or giving a “wedgie.” Witnesses easily observe this type of bully. You may recall being the victim of these behaviors, engaging in these behaviors, or watching others engage in these behaviors. Physical bullying can be prevented by observers, such as teachers or even peers. There are several Public Service Campaigns directed toward bystanders to let the bystander know that they can help prevent or stop bullying. However, bullies may corner their victims in a more private setting, knowing that the weaker individual will not be able to defend themselves.

Relational Bullying

The second type of bullying is indirect or relational bullying. This form of bullying is the manipulation of social relationships to inflict hurt upon another individual. This type of bullying includes either withholding friendship or excluding. Relational bullying often increases as children age because physical bullying decreases. Relational bullying is particularly problematic because it is very painful for victims, but cannot be readily observed. One might wonder what a teacher or parent/guardian might do when two friends suddenly begin to exclude a third friend. The rejection is so painful, but it seems nearly impossible to require adolescents to continue liking and including the rejected child. An interesting finding in relation to this type of bullying is that females are more likely to engage in this form of bullying (Sherman, Lansford,& Volling, 2006).

Verbal Bullying

The third type of bullying is verbal bullying and includes threats, degrading comments, teasing, name-calling, putdown, or sarcastic comments (Derkman, 2011). This form of bullying is easily observed as well and can be prevented by authorities and peers. The effects of this form of bullying are similar to the impact of physical and relational bullying.

The negative consequences of childhood bullying have driven communication scholars to develop educational tools to provide to teachers and other authority figures. Researchers developed a model to assist teachers in discerning playful, prosocial teasing from destructive bullying (Buist, & Vermande, 2014). The Teasing Totter Model outlines behaviors that range from prosocial teasing to bullying and offers recommendations for responding to each. Teasing in a prosocial manner is usually done among friends, laughter is involved and even affection. Bullying, on the other hand, is a repeated negative behavior in which the victim is visibly distressed. There is a clear power difference in size, age, or ability.


The inherent ease of using the Internet and communicating via the Internet has created an excellent and convenient venue for bullying. Cyberbullying is intentional harm inflicted through the medium of electronics that is repeated over time (Derkman, 2011). Cyberbullying affects victims academically and socially with 20% of victims reporting Internet avoidance (Buist, & Vermande, 2014) When using electronic communication technologies, young people are exposed to interpersonal violence, social aggression, harassment, and mistreatment. Cyberbullying includes behaviors such as flaming, which involves posting provocative or abusive posts, and outing where personal information is posted (Myers, et al., 1999). Cyberbullying is so prevalent that social media such as Facebook have policies to help users avoid this phenomenon. Consider how often you engage with your peers through social media versus your counterparts who were teenagers/young adults in the 1980s. Opportunities for communicating with peers were limited to FtF or via landline phones. Thus opportunities for bullying could be confined to school or landline phones such that bullying was limited to eight hour school days and phone calls that could be ended immediately upon becoming uncomfortable. Now, there is no end to when bullying can take place. Cyberbullying can take place 24/7, and the only way to avoid it is to cut off a major from of staying connected with one’s world via cell phone or Internet. Researchers are just now beginning to understand the impact of cyberbullying, and some speculate that cyberbullying is worse than traditional bullying, but research shows mixed results on this assertion.

“Getting Competent”

Handling Communicative Aggression at Work

Workplace bullying is a form of communicative aggression that occurs between coworkers as one employee (the bully) attempts to degrade, intimidate, or humiliate another employee (the target), and research shows that one in three adults has experienced workplace bullying (Petrecca, 2010). In fact, there is an organization called Civility Partners, LLC devoted to ending workplace bullying—you can visit their website at http://www.noworkplacebullies.com/home. This type of behavior has psychological and emotional consequences, but it also has the potential to damage a company’s reputation and finances. While there are often mechanisms in place to help an employee deal with harassment—reporting to Human Resources for example—the situation may be trickier if the bully is your boss. In this case, many employees may be afraid to complain for fear of retaliation like getting fired, and transferring to another part of the company or getting another job altogether is a less viable option in a struggling economy. Apply the communication concepts you’ve learned so far to address the following questions.

  1. How can you distinguish between a boss who is demanding or a perfectionist and a boss who is a bully?
  2. If you were being bullied by someone at work, what would you do?

Key Takeaways

  • The dark side of relationships exists in relation to the light side and includes actions that are deemed unacceptable by society at large and actions that are unproductive for those in the relationship.
  • Lying does not always constitute a dark side of relationships, as altruistic lies may do more good than harm. However, the closer a relationship, the more potential there is for lying to have negative effects.
  • Relationship aggression occurs in different forms and contexts.


  1. Describe a situation in which lying affected one of your interpersonal relationships. What was the purpose of the lie and how did the lie affect the relationship?
  2. How do you think technology has affected extradyadic romantic activity?
  3. Getting integrated: In what ways might the “dark side of relationships” manifest in your personal relationships in academic contexts, professional contexts, and civic contexts?
  4. Review the types of secret tests. For each type, provide an example from your own life in which you have engaged in the secret test or observed a friend doing so. For each example, state whether you believe the secret test was helpful or harmful and why.
  5. Create your definition of emotional infidelity. Ask three friends to come up with their definition of emotional infidelity. Compare and contrast the four definitions.
  6. After reading the section on Internet infidelity and Internet characteristics, find your example in the popular media that relates to one of the characteristics of the Internet that seems to facilitate infidelity. For example, you might choose the characteristic “speed.” Find an article in the popular media in which speed played a role in an individual’s ability to “cheat” in the virtual environment.
  7. Working in a group, create an example of each type of hurtful message from your own life that you have experienced or witnessed. What was the reaction? Label the reaction according to Vangelisti and Crumley’s Reaction Types.


Buunk, A. P. and Pieternel Dijkstra, “Temptation and Threat: Extradyadic Relations and Jealousy,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, eds. Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 540.

Comadena, M. E., “Accuracy in Detecting Deception: Intimate and Friendship Relationships,” in Communication Yearbook 6, ed. M. Burgoon (Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1982), 446–72.

Dailey, R. M., Carmen M. Lee, and Brian H. Spitzberg, “Communicative Aggression: Toward a More Interactional View of Psychological Abuse,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 298.

Docan-Morgan, T., & Docan, C.A. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing views of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55, 317-342.

Eckstein, N., “Adolescent-to-Parent Abuse: Exploring the Communicative Patterns Leading to Verbal, Physical, and Emotional Abuse,” in The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication, eds. Brian H. Spitzberg and William R. Cupach (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2007), 366.

Johnson, M. P., “Violence and Abuse in Personal Relationships: Conflict, Terror, and Resistance in Intimate Partnerships,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, eds. Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 557.

Knapp, M. L., “Lying and Deception in Close Relationships,” in The Cambridge Handbook of Personal Relationships, eds. Anita L. Vangelisti and Daniel Perlman (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 519.

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