The entire sphere of human interaction has undergone large-scale transformation as a result of the rapidly changing technological environment and the emergence of the internet. Back in the day, social interactions were primarily based on hand-written letters and occasional telephone conversations. Thanks to technological progression, however, numerous online communication platforms have been developed, and what we have now is an internet revolution and a totally new and dynamic realm of human interaction and long-distance communication. Currently, 73% of America's adult population, and 93% of the teen population uses social media platforms to communicate with family members and friends. Today, Facebook is home to more than 700 million users who can conveniently communicate with each other at the touch of a button without having to grapple with the time and space limitations that back in the day forced people to choose their partners and friends from their immediate environment.
There is no question about the advantages of computer-mediated communications (CMC), but to psychologists, it is only about the disadvantages - by letting ourselves get so diffused in CMC, we are breeding antisocial tendencies and some kind of alienation from public life, and thereby throwing away the very social aspect of humanity initiated in the creation story. At the heart of this ideology is the concern that CMC may not yield the level of satisfaction needed for the maintenance of human relationships, and ought therefore not to be taken as a replacement for face-to-face interactions. Based on this background, this study seeks to identify the predictors of psychological satisfaction in CMC-based romantic relationships and determine techniques that could be used to increase the significance of these factors, and hence the level of relationship satisfaction.
Researchers contend that more and more people are getting involved in CMC-based relationships, particularly romantic relationships (Perry, 2010; Anderson & Emmers-Sommer, 2006; Wrench & Punyanunt-Carter, 2007). As Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006) point out, "these individuals inhabit an interesting relational niche because they engage in relationships that are perceived by some scholars as either non-traditional or understudied" (p. 153). Towards this end, whilst we all appreciate the fact that communication is an essential component of human life and satisfaction a key determinant of the extent to which a relationship is likely to grow; we cannot blind ourselves to the fact that the atypical relational circumstances of CMC-based relationships make it difficult to achieve both. These are people who do not converse or interact physically, and are, given the understudied nature of their relational niche, likely to lack both information and social support networks that would help them define their relationships. In such cases, therefore, the relationship's success is likely to depend primarily on the level of commitment of both partners, and the quality of communication.
The researcher acknowledges that a lot of research has been done on interpersonal relationships as a whole, but there still are huge knowledge gaps in the area of online interpersonal relationships, perhaps because the concept is still quite new. In fact, most interpersonal theories, as Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006) point out, do not account for the relational circumstances under which CMC partners interact. It is possible, therefore, that individuals in CMC-based romantic relationships will have difficulties gaining confirmation for their relationships owing to a lack of supportive knowledge systems.
This is at the very least dangerous because as long as technology is showing no signs of slowing down, relationship-formation online is deemed to continue and is likely to become even more prominent as integration and globalization take shape. Towards this end, it would be crucial that we shift focus from the comparisons between CMC and face-to-face interactions, and start paying more attention to the more valuable aspects of online relationships, such as determining what could be incorporated into CMC-based relationships to make them more satisfying to the parties involved. Towards this end, this study undertaking purposes to identify the forecasters of relationship satisfaction in online relationships, and then determine ways through which their significance could be improved. Thus:
RQ1: What factors predict relationship satisfaction in online romantic relationships?
There is abundant literature indicating that perceptions of individuals in online relationships become more positively skewed as the relationship progresses. Whether relationship satisfaction is affected by the passage of time, however, still remains a subject of debate. It is perceived that CMC partners who communicate more would think differently of their relationship, compared to those who communicate less. However, we all appreciate the fact that CMC brings about intimacy faster than face-to-face interactions, and it is possible, therefore, that as time passes and the partners get to know each other, their perceptions of both the relationship and their partner could change. Towards this end:
RQ2: For CMC-based relationships, do perceptions of psychological well-being come out differently depending on the length of the relationship?
RQ3: For CMC-based relationships, do perceptions of psychological well-being come out differently depending on the amount of communication?
Relationship satisfaction, in the words of Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006), is "the degree to which an individual is content and satisfied with his/her relationship" (p. 155). Sidelinger, et al.'s (2006) view mirrors this -- they describe relationship satisfaction as the ability of a relationship to act as a source of well-being and social support for the parties involved, and thereby yield a better quality of life than they would have otherwise led in their individual capacities. This, from the perspective of Kirk (2013), translates to the extent to which an individual feels that they are experiencing what they actually expected to experience from their relationship and their partner. There evidently are huge variations in what researchers perceive relationship satisfaction to actually represent; nonetheless, there is consensus that it is a crucial determinant of the extent to which a relationship is likely to grow. This positive correlation between relational satisfaction and relationship success has been explained differently by different researchers. Kirk (2013) for instance links the same to commitment, trust, and intimacy. In her view, couples with high levels of relational satisfaction are also likely to report higher levels of commitment, trust, and intimacy. Perry (2010) also acknowledges a positive correlation between satisfaction and relationship success, but in her view, commitment, trust, and intimacy are only external products of an inner element -- communication satisfaction.
Kirk (2013) and Sidelinger, et al. (2006) contend that proximity is a key construct of relationship satisfaction. In face-to-face interactions, proximity/closeness is derived from the physical contact shared by partners; however, in the case of online relationships, where parties communicate on Facebook, Skype, and Twitter, and perhaps never interact physically, it may depend primarily on the frequency and quality of communication (Anderson and Emmers-Sommer, 2006). In this regard, face-to-face interactions are often perceived to yield higher levels of satisfaction than CMC, perhaps because by allowing for physical contact, it gives partners the opportunity to learn about the other person's behaviors and attitudes, and hence to have higher levels of trust and commitment. The media naturalness and media richness theories exacerbate this issue, postulating that the latter's lack of cues hinders communication and emotional connectedness (Perry, 2010).
This study, however, adopts Walther's social information processing theory, which postulates that with increased familiarity and use, "users are able to overcome the lack of cues and other drawbacks to the channel, and find the use of CMC advantageous" for relational maintenance (Perry, 2010, p. 3). This framework forms the basis of this study. However, before we can determine how CMC could be adjusted to yield more relationship satisfaction, we first need to develop an index for measuring the level of satisfaction both prior to, and after the adjustment.
Predictors of Relationship Satisfaction
Similarity: Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006) and Perry (2010) contend that the degree of similarity between partners is a key construct of social relationships, responsible for attracting people to others with similar backgrounds, attitudes, hobbies, and interests. In the view of Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006), similarity "takes the place of proximity" in the case of online relationships (p. 156). Perry (2010) opines that people are likely to be more satisfied in their relationships if they can establish some form of familiarity and connectedness with the other party. Sidelinger, et al. (2006) acknowledge that it may be difficult to establish the degree of similarity between partners in the case of online relationships, given that there is minimal physical contact, and hence, limited opportunity for partners to evaluate each others' attitudes and behaviors. However, as Anderson and Emmers-Sommer (2006) point out, it is this very lack of physical contact that attracts partners to each other -- it drives partners to make over-attributions about their similarities and encourages responses that align with these perceived similarities, which would often draw partners to each other and increase the level of satisfaction. As long as this perceived similarity is there, psychological satisfaction will be present.
Commitment: relational commitment refers to the extent to which one desires to remain in the relationship; and how much they anticipate its continuity (Sidelinger,…