Social Relationships and Well-Being: Rediscovering the Importance of Adult Friendship
Friendships are important sources of social connection and a valuable source of joy throughout our lives; yet modern relationship researchers have focused the majority of their attention on connections with romantic partners and/or family members. Moreover, few studies have assessed how all three of these relationships simultaneously affect individuals’ lives. The aims of the following three studies are to illuminate how and why friendships are uniquely fundamental in the lives of adults, and improve upon the methodology used to assess the value adult friendships have to offer. Study 1 of this dissertation examines how satisfaction in relationships with friends, family, and spouses independently affect individuals’ well-being. The findings revealed a significant, negative interaction between intimate relationship satisfaction, friendship satisfaction, and life satisfaction such that, when satisfaction with intimate partners was high, life satisfaction was high regardless of friendship quality; however, when satisfaction with intimate partners was low, those with high quality friendships had moderately high satisfaction with life. Study 2 expands on the findings of Study 1 by asking what aspects of friendships account for their benefits and to whom are each of these aspects more or less relevant. Study 2 accomplishes this by assessing whether or not specific dimensions of friendship (closeness, enjoyment, and utility) are independently associated with individuals’ well-being and happiness, and estimating whether these associations vary by gender. The results indicated that only closeness and enjoyment, not utility, were independently associated with individual well-being, and there was a significantly greater positive association between enjoyment and well-being for women than for men. Although Studies 1 and 2 both illuminate the significance of friendships in general well-being, the study of friendships remains limited by a lack of consensus around ways of measuring satisfaction with friends. Most existing friendship satisfaction scales have primarily assessed children, many are long and cumbersome, and none has exploited the most sophisticated available psychometric techniques for scale development (i.e., bi-factor modeling and item-response theory). Thus, there exists a critical need to develop an adult friendship satisfaction scale that can be widely adopted by close relationships’ researchers. Study 3 of this dissertation pursued the development and psychometric validation of the unidimensional Adult Friendship Scale (AFS). The results of the first two studies and the outcome of the third study contribute to this area of research by highlighting the unique roles friendships play in well-being. They also offer a novel method by which researchers’ can assess friendships to further the field’s understanding of how friendships function as sources of joy, intimacy, fun, and connection in adult lives.