The Role of Communication in Relationship Formation

The most important ingredient we put into any relationship is not what we say or what we do, but what we are. And if our words and our actions come from superficial human relations techniques rather than from our own inner core, others will sense that duplicity. We simply won't be able to create and sustain the foundation necessary for effective interdependence.

-- Stephen R. Covey

Communication undoubtedly plays a foundational role in the development of any healthy relationship, and it often serves to bridge the gap between people with misunderstandings, or to solidify a mutual sense of commitment. Indeed, communication plays a critical role in all phases of interpersonal relations, from incipience to maintenance.

The Internet has introduced new mediums of communication (e.g. e-mail, chat rooms) which present new factors affecting the role of communication in relationship formation. First, communicating over the Internet allows one to maintain a sense of anonymity. Take for example the following fictional conversation:

StudMuffin: From what you've told me, I would definitely be interested in meeting you.
SassyLady: Um, you freak, we don't even know each other yet. No way am I giving you my personal information. *Slap*
StudMuffin: Hey, your loss baby.

One could hardly imagine such an approach and conversation being held in real public space, yet the anonymity associated with online communication alters the behavior individuals exhibit in public. Second, communication over the Internet is qualitatively different from face-to-face communication or voice communication because it is digitized and standardized. With other mediums of communication, facial expressions, tone of voice, or the beauty of the actual writing can be analyzed, whereas with electronic communication, the meaning of messages rest only upon words. Third, the Internet introduces an expanded network potential, which can also influence behavior. Individuals are likely to be less risk averse when pursuing relationships if they have many opportunities as opposed to few.