Friends have a bigger impact on a person’s romantic relationships than family or society in general, a new study suggests.
Researchers from two New York universities – Hunter College and Pace University – examined the role of social stigma in relationships. Their study focused on same sex and interracial couples because, despite growing levels of acceptance, these were most likely to be stigmatised.
A total of 480 people participated in the study, with 99 same sex couples, 288 in an interracial couple and 93 whose relationship was same sex and interracial. Respondents were asked a series of questions about the attitudes they experience because of their relationships, such as whether or not their family and friends accepted their partner.
In addition to those questions, each participant was also asked about their relationship satisfaction. This encompassed factors such as how much they were invested in the relationship, how well they communicated and how well they dealt with stress as a couple.
The researchers found that stigma of any kind has a negative impact on a couple. When a relationship was not approved by family, it “correlated with lower commitment”, the study found.
However, the opinion of friends had an even more significant effect on relationships, the authors discovered:
“Relationship stigma from friends was correlated with lower relationship satisfaction, commitment, trust, love, and sexual communication.”
Results suggested that friends “may be the most harmful” to a relationship if they disapprove of a relationship, the researchers said.
The study was published in the academic Journal of Family Psychology.