SOCIAL SUPPORT CONCEPTUALISATIONS AND INTIMATE RELATIONSHIPS
Social support has been conceptualized in a number of ways, ranging from broad definitions about exchanges between individuals to specific taxonomies defining distinct support categories. Broadly defined, social support involves receiving advice, expressions of empathy and concern, and tangible aid from one’s social network. Furthermore, social support involves the subjective perceptions of the individual about the received support. A four-category taxonomy of social support in health behaviours was proposed, including emotional, instrumental, informational, and appraisal support. Emotional support involves the communication of caring and concern, informational support involves the provision of advice and guidance, instrumental support involves the provision of tangible or material aid, and appraisal support involves affirmation and feedback.
A key source of social support is one’s intimate partner, with many coming to rely heavily on their romantic partner as a source of support and care. More support is generally expected within an intimate relationship context than other relationships, and social support behaviours are considered an important aspect of intimate relationships, so much so that provision of support within this context protects against marital dysfunction. There is a probably a bidirectional causal association between intimate relationships and support, with the relationship providing a prime opportunity for the fulfilment of support needs, and support fulfilment impacting on the closeness and quality of an intimate relationship. First, support behaviours within an intimate relationship may be considered the version of an infant seeking support from their primary caregiver. Intimate partners become key attachment figures, with support provision an important aspect of the attachment relationship. Support is sought in two formats within both relationship contexts. The “secure base” function of support presents as exploration of an environment in infants and as elicitation of support during goal striving tasks in romantic relationships. Higher levels of either of these support types are components of healthy intimate relationships. Various ways of expressing support may be received differently within an intimate relationship context. Broadly, non-directive, nurturing support is received more favourably within an intimate relationship context than directive, action facilitating support.