Introduction to Relationships in Middle Adulthood

What you’ll learn to do: explain how relationships are maintained and changed during middle adulthood

A restaurant scene with multiple conversations happening at different dinner tables

The importance of establishing and maintaining relationships in middle adulthood is now well established in academic literature—there are now thousands of published articles purporting to demonstrate that social relationships are integral to any and all aspects of subjective well being and physiological functioning, and these help to inform actual healthcare practices. Studies show an increased risk of dementia, cognitive decline, susceptibility to vascular disease, and increased mortality in those who feel isolated and alone. However, loneliness is not confined to people living a solitary existence. It can also refer to those who endure a perceived discrepancy in the socio-emotional benefits of interactions with others, either in number or nature. One may have an expansive social network and still feel a dearth of emotional satisfaction in one’s own life.

Socioemotional selectivity theory (SST) predicts a quantitative decrease in the number of social interactions in favor of those bringing greater emotional fulfillment. Over the past thirty years, or more, there have been significant social changes which have in turn, had a large effect on human bonding. These have affected the way we manage our emotional interactions, and the manner in which society views, shapes and supports that emotional regulation. Government policy has also changed, and had a profound influence on how families are shaped, reshaped, and operate as social and economic agents.