Relational control is the most dynamic of the three dimensions of social relationships proposed by Millar and Rogers (1987) – the other two are trust and intimacy. Control represents the vertical “distance” between the persons in an ongoing interaction; it refers to the pattern of rights and obligations to define or direct and to defer or accept the other’s assertions while constructing the continually re-produced form of any interpersonal relationship. The temporal relevance of control is the present, since the right to direct and the obligation to accept the dyad’s form varies by topics, social roles, and social settings. Functionally, control structures serve to regulate how each person acts toward and with the other and the dyad’s ability to accomplish interdependent and individual goals. Subjective judgments about the vertical distance between persons are encapsulated in the notions of freedom and equity. Freedom concerns the possibility of one’s own actions affecting the forms and outcomes of the relationship, while equity judgments concern the fairness of one’s own rewards in comparison to the other’s, considering the amount and type of one’s contributions to the relationship.
Relational control has been most frequently measured with the Relational Communication Control Coding System (RCCCS) or some modification of it. A comprehensive report of the development, application, and modifications of RCCCS is provided in Rogers and Escudero (2004). Briefly, the RCCCS uses a three-digit code to categorize any speech turn; the first digit codes the speaker, the second codes the verbalization’s format, and the third classifies the turn’s response mode relative to the prior statement from the previous speaker. The three-digit code is then assigned a control code; an attempt to define the relationship is called a one-up movement (↑); a request or acceptance of the other’s definition is called a one-down movement (↓), and a non-demanding, nonaccepting, leveling utterance is called a one-across movement (→). Combining contiguous control codes creates three types of transacts termed complementary (↑↓ or ↓↑), symmetrical (↑↑, ↓↓, or →→) and transitory (→↑, ↑→, →↓, or ↓→), thereby measuring the two primary theoretical constructs (i.e., complementarity and symmetry) that prompted the coding scheme’s creation (Rogers 1982). Although seemingly complex, the reliability and validity estimates of RCCCS are good to excellent by conventional social science standards. The RCCCS has been used to describe the relational control dimension of verbal utterances in a variety of interpersonal settings such as husband–wife conversations, superior–subordinate interactions, and three-or-more-person family therapy sessions, and recent modifications include the coding of nonverbal behaviors in interpersonal interactions (Rogers & Escudero 2004).
A variety of measures of the relational control dimension is possible with RCCCS. Two that have received a fair amount of empirical attention are dominance and redundancy. Dominance is operationally defined as the number of one-up moves responded to with a one-down maneuver (dominance = given ↑, %↓). Dominance is a momentary outcome in an ongoing conversation where one person asserts a definition of the relationship and the other accepts that assertion (e.g., the wife says “Let’s go out to dinner” and the husband replies “OK. Good idea.”). In husband–wife relationships, the more the husband is in a dominant position relative to his wife, the more marital satisfaction he reports, but the same correlation is not observed with wife dominance scores. Further, the greater the couple’s dominance ratio indicating that the husband is in a dominant position considerably more than his wife, (1) the less he understands his wife and (2) the more redundant and rigid or less flexible the couple’s control structure. (Redundancy is operationally defined as the sum of the absolute deviation from random use of the nine transactional configurations indexed by the RCCCS. Either highly redundant or highly chaotic patterns are problematic for the relationship.)
Dominance, a momentary relational structure, is not to be confused with domineeringness, which is a measure of an individual’s use of one-up moves (domineeringness = ↑/ total number of maneuvers uttered by the speaker). Dominance and domineeringness are independent measures; that is, the frequency of dominance cannot be predicted by the frequency of one-up moves even though the more domineering one person is the lower the other’s dominance score. This statistical independence is an important, consistent finding; it empirically supports the conceptual distinction between individual and relational measures, and reminds scholars that communication processes cannot be additively reconstructed from or reduced to measures of individual actions and perceptions. Research consistently shows that, in husband–wife conversations, the more domineering statements issued by the wife, (1) the less marital satisfaction she reports and (2) the less communication satisfaction both she and her husband report. Husband domineeringness is not consistently related with either spouse’s reported levels of marital satisfaction, although it is slightly correlated with the frequency of conflicts observed in marital conversations. (A verbal conflict is depicted by at least three consecutive one-up moves by the two speakers with RCCCS codes.)
Just as biological systems continually reproduce their structure by and through their own processes, so communication systems reproduce their relational form by and through their message performances. Describing this self-regulating feature of interpersonal relationships is the concern of the relational control construct and the focus of RCCCS coding procedures.
- Millar, F. E. (1994). The structure of interpersonal structuring processes: A relational view. In R. L. Conville (ed.), Uses of “structure” in communication studies. Westport, CT: Praeger, pp. 39–60.
- Millar, F. E., & Rogers, L. E. (1987). Relational dimensions of interpersonal dynamics. In M. E. Roloff & G. R. Miller (eds.), Interpersonal processes: New directions in communication research. Newbury Park, CA: Sage, pp. 117–139.
- Rogers, L. E. (1982). Symmetry and complementarity: Evolution and evaluation of an idea. In C. Wilder-Mott & J. H. Weakland (eds.), Rigor and imagination: Essays from the legacy of Gregory Bateson. New York: Praeger, pp. 231–251.
- Rogers, L. E., & Escudero, V. (eds.) (2004). Relational communication: An interactional perspective to the study of process and form. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.