To fully understand personal relationships, one must attend to the context in which those relationships exist. Context, as we use this term, includes both proximal factors – i.e., the larger social network in which the dyadic relationship is embedded – and distal factors – i.e., cultural-historical factors that influence the dyad. The impact of the former, although commonly noted, is seldom investigated. It is readily apparent, however, that dyadic relationships rarely, if ever, exist in a social vacuum; instead, they are linked to wider social networks by virtue of the partners' participation in multiple dyadic relationships. As for the latter, only recently have relationship researchers begun to consider the moderating role that cultural-historical contexts may play. Some of this impact is based on technological innovation. For example, advances in medicine and social hygiene throughout the twentieth century (e.g., birth control, standards of gynecological care that allow women to enjoy sexual intercourse without pain) have radically altered the nature of sexuality in relationships. Similarly, developments in communication technology, beginning with the telephone and extending more recently to the Internet, afford opportunities to maintain and even initiate relationships without or with limited face-to-face contact.
Sprecher, Felmlee, Orbuch, and Willetts begin this section by making a strong case for the importance of social networks and their influence on personal (dyadic) relationships. After reviewing prior work, these authors offer a detailed, far-reaching analysis of how and why network processes may influence stability and change in premarital, marital, and other committed relationships.