Important personal relationships can at times become stressed, conflicted, unpredictable, and a poor fit to our needs. At such times, adaptation depends largely on one's ability to successfully access, initiate, develop, and maintain support relationships. The chapter describes the theoretical and empirical efforts that led to the formulation of a two-component model of “relational competence,” emphasizing competencies and perspectives relevant to the initiation and enhancement of relationships. We examine developmental processes characteristic of populations ranging in age from infancy to late life, with an eye to (a) the nature and development of relational competence, (b) links to early developmental phenomena such as temperament, attachment, and self-concept, and to (c) psychological processes in adulthood such as hardiness, resilience, and adaptation to dependency.
From the beginning, relationships shape and influence our lives. They provide nurturance, security, support, and companionship. They are our inspiration, our links to the broader social world, and the contexts for our emotional and cognitive development.
Yet the nature and composition of our relationships and the functions they serve tend to change across the life span. Unfortunately, personal relationships can also become problematic. At each phase of development, important peer, friendship, and support relationships can become stressed, conflicted, overwhelmed, unpredictable, and a “poor fit” to one's needs. Our personal and support relationships cannot, therefore, always be taken for granted. Such events present complex adaptive challenges for those in need of a support network, and the ability to successfully cope with these “relational challenges” varies considerably across individuals.