Social Distancing: How Feeling Obligated To Help Family, Friends Can Harm Relationships
Jim Liebelt Jim Liebelt's Blog
- 2020 Mar 25
*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on StudyFinds.
Everyone’s world has suddenly become a whole lot smaller. As literally hundreds of millions of people all over the world are being asked to stay indoors and practice social distancing, the young and healthy among us have been tasked with checking in on their older or frailer neighbors, friends, and family members. But, does this sense of obligation to call up our grandmothers or pick up some eggs for our neighbor ultimately harm or help our relationships with these individuals?
That’s the question a new study conducted at Michigan State University set out to answer. By the end of the project, though, researchers say their results varied greatly. In short, sometimes a sense of obligation to one another can really build up and strengthen a friendship or relationship, while in other cases it can drive people apart.
“We were looking to find whether obligation is all good or all bad,” says William Chopik, assistant professor of psychology at MSU and co-author of the study, in a release. “When we started, we found that people were responding to types of obligations in different ways. People distinguished between requests that were massive obligations and requests that were simple. There’s this point that obligation crosses over and starts to be harmful for relationships.”
In some scenarios, a sense of obligation is the “glue that holds relationships together,” but for other people, it has the opposite effect.
“We found that some obligations were linked with greater depressive symptoms and slower increases in support from friends over time,” comments study co-author Jeewon Oh, MSU doctoral student. “However, other obligations were linked with both greater support and less strain from family and friends initially.”
According to the study, there’s usually a tangible line in the sand in which obligation crosses over from being a benefit to a hindrance. Instead of feeling loyal to one another, the whole arrangement just starts to feel like a burden.
“The line in our study is when it crosses over and starts to be either a massive financial burden or something that disrupts your day-to-day life,” Chopik says. “While engaging in substantive obligation can benefit others and make someone feel helpful, it is still costly to a person’s time, energy and money.”
The study was published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.