Responding to need in intimate relationships: Social support and caregiving processes in couples

Document Type

Book Chapter

Publication Date



" Human beings are hardwired to nurture, protect, and promote the welfare of others, as argued in several other chapters in this volume. This propensity to care for others is most visible in our closest relationships, in which individuals routinely sacrifice their own needs—even their own health—to respond to the needs of their spouses, children, and other loved ones. Indeed, one defining feature of intimate relationships is the expectation that romantic partners will take care of each other in times of adversity and be mutually responsive to one another's needs. These expectations are made explicit in traditional weddings, when partners vow to love one another in good times and bad, in sickness and in health. This chapter provides an overview of our research on social support and caregiving processes in couples. We begin by describing two behavioral systems—attachment and caregiving—that are relevant to understanding caregiving dynamics in couples. We then discuss theory and research on the caregiving behavioral system. In so doing, we discuss the normative activation of the caregiving system, individual differences in the capacity for responsive care, and mechanisms that may explain these differences. Finally, we review our research on caregiving in adult intimate relationships and discuss implications of these findings for individual and relationship well-being."

Recommended Citation

Collins, N. L., Ford, M.B., Guichard, A.C., Kane, H.S., & Feeney, B.C. (2009). Responding to need in intimate relationships: Social support and caregiving processes in couples. In M. Mikulincer & P. R. Shaver (Eds.), Prosocial motives, emotions, and behavior: The better angels of our nature (pp. 367-389). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.