Complementary relationships

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Complementary relationships
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Complementary relationship – term created in the early 1960’ by scientists from the Mental Research Institute in Californian Palo Alto. This psychological issue refers to the social types of relationships and interactions or benefits related to it for each side in the relationship (Sicard, 2012, p.128). This theory refers to contact, interaction – initiation of interaction and feedback (Littlejohn, Foss, 2008, p. 1998). It pertains mainly to family, friendship and marriage but it can be also applied in other areas, like for example work or business.

Complementary relationship is a type of relationship of opposite characters, in which one of the members initiates interaction in relation and the second one prefers to conform instead of starting an initiation (Garland, 1999, p. 204). When the stronger character supports the other side (member) it has a positive influence and benefits for both sides. It is complementary because sides are supporting and replacing each other because they are specialists in different areas. This kind of relationship is healthy when both sides have benefits and their involvement is on an approximate level and it is analogous unhealthy when the engagement of one side is lesser than involvement of the other side.


Mental Research Institute provided researches in families to discover relations and dependencies between family members according to life aspects like work, cooperation and related. They observed that there are two kinds of relationships/loops inside the family (Littlejohn, Foss, 2008, p. 1998):

  • Complementary relationship
  • Symmetrical relationship

Symmetrical relationship

Symmetrical relationship - this is the type of relationship between two similar characters, in which both sides are nearly strong personalities. It is healthy when they cooperate. Similarity often causes a competition, but when both members are to engage in the competition it breaks the cooperation down (Fujishin, 2007, p.45).


Author: Maciej Pietruszka