How Media Impacts Interpersonal Relational Turbulence

Curator's Note

According to Solomon and Knobloch (2004), relational turbulence refers to any set of events that involve a sense of change or instability in a relationship. Not all turbulence is bad—turbulence is necessary for growth in most cases—but it can result in conflict or even dissolution. The relational turbulence model identifies the connections between turbulence components (e.g., uncertainty and intimacy). Media serve two major functions related to relational turbulence: (1) many media portrayals of relationships contain narratives about turbulence, such as the selected clip from The Breakup (2006), because they resonate with our real-life relational experiences; and (2) media channels and content themselves can facilitate or eliminate turbulence. For the purposes of this forum, I will focus on the former.

            This chosen clip illustrates relational deterioration as a result of turbulence in several ways. For example, Gary makes a reference to a comment Brooke made on their first date about how she doesn’t like flowers. This illustrates that he was interested in listening to her likes and dislikes early on but holds them at a lower level of a priority now. As Gary’s interest has lessened, Brooke senses that he does not appreciate her, which has created turbulence; not only does she sense a change in his interest but is now frustrated that she seems to have to beg for his attention, adding another layer of turbulence due to the subsequent bickering. The argument itself is a turbulent event in their deteriorating relationship in that Brooke announces that she is “done” as she storms out of the room, necessitating a later conversation about whether they want to try and repair the relationship or let it end.

            Viewers may watch this clip and connect some of Brooke and Gary’s grievances to their own, or recognize the tactics of the fight as approaches they have taken when confronting close relational partners about/during turbulence. Paying attention to whether characters’ actions yield desirable outcomes is an important learning opportunity for viewers who may be able to use media portrayals to make sense of turbulence, difficult conversations, and the dark side of interpersonal communication.



Reed, P. (Director). (2006). The Break-up [Film]. Universal Pictures.

Solomon, D. H., & Knobloch, L. K. (2004). "A model of relational turbulence: The role of intimacy, relational uncertainty, and interference from partners in appraisals of irritations." Journal of Social and Personal Relationships21(6), 795-816.

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