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Book Reviews   |    
The New Science of Intimate Relationships
Reviewed by Edith C. Fraser, Ph.D.
Psychiatric Services 2004; doi: 10.1176/appi.ps.55.3.325
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by Garth Fletcher; Malden, Massachusetts, Blackwell Publishers, 2002, 324 pages, $27.95 softcover

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This book is a scholarly and reflective overview of research on one of the most popular subjects today: relationships. It approaches the topic of intimate relationships scientifically and challenges some popular theories while supporting others. The New Science of Intimate Relationships is easy to read and is divided into 11 chapters and four parts. Its author, Garth Fletcher, an evolutionary social psychologist, is one of the foremost theorists of intimate relationships. The primary premise of his book is that "Regardless of sexual orientation, the need for love is … born of the longing to reunite with one's long-lost other half and achieve an ancient unity destroyed by the gods."

Using as his foundation three primary theoretical frameworks—general social theories, general relationship theories, and local relationship theories—as they intersect with cognitive processes, Fletcher provides a model for understanding relationships that is erudite, logical, and understandable. At the same time, he explores the origins of the "intimate relationship mind," providing data to support the role of evolution and its interaction with culture as a primary source of the intimate relationship mind. He explores the role of emotions in intimate relationships and suggests that love and other emotions have an evolutionary component and represent specific adaptations associated with reproductive success of the human species. "Humans have a basic need to be accepted appreciated, and cared for, and to reciprocate such attitudes—to love and to be loved," he writes.

This book highlights not only the power of evolutionary processes in explaining the origin of intimate relationships but also the development of human relationships. Fletcher concentrates on the role of social judgment in relationships. Citing numerous sources, he examines the accuracy and inaccuracy of the social judgment of strangers, dating couples, and married couples in intimate relationships. The book looks at various reasons for relationship success and confronts simplistic models, which focus only on communication or good management. Fletcher illustrates the "complexity and subtlety of the process and concept of communication." He discusses the role of attachment style not only for children but also for adults after relationships break up. The selection of mates is a pivotal component of relationship development, and Fletcher postulates that mate selection is not random but rather is predicated on interplay between genetic factors and exterior features, such as status, physical attractiveness, personality traits, and attitudes. These factors interact throughout the course of the relationship.

In the final section, Fletcher explores sex, passion, and domestic violence, which he cites as challenges to the evolutionary and social psychological framework. He explores gender differences in sexuality, jealousy, and sexual orientation historically and through the lens of evolutionary development. He compellingly confronts such conundrums as aggression, domestic violence, and culture in intimate relationships.

Fletcher has an accessible writing style and actively confronts several camps in this book: pop psychological stereotypes about relationships, social constructionist models, and feminist theoretical frameworks. Thus The New Science of Intimate Relationships is a thought-provoking, provocative, and challenging framework for social scientists and laypersons who are interested in exploring intimate relationships in-depth.

Dr. Fraser is director of faculty development and research at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama.

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