Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Jeffrey D. Van Tongeren


The human motivation for meaning has been a longstanding topic of inquiry, and recent research has begun to investigate how individuals maintain a sense of meaning in life. Given the importance of social connectedness in human life, as well as the role of relationships in providing a sense of meaningfulness, the present investigation explored meaning maintenance within the domain of close relationships. Specifically, a theoretical model for interpersonal meaning maintenance is presented, which proposes that moral actions—particularly forgiveness—are oriented toward restoring relationship quality, and, in turn, meaning in life, in the wake of interpersonal transgressions. The tenets of this model were tested in two studies. Study 1 provided initial evidence for this model by examining dispositional characteristics that are important for one’s relationship (e.g., trait empathy, self-esteem) and provided promising results that support a more specific investigation within the domain of close relationships. Implementing a longitudinal study design, Study 2 examined interpersonal offenses committed by romantic partners over six months, as well as the degree of forgiveness offered by the hurt partner, and the subsequent effects on relationship quality and meaning in life. The results revealed that, as hypothesized, initial levels of meaning in life predicted committing fewer moral offenses against one’s partner and offering more forgiveness when suffering a transgression by one’s partner. Although transgressing against one’s partner did not reduce meaning in life, offering forgiveness increased meaning in life and life satisfaction over time. In addition, relationship satisfaction partially mediated the effects of forgiveness on meaning in life, and self-esteem was found to moderate this mediating relationship. Support for the model of interpersonal meaning maintenance was garnered in two studies. The present investigation was the first to explore how individuals maintain meaning within the domain of close relationships. Implications for the scientific study of meaning, as well as for applications in relationships, are discussed.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2011

Included in

Psychology Commons