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How Does Stereotyping Affect Relationships?

by Jill Avery-Stoss

Misconceptions about others can affect your relationships. This is especially true if you have learned stereotypical views based on race, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. Each stereotype can be exacerbated by the others. Developing an awareness of the ways stereotyping affects relationships can help you recognize when it happens so that you can change your behavior.

Gender Stereotypes

The ways that men and women are expected to behave can have a profound impact on relationships. For instance, women are often expected to be nurturing. Men are expected to be stoic. If either of them behaves otherwise -- a woman doesn't care to dote on others or a man expresses grief and sadness -- others may be taken aback. Expectations based on gender can pressure people to behave in ways that make them uncomfortable, creating strained connections with others. For example, a man might not feel comfortable showing affection toward others for fear that they will think of him as less of a "man."

Racial and Ethnic Stereotypes

Assumptions based on race and ethnicity are some of the most pervasive stereotypes in society. Discrimination can lead to police-initiated traffic stops and prison sentences, for example, according to "Gender and race: How overlapping stereotypes affect our personal and professional decisions," a study by Columbia University researchers. Racial and ethnic stereotypes overlap with gender stereotypes to the extent that they influence romantic relationships, the research found. For instance, the more a man is attracted to femininity, the more likely he is to be attracted to an Asian woman -- stereotyped as meek and passive -- and the less likely he is to be attracted to an African-American woman -- stereotyped as aggressive and outspoken.

Stereotypes and Aging

Stereotypes regarding age include the assumptions that the elderly are forgetful and frail, and that younger individuals are naive and do not know what is best for themselves. In either case, their feelings and opinions are minimized, which can cause decreased self-confidence and sense of autonomy. A teenager might feel frustrated and angry if someone tells him to stop taking a dating relationship seriously. Similarly, a senior citizen may feel powerless if her younger relatives refuse to let her help prepare dinner.

Long-Term Effects

People facing stereotyping and discrimination struggle with the effects for years, writes Rick Nauert, associate professor for the Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness, in his article for Psych Central, "Long-Term Effects of Stereotyping." People who have experienced prejudice are more likely to be aggressive and to make irrational decisions. These effects can impact relationships in a variety of ways. Aggression toward loved ones and acquaintances can end relationships, for instance. Impulsive decisions can lead to relationships that may be unhealthy, abusive or dangerous.

About the Author

Jill Avery-Stoss is a graduate of Penn State University and a writer and editor based in northeast Pennsylvania. Having spent more than a decade working with victims of sexual and domestic violence, she specializes in writing about women's issues, with emphasis on families and relationships.

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