Obsessive relational intrusion

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Obsessive Relational Intrusion (ORI) Occurs when someone knowingly and repeatedly invades another person's privacy boundaries by using intrusive tactics to try and get closer to that person. It includes a host of annoying behaviors to include repeated calls and texts, malicious contact and spreading rumors, pre-stalking like behaviors and violent behavior such as kidnapping and assault. ORI could occur for various reasons; one person pursues another but the pursued is not interested, or if one person in a relationship wants to turn it romantic and the other does not want this romance or just wants to remain friend.[1]

Brian Spitzberg and William Cupach defined ORI as "repeated and unwanted pursuit and invasion of one's sense of physical or symbolic privacy by another person, either stranger acquaintance, who desires and/or presumes an intimate relationship".[2]


There are several key components of this conceptualization

First, ORI grows out of no mutuality of relationship definition—the pursuer and the object of his or her attention for a stronger relationship are in disagreement over the extent, or even the existence of a relationship. The person who is obsessed with the relationship starts to advance the needs for a closer connection or a closer intimacy. The victim desires autonomy and a freedom of choice and a freedom from continued forced contact. "This dialectical tension is endemic to the formation and ongoing construction of all interpersonal relationships".[2]

Second, ORI is not associated with a singular event. ORI is a repeated behavior which occurs over multiple occasions. One time acts of harassing types of behavior are not obsessive, but isolated incidents. AS explained by Spitzberg and Cupach, "Obsessiveness is reflected in the fact that the intruder is fizated on the target of attention; the intruder's thoughts and behaviors are persistent, preoccupying, and often morbid. Pursuit is persistent despite the absence of reciprocity by the obsessional object and despite resistance by the object."[2]

The episodes of unwanted behavior tend to escalate over time with the seriousness rising and the time between incidents shortening.[2]

Third, the intrusion can by symbolic and psychological and not just physical. The invasion of privacy as well as the imposition on ones feelings of freedom of choice are important aspects of ORI.[2]


Studies have been done to explore certain factors that predispose individuals to ORI. Some have found narcissism and empathy as predictors for ORI in people. Narcissists inflate their self-image, focus on themselves often at the expense of others and therefore lack empathy. Empathy is seen in antisocial behavior. With these two factors, it was though narcissism would be negatively related to empathy and empathy would be negative related to judgments of acceptability of ORI behaviors. But, this pattern has been found inconclusive. The study did find empathy may no inhibit ORI. Also, there is a substantial positive relationship between narcissism and the acceptability of ORI.[3]

Both ORI and sexual coercion are unwanted forms of intrusion and violation. Studies have shown both ORI and sexual coercion victimization correspond and the coping responses used for both tend to correspond. Many people have experienced both ORI and sexual coercion and the more victimized by the behaviors someone is, the more coping mechanisms they use. Additionally, the more serious form or intrusion, for example violence, the more formal coping response is, for example calling the police.[4]

Studies have tested and found various levels and forms of ORI intrusions, as well as sexual coercion. They can be in the form of deception coercion, mild force coercion, psychological coercion and sever force coercion.[4]


Stalking typically represents a sever form of ORI. Stalking is typically defined s "the willful, malicious, and repeated following and harassing of another persons that threatens his or her safety".[2]

Connection between ORI and Stalking[edit]

Spitzberg and Cupach state more research is needed to correctly capture the connection, but ORI and stalking are pervasive and impactful occurrences. A clearer picture is needed to better understand the incidence, prevalence and consequences of ORI and stalking. Better understanding will provide improvements in prevention, intervention and treatment of offenders and victims.[5]


The authors Brian Spitzberg and William Cupach developed ORI in 1998 and is detailed in their book, The Dark Side of Close Relationships.


Attained his M.A. in 1980 and B.A. in 1978 at the University of Texas at Arlington and then earned his Ph.D. in Communication Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California in 1981. He has taught at San Diego State since 1989.

Promoted to Professor in 1995, as of 2010, he holds the title of Senate Distinguished Professor for recognition of teaching excellence. His areas of research include interpersonal communication skills, conflict, jealousy, infidelity, intimate violence, sexual coercion, and stalking. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of methodology, theory, conflict management, relational communication, and the dark side of communication. He is author or co-author of 3 scholarly books and over 100 scholarly articles and chapters, and co-editor of 3 scholarly books on the dark side of communication and relationships. Brian has been honored at the regional and national level, including the 2006: International Association of Relationship Research Book Award, and the 2011 National Communication Kibler Memorial Award, intended to recognize career dedication to excellence and commitment to the profession.[6]


Dr. William R. Cupach is Professor Emeritus in the School of Communication at Illinois State University. He earned his B.A. from Loyola University of Chicago in 1978, double-majoring in Economics and Communication Arts. In 1981 he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Communication Arts and Sciences from the University of Southern California and joined the faculty of Illinois State University that same year. His areas of expertise include interpersonal communication, research methods, conflict and negotiation, and persuasion. Dr. Cupach is a past President of the International Association for Relationship Research. Dr. Cupach’s interdisciplinary research program illuminates the “dark side” of social and personal relationships by exploring how individuals experience and manage awkward, difficult, and challenging interactions and relationships. He has investigated such contexts as embarrassing social predicaments, interpersonal conflict and criticism, relational transgressions, relationship termination, communication between former spouses, communication about sex, social and relational aggression, bullying, obsessive relationship pursuit, and stalking.[7]

Social theory use of ORI[edit]

Relational Goal Pursuit Theory[edit]

According to the Relational Goal Pursuit Theory (RGPT),[8] people expend energy to develop or reinitiate relationships to the extent that they perceive a relationship desirable and attainable. It becomes all about achieving the goal of a relationship. ORI occurs when people continue to believe that a relationship is attainable even though it is not. The pursuer begins to escalate when they meet challenges to their goal. RGPT identifies processes that conspire to transform otherwise normal relationships into ORI and stalking. All relationships begin with a goal to pursuit. The following are some rules:

  1. Obsessive pursuers link the relationship to higher order goals, such as happiness and self-worth
  2. This linking results in exaggerated positive attitudes regarding the success of the relational goal
  3. There is an exaggerated positive attitude regarding the success of the relational goal
  4. Linking also produces exaggerated negative attitudes towards failure of the relational goal
  5. This failure produces heightened negative emotions
  6. The linking renders goal abandonment as unlikely
  7. These exaggerated attitudes reinforce the importance of the relational goal
  8. The strength of the attitudes can predict persistence

Other reasons for ORI use[edit]

Cultural Scripts – if people play hard to get enough, eventually win the affection of person trying to love – usually work against the realization that the relationship is unattainable.[1]

Ambiguous Communication - initiation, reinitiating and rejection or relationships my keep hope alive. Using indirect signals to reject people because they are worried about hurting their feelings, pursuers usually interpret this incorrectly.[1]

Rumination – when people can’t obtain a goal, they tend to fixate on the problem and pursuers redouble their efforts.[1]

Shift in Motivation- when pursuer moves from desire to revenge from a feeling of being humiliated. This shift usually marks the beginning of more aggressive behaviors.[1]

ORI and Facebook[edit]

With the increase of Facebook and other social media tools designed to make us more accessible to others while taking away pieces of our privacy, ORI has become easier in an online world. There is relational intrusion from both offenders and targets in five different categories:[9]

  1. Primary contact attempts
  2. Secondary contact attempts
  3. Monitoring or surveillance
  4. Expressions
  5. Invitations

Online social media helps to facilitate behaviors indicative of ORI and these behaviors have consequences for users on their privacy and security.


  1. ^ a b c d e Guerrero, Laura; Andersen, Peter and Walid, Afifi (2011). Close Encounters-Communication in Relationships. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications. pp. 288–291. ISBN 978-1-4522-1710-9. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Spitzberg, Brian; Cupach, William (1998). The Dark Side of Close Relationships (3rd ed.). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbraum Assoc. pp. 233–264. ISBN 0-8058-4450-3. 
  3. ^ Asada, Kelly; Eunsoon Lee, Levine Timothy, Ferrara, Merissa (204). "Narcissism and Empathy as Predictors of Obsessive Relational Intrusion". Communication Research Reports 21 (4): 379–390. doi:10.1080/08824090409360002. 
  4. ^ a b Spitzberg, Brian (2001). "Obsessive Relational Intrusion, Coping, and Sexual Coercion Victimization". Communication Reports 14 (1): 19–31. doi:10.1080/08934210109367733. 
  5. ^ Sptizberg, Brian; Nicastro, Alana (1998). "Exploring the Interactional Phenomenon of Stalking and Obsessive Relational Intrustion". Communication Reports 11 (1): 33–47. doi:10.1080/08934219809367683. 
  6. ^ "San Diego State University Faculty Pages". San Diego State University. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "Illinois State University School of Communication". Illinois State University. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  8. ^ Spitzberg, Brian; Cupach, William (2008). The Dark Side of Relationship Pursuit: From Attraction to Obsession to Stalking. New Jersey: Lawrence Eflbaum. pp. 5–102. 
  9. ^ Chaulk, Kasey; Jones, Tim (2011). "Online Obsessive Relational Intrusion: Further Concerns About Facebook". Springer Science and Business Media 26 (4): 245–254. doi:10.1007/s10896-011-9360-x.