Once two people have decided to initiate a relationship with each other, the next step involves intensifying and developing that relationship. From seeking additional information by self-disclosing about intimate topics to expressing affection through kissing and hugging to evaluating the state of the relationship by communicating with their partners, individuals utilize a variety of communication skills, strategies, and behaviors to assess and develop their relationships. While there are numerous ways that individuals can intensify their new relationships, Baxter & Wilmot (1984) have developed seven "secret tests” that people use to seek information about the state of their growing relationships.
- First, individuals could utilize a direct test to gain valuable information about their relationship. Here, individuals will ask their partners a direct question about their relationship. For instance, Jack might ask Jill, “where do you see this relationship in a month?” or “do you love me?” Using this type of test is effective because an individual usually finds out exactly what he or she wants to know, but this kind of directness may make a relationship partner feel uncomfortable or even pressured to respond in a certain way, which could be detrimental to the overall relationship.
- The second type of test is known as an endurance test. This test is when an individual increases the costs of the relationship to see if the other person stays or leaves. For instance, Jill may know that Friday night is Jack’s poker night, but she may tell him that taking her out on a date that night instead of poker would make her really happy. Jack’s response would give Jill insight into how far Jack would go for their relationship. This type of test can tell you a lot about your relationship, but be careful; creating a ridiculous endurance test or too many endurance tests may make your partner feel like you're very needy or controlling.
- Third, individuals could use an indirect suggestion. Here, individuals hint or joke about the status of their relationship to see what their partner says. For instance, Jack might joke about loving Jill just to see if she reciprocates by saying that she loves him too. If your partner responds unfavorably, then you can brush it off as a joke. No big deal, right?
- The fourth test is called public presentation, where one person introduces their partner to other people as his or her boyfriend/girlfriend to see how his or her partner reacts. While this test is very effective, it requires some courage since you'll be in front of other people. Everyone, including yourself, will be able to see your partner's reaction. So, if it's a bad one, you may be embarrassed.
- In the fifth type of test, known as the triangle test, an individual would go out with another person (who is not their partner) to see if their partner gets jealous or an individual may tell their partner that they think someone else is attractive to see their reaction. This test is a bit dangerous because some people may be so consumed with jealousy that they end the relationship right then and there.
- Sixth, one of the relationship partners could also initiate a separation test. Here, Jill would tell Jack that she didn't want to see him for a certain amount of time to see if they miss each other. You know this one. It could be as simple as not seeing each other for a couple of nights when you're used to hanging out everyday to going on "a break" for a few weeks.
- The last secret test is called a third party test. This is where you ask your friends and family their opinions about the relationship.
All of these communication tests help people seek information about their developing relationships. When the “answers” to these tests are favorable, relationships tend to intensify more quickly than when responses are less favorable. It is also important to note that some of these tests may never be used in a relationship. Instead, you may decide to use a direct test and then never feel the urge to use any of the other tests. Or, you may use all of these tests to gain that vital information needed to evaluate your relationship. Whatever you do, "testing the waters" is an important stage in any growing relationship.
- Baxter, L. A., & Wilmot, W. W. (1984). "Secret tests": Social strategies for acquiring information about the state of the relationship. Human Communication Research, 2, 171-201.