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Several explanations have been proposed towards the explanation of maintenance of relationships.
The social exchange theory proposed by Homans (1971) can be used to explain the maintenance of a
relationship. He borrowed concepts from operant conditioning and economics to develop his theory.
This theory argues that relationships depend on the exchange of costs and rewards. It was found that
the most satisfying relationships were those that had high rewards (companionships, being cared for,
sex) and low cost (effort, finance, missed opportunities). We tend to stay with those people who
reward us more and this helps a relationship to last because there are positive outcomes (rewards) that
benefit the individual.
Support for the social exchange theory comes from Marelich et al (2008) study. The findings obtained
through a survey suggest that an exchange of costs and rewards takes place in intimate relationships.
The study also offered support for the idea that the judgment we make as to whether something is
rewarding or not is completely subjective. For example, "sex" was regarded as a "cost" by women but
as a "reward" by men while "intimacy and commitment" was regarded as a "cost" by men and a
"rewards" by women. Consequently these findings increase the credibility of the social exchange
theory in the explanation of the maintenance of relationships as the study identifies the reward and
costs which are being exchanged in this case sex for the approval of their partners in order to maintain
happiness within the relationship which moreover helps to make the relationship last longer.
This study however is culture bias as it only consisted American participants so it only looks at the
relationships within western societies, however nonwestern societies have a different way of
maintaining a relationship as some only use sex for breeding rather than for the maintenance of
relationships, as a consequence these findings cannot be used to generalise how relationships are
maintained as the study is not universal, resulting to a decrease in credibility towards the social
exchange theory in the explanation of the maintenance of relationships.
Never the less an advantage of Marelich et al study is that it is high in population validity as it consisted
of 267 participants therefore more people behaviour for the maintenance of relationships can be
recorded which can allow these findings to be generalised as it is high in population validity, therefore
the validity of the study increases as well as the credibility of the social exchange theory towards
maintenance of relationships.
Moreover interdependence theory proposed by Thibaut and Kelly developed the social exchange
theory further and stated that individuals were more motivated by selfinterest and interactions to
maximise outcomes. They found four stages to the model towards the maintenance of a relationship.
Sampling (costs/rewards explored), bargaining (costs and rewards negotiated) commitment (rewards
and costs stabilised), and institutionalisation (norms established). Moreover, they came up with two
concepts: comparison level (satisfaction dependant on previous relationships) and comparison level for
alternatives (comparing costs and rewards with current partner with a potential partner, and if we feel
that we could do better in another relationship, we may be motivated to finish the current one).
Furthermore The investment model proposed by Rusbult and Van Lange 1996 towards the explanation
of the maintenance of a relationship, however states that it is one investment in a relationship that
determines whether or not the partner stays in the relationship. They stated that to maintain a
relationship, the individual would have to put in a considerable amount. Such investments could include
the house, car and sometimes even children could be caught up in the middle.
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Supporting evidence for the investment model comes from Impett et al who tested the model using a
retrospective study of a large sample of married couples of an 18 month period. They found that
commitment to the marriage by both partners predicted relationships stability, supporting Rusbult and
Van lange's model.
The significance of the third factor proposed by Rusbult "investment" was supported by the findings
of Rhagham and Axsom (2006) and Jerstad (2005). Both found "investment" to be an important
predictor of relationship commitment.…read more
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What this means is that this research is Eurocentric as its findings are generalised to other
cultures, assuming underlying similarities, etics therefore the findings from these studies should not e
generalised as the samples are not representative of a universal human experience.…read more