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Outline and Evaluate the theory of maintenance of relationships
Social Exchange Theory (SET) claims that in relationships partners have expectations
to earn a reward i.e. Rewards are things that exceed the costs incurred. Rewards are
things like company, security and sex whilst costs are things that result in a loss. For
example, the spare time that is lost or the negative aspects of the relationship that
have to be dealt with. Commitment in a relationship occurs if the profitability of the
relationship is high which is seen as more desirable therefore the relationship is less
likely to break down.
According to Thibaut and Kelley relationships develop over a 4-model stage. First the
couple samples-explores the costs and benefits in a variety of relationships. Then
they bargain- cost out relationships. And finally there is commitment and
Couples compare their relationship to other relationships. The Comparison Level (CL)
is a way of judging whether an existing relationship against some standard. If the
profitability of an existing relationship exceeds the CL then it's judged as worthwhile.
The individual may decide to end an existing relationship if the CL of an alternative
relationship is significantly higher than the current relationship. A relationship will
breakdown if the costs exceed the rewards or if the profitability of a new
relationship is higher.
This theory with its comparison levels explains why some people stay in
unsatisfactory relationships. Rusbult et al suggests that if the investment in a
relationship is high i.e. there are children involved and there are no alternatives then
the individual will stay in an abusive relationship as the current relationship is better
than no relationship at all therefore will decide to maintain the current relationship.
There is also research support for the role of comparison levels in a relationship.
Simpson et al. found that individuals who were already in a relationship tended to
give lower ratings of attractiveness to photographs of members of the opposite sex
than those who weren't in a relationship. This suggests that new alternative
relationships are judged as less profitable if the individual is already in a committed
relationship. However, this study provides weak support for the role of comparison
levels as it lacks ecological validity as it was conducted in a lab using photographs
and not how we meet `alternatives' in real life.
The concept of social exchange may not be an over simplification of how real life
relationships work. Clark and Mills found two different types of couples- the
communal couple and the exchange couple. Only in the Exchange Couple is the kind
of score keeping that is predicted in SET obvious. Individuals in the communal couple
are much more relaxed. Stafford and Canary (2006) meanwhile found that marital
satisfaction, although lowest amongst individuals who felt under-benefited, was also
low amongst individuals who felt over-benefited. Therefore, SET assumes that being
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SET is obviously reductionist. It doesn't explain why some people care for their
partners who are terminally ill or why some individuals leave a relationship when
there are no alternatives involved. Therefore, emotion overrides cost-benefit
analysis and will result in the maintenance of a relationship.
Most research conducted on SET has been focused on individualist cultures as a pose
to collectivist cultures. Therefore, the results may not be able to be generalised to
collectivist cultures as they may act differently when in a relationship.…read more
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SET. We aren't machines and can make decisions to act in ways counter
to our own rewards.
In conclusion, both SET and Equity Theory may not be explain how real life
relationships work due to cultural and gender differences therefore questioning the
applicability of these studies. However, SET and Equity Theory may explain some
aspects into the maintenance of relationships such as why people may stay in
unsatisfactory relationships.…read more