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Outline and evaluate theories of formation, maintenance and breakdown of relationships, 25 marks.
The reward/ need satisfaction model (Byrne and Clore 1970) is a good example of how relationships
are formed. It is based on the behavioural model which is influenced by both operant and classical
conditioning where we form relationships due to direct or indirect rewards. These could be money,
status, companionship, sex etc.
However this theory is limited as it doesn't take into account that participants in relationships are
often concerned with equity. For example Hays (1985) found that in student friendships that
rewarding someone and being rewarded oneself were valued equally.
Also, not all relationships can be explained by this model as it suggests that all relationships are one
sided in reward giving and that people don't do things unless they thought they'd get e reward. This
doesn't explain why relationships continue even when they become satisfactory.
The reward/ need satisfaction model is likewise culturally bias; the theory is relevant to Western
cultures. Many Collectivist cultures, usually in the East, show little concern for the receipt of
Maintenance of relationships can be explained through the Social Exchange Theory (Thibault and
Kelley 1959). This is an economic theory which suggests that people maximise the possible rewards
in a relationship whilst minimising their costs; specifically attraction. It also suggests that commitment
to a relationship is dependent on profitability of the outcome a cost-benefit ratio. It is the outcome
of this which determines the attraction to one another. The theory also argues that if your partner
has a `high cost' then they have to counter balance that with lots of rewards.
A strength of this theory is that it helps to explain why marital dissatisfaction doesn't necessarily
However it fails to explain what can cause initially successful marriages to breakdown. It also
suggests that all people are selfish and that they would walk out of a relationship that has become
unrewarding. That however does not explain cases of domestic violence.
This theory is again culturally bias; it is based on Western cultures so it assumes that people can pick
and choose their partners. It doesn't take into account arranged marriages.
Walster et al (1978), suggested the Equity theory in maintaining relationships. This theory suggests
that relationships are maintained by a kind of economic balance to ensure equality between the two
partners. This is achieved by matching the giving and receiving between the two partners. If there is
an imbalance between them, then this is resolved by either adjusting the levels of giving and
receiving, or comparing the relationships to somebody else's to evaluate whether it is worth staying
in the relationship or not. A supporting study was conducted by Hatfield et al (1979), who found that
the happiest newly-weds were those that perceived an equitable relationship; those that were over
or under benefited had lower satisfaction. However, Hatfield also said that equity was more
important for females than males.
This theory however is culturally bias; it was researched in a Western society. In some cultures
relationships aren't assessed on their economic validity, so this theory cannot be generalised. This
theory also suffers from beta bias- there is no comparison between males and females, so it
assumes that males and females have an identical attitude to relationships when they may actually
look for different things in terms of relationship maintenance.
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Rollie and Duck (2006) have the most substantial model of relationship breakdown. It is a phase
model that describes six stages of relationship breakdown. These start from the initial breakdown,
intra psychic process, dyadic process, social process, grace dressing process to the resurrection
process where at the end a person is supposed to redefine themselves and look for a new partner.
The breakdown process one or both of the partners becomes unhappy with the relationship `I
can't stand this anymore'.…read more