A01 Social exchange theory
One theory that attempts to explain how relationships are maintained is social exchange theory which proposes that individuals attempt to maximise their rewards and minimise their costs. In our society, individuals exchange resources with the hope that they will earn a profit, whereby rewards exceed the costs such as companionship, sex or financial security. Costs may consist of effort, time wasted and financial strain amongst other things. Rewards minus the costs equal profit or loss.
A01 Comparison level
The theory also suggests that our relationships are judged against our comparison level (CL), influenced by our previous experiences in other relationships. If a new relationship exceeds our CL, it will be judged as worthwhile. Conversely, if a new relationship fails to meet our CL, we are likely to be dissatisfied with the relationship.The person may when weigh up the potential increase in rewards from a different partner, against the costs of ending a relationship, referred to as our comparison level for alternatives (CL Alt), in order to decide whether a new relationship would be more profitable. Therefore the theory suggests the maintenance of a relationship relates to the profitability of the outcome.
Supporting research has demonstrated how sex is an important resources used in social exchange, providing profit for partners in an intimate relationship. An example, Marelich et al (2008) surveyed 267 students in the US and found that men were more likely to use blatant lies regarding care and commitment, in order to have sex. Conversely, women were more likely to have sex to avoid confrontation, gain approval and promote intimacy. This suggests that women may judge sexual deception as profitable as it will reward them with commitment and approval, therefore supporting social exchange theory.
A02 Abusive relationship
However, Rusbult and Martz (1995) argue that when investments are high (access to children and financial security) and alternatives are low (difficult to find a home and become financially stable), women are likely to stay in an abusive relationship. This challenges social exchange theories concept of comparison level as the cost of an abusive relationship is high yet the study shows investments into relationship can impact relationship maintence. Social exchange theory ignores the role of investment therefore its explanation may not be applicable to all relationships such as abusive relationships.
A02 Counts after dissatisfied
Additionally Argyle (1987) proposes that people only really begin to count costs and rewards after they have become dissatisfied with them and Duck (1994) suggests that people only use comparison level for alternatives (CL Alt) when they become dissatisfied and not throughout the relationship, challenging social exchange theories claims.
A02 Nurture, social
On the other hand social exchange theory emphasises the role of nurture in the maintenance of relationships, proposing that reward (profit) increases the likelihood that the relationship will be maintained. Suggesting we have control of mainence through social interactions. This is useful to understand as there could be a link between social interactions at a young age and behaviour in romantic relationships.
A02 Cultural bias
However this may only apply to other Western society as Maghadda (1998) found in cultures where there is less choice in relationships, such as arranged marriages, profit and loss calculation is likely to be irrelevant. Such individuals may feel that despite costs outweighing profits, they are unable to terminate a relationship. Alternatively, in some collectivist cultures, simply having the security of a partner may be a sufficient reward, challenging social exchange theory as the theory proposes we can only receive rewards and ignores gratification of partner.
A02 Individual differences
In addition economic theories can be criticised as being pessimistic which suggests individuals are hedonistic. Subsequently it could be argued that equity in a relationship is more rewarding for many individuals, for example giving affection can be more rewarding than receiving affection. Therefore this theory fails to acknowledge individual differences, consequently making the theory reductionst as it does not consider differences between individuals.
A01 Equity theory
A better explanation for maintence of relationships could be equity theory which proposes that any form of inequity can create distress and therefore individuals seek fairness in a relationship. Inequity can be perceived, either by an individual that gives more than they receive or by an individual who receives more than they five. In both instances, such inequity would result in dissatisfaction in a relationship. The greater the inequity, the more dissatisfaction experienced by an individual and subsequently, the greater the distress
The theory suggests an equitable relationship is one where the person’s benefits minus their costs, equals their partner’s benefits minus costs. And that we are motivated to restore perceived inequality by amending either the amount given to the relationship (input) or the expectations from the relationship (output). We may also use our comparison level for our other relationships to calculate whether it is worth investing in the relationship or whether it is advisable to end the relationship..
A02 Individual differences
A strength of this theory is that it considers individual differences, the theory suggests that equity does not necessarily mean equality, what seems fair in terms of input and output is subjective. An individual might for instance, feel that it is fair for them to five more on the relationship, as they feel that they subsequently fain more from the relationship.
A01 Highest sat with highest equity
Supporting the theory, Stafford and Canary (2006) asked over 200 married couples to complete measures of equity and relationship satisfaction and found highest satisfaction for spouses who perceived their relationships to be equitable. This supports the theory as it proves that in real life, relationship equity is an important factor for relationship satisfaction thus relationship success.
In addition, DeMaris (2007) assessed the importance of equity in relation to martial dissatisfaction and later breakdown using a sample of 1500 American couples, and found that a women’s sense of being under benefited was most important in predicting later disruption. This also supports equity theory as it shows the consequences in real life relationships if a relationship became inequitable such as disruption of relationship.
These two studies supporting equity theory show that the theory can have good application to real life relationship situations, which suggests the theory has high ecological validity, thus helps our overall understanding of how relationships are maintained.
A02 Desire to respond to needs than equity
However, Clark and Mills (1979) argue that economic explanations are more applicable to relationships between colleagues or business associates (exchange relationships) than relationships between friends or lovers (communal relationships). The later are more concerned with a desire to respond to the needs of the partner than a desire to achieve equity, suggesting that reward/need theory is possibly a better explanation for romantic relationships.
A02 De Maris, amount perceived
On the other hand, research such as by De Maris (2007) has shown that equity is an important factor to still be considered for the satisfaction of long term relationships. This suggests that while we do have a desire to respond to the needs of the partner, we also expect our needs to be returned, in an amount that is perceived to be equitable in order for a relationship to last long term.
A02 Reductionist (emotions not logic)
However stating that this depends on a perceived amount, tells us little about how much this amount actually is, therefore economic explanations can also be criticised as being reductionist. This is because economic explanations suggest simple calculations will determine whether a relationship is maintained or not. In reality, humans are complex beings who often make decisions based on emotions as opposed to rational and logical cognition, hence difference in perceived amounts between individuals. Subsequently, such theories are oversimplified as it may be the case that despite feeling inequity in a relationship, an individual still feels an emotional bond with their partner, making the choice to maintain the relationship.