Duck's phase model


Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown

  • Duck argued that the ending of a relationship is not a one-off event but a process that takes time and goes through 4 distinct phases.
  • Each phase is marked by one partner reaching a 'threshold', a point at which their perception of the relationship changes.
  • The road to break-up begins once a partner realises they are dissatisfied with the relationship and distressed about the way things are going.
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Intra-psychic phase

  • Threshold: 'I can't stand this anymore' - indicating that something has been changed.
  • The focus is on the cognitive processes occurring within the individual.
  • The dissatisfied partner broods on the reasons for his or her dissatisfation.
  • The partner mulls their thoughts over privately, and may share them with a trusted friend.
  • They weigh up the pros and cons of the relationship and evaluate these against the alternatives.
  • They begin to make plans for the future.
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Dyadic phase

  • Threshold: 'I would be justified in withdrawing' - they come to a conclusion.
  • Focus on interpersonal processes between the two partners.
  • There comes a point when they cannot avoid talking about their relationship any longer.
  • There is a series of confrontations over a period of time - where the relationship is discussed and dissatisfactions are aired.
  • These are characterised by anxiety, hostility, complaints about lack of equity, resentment over imbalanced roles and a rethinking of the committment that kept the partners together.
  • There are two possible outcomes - a determination to continue breaking up the relationship, or a renewed desire to repair it.
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Social phase

  • Threshold: 'I mean it' - the dissatisfied partner concludes.
  • Focus on wider processes involving the couple's social networks.
  • The break-up is made public.
  • Partners may seek support.
  • Gossip is traded and encouraged.
  • Some friends will provide reinforcement and reassurance such as 'I always said you were way too good for him'
  • Others will be judgemental and place the blame on one partner or the other.
  • Others may pitch in and try to help to repair the relationship. This is usually the point of no return - the break-up takes on a momentum driven by social forces.
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Grave-dressing phase

  • Threshold: 'It's now inevitable'
  • Focus is now on the aftermath.
  • The partner comes to bury the relationship by 'spinning' a favourable story about the breakdown for public consumption. This allows the partner to maintain a positive reputation, usually at the expense of the other partners, showing them in the bad light.
  • Gossip plays an important role in this phase.
  • The partners will blame everyone else but themselves for the failure for the relationship.
  • Grave-dressing involves creating a personal story you can live with, which may differ from the public one. This is to do with tidying up memories of the relationship.
  • It may be simpler for ex-partners just to accept what has happened and move on by admitting they weren't compatible from the beginning.
  • The dissatisfied partner finally concludes 'time to get a new life'
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Evaluation of Duck's model

  • According to Stephanie Rollie and Steve Duck, the original model is oversimplified.
  • They identified a fifth phase after grave-dressing - the resurrection phase.
  • Ex-partners turn their attention to futute relationships using the experiences gained from their recently-ended one.
  • Rollie and Duck also say that progression from 1 phase to the next is not inevitable. It is possible to return to an earlier point in the process in any phase.
  • The new model emphasises the processes that occur in a relationship breakdown rather than linear movement from one phase to the next.
  • These changes overcome the weaknesses of the original model, that is limited because it does not account for the dynamic nature of break-ups with all their inherent uncertainty and complexity.
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Evaluation of Duck's model

  • There are some methodological issues relating to Duck's model.
  • Participants gave their experiences of the breakdown some time after the relationship had ended - thus theres a retrospective issues.
  • This means they what they recall might not always be accurate or reliable.
  • The early stages of the breakdown tends to be distorted or ignored all together.
  • Researchers are reluctant to study relationships in the early stages of the breakdown because their involvment could make things worse.
  • Duck's model is based on research that ignores this early part of the process so it is an incomplete description of how relationships end.
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Evaluation of Duck's model

  • The model is useful because it recognises that different repair strategies are more effectie at particular points in the breakdown that others.
  • E.G. Duck recommends that people in the instra-psychic phase could be encouraged to focus their brooding on the positive aspects of their partner.
  • A feature of the dyadic phase is communication, any attempt to improve ths could be benefical in fostering greater stability in the relationship.
  • Such insights could be used in relationship counselling, a real-life application.
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Evaluation of Duck's model

  • Duck's model does not explain why a relationship breakdown in the first place, it only describes what is happening during the dreakdown.
  • Diane Flemlee's fatal attraction hypthosis argues that the causes of relationship breakdown can be found in the attractive qualities that brought the partners together.
  • The relationship is threatened by the partners getting too much of what they were looking for, so that good sense of humour that was so dazzling at the start if the relationship may well become 'he can't take anything seriously' later on.
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Evaluation of Duck's model

  • The model is based on the experience of relationships in Western cultures.
  • Moghaddam et al argues that relationships in individualist cultures are voluntary and frequently come to an end.
  • Relationships in collectivist cultures are more likely to be obligatory, less easy to end, invove the wider family.
  • The whole conception of a romantic relationship differs between cultures.
  • Thus, its very unlikely that the process of relationship breakdown is identical across different cultures.
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