Maintenance

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What is the debate?

It is debated whether cognitive factors are sufficient to explain the maintenance of a relationship.

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Outline 'Social Exchange Theory'

According to Social Exchange Theory- SET (cognitive approach; Thibaut and Kelly) we evaluate the costs and benefits of a relationship on two levels; on the comparison level we will maintain a relationship if the benefits outweigh the costs in the present and anticipated future within the relationship itself; and on the comparison level for alternatives we make similar cost/benefit analysis compared with other relationships (e.g. friends, family, media relationships) and other potential partners. In other words we will maintain a relationship if we think (cognitive approach) it is and will continue to be beneficial in the present and anticipated future in itself and other potential partners.

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Give research evidence to support SET

Convincing evidence for the role of cognitive factors in the maintenance of romantic relationships comes from Hatfield, who found that participants were likely to feel angry and deprived if their costs outweighed their benefits within the relationship. This shows that the comparison level (SET) is likely to be used in the maintenance of relationships as participants satisfaction depends on their cognitive decision about their costs and benefits.

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Give research evidence to support SET

Further strong evidence for the role of cognitive factors in the maintenance of romantic relationships comes from Rusbult, she found that costs and benefits were weighed up in the later stages of a relationship. This shows that the comparison level (SET) is likely to be used in the maintenance of relationships as participants satisfaction depends on their cognitive decision about their costs and benefits.

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Outline 'Equity Theory'

Further support for the importance of cognitions in the maintenance of a relationship comes from the Equity Theory- ET (Cognitive approach; Walster) which states we seek to ‘profit’ from a relationship by maximising our benefits and minimising our costs. The ‘distribution’ of these is negotiated to ensure equity, in which both partners feel as if they receive as much as they invest; a fair distribution of costs and benefits. We will maintain a relationship if we think (Cognitive) it is equitable and are satisfied with the fair distribution of costs and benefits between partners. An inequitable relationship, which will cause dissatisfaction, can still be maintained if the loser feels that he/she can ‘realign’ the relationship by restoring equity through discussion and maintenance strategies.

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Give research evidence to support ET

Convincing evidence for ET comes from Van Ypren and Buunk, who found participants in equitable relationships felt happy, and those in inequitable relationships who over benefited felt guilty and those who under benefited felt angry as predicted by equity theory.

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Give research evidence to support ET

Another strong and externally valid piece of research evidence for the role of cognitive factors in the maintenance of a relationship comes from Dwyer, who found that equity is also important in the maintenance of lesbian romantic relationships. This means that the theory can be generalised to heterosexual (Van Ypren and Buunk) and homosexual (Dwyer) couples.

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What is a weakness of cognitions?

Arguing against the role of cognitions in the maintenance of a relationship, a limitation of both SET and ET is that they are unscientific. This means that the research is not objective. Evidence for both of these theories comes from Argyle who found that in both theories the evidence it was based upon used artificial methods to measure costs and benefits e.g. standardised questionnaires.

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What is a strength of cognitions?

However, suggesting that cognitions are sufficient is that both theories are parsimonious; this means their explanation of the maintenance of romantic relationships if justifiably simple. For example both theories can explain why people stay in unhappy or even abusive relationships as the costs of breaking down the benefits (financial burden) is higher than the costs of staying in the relationship. 

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What is a weakness of cognitions?

Conversely, it can be argued by psychologists thatthe role of cognitions is simplistic. This is where a theory is unfairly simplistic as it ignores other important influences. Clark and Mills provide evidence for both theories as they ignore ‘communal couples’ who are less concerned by keep score; costs and benefits, and the theory can only be applied to exchange couples. Furthermore they ignore evidence from Argyle who found that non-verbal signals, behavioural factors (smiling) also influence our decision to maintain a relationship. Move over Duck suggests that an important influence missed by both theories is family pressures which has been proven to be important in our decision to maintain a relationship. Beyond all of this both theories ignore a main factor, bigger than the sum of benefits minus costs; it ignores the complexity of loving within long term relationships.

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What is the conclusion?

Despite their criticisms it is clear from the wealth of support that Cognitive Factors are sufficient in explain the maintenance of romantic relationships.

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