Outline and evaluate the maintenance of romantic relationships


AO1 - Social Exchange Theory

  • Social exchange theory - developed by Thibaut and Kelley (1959), suggests we are motivated to maximise the profits (financial, emotional support, sex etc.) of a relationship and minimise the costs (effort and time etc).
  • Successful relationship = rewards - costs = positive outcome for both parties
  • Thibaut and Kelley also developed the idea of the comparison level (CL) as a standard againsts which our relationships are judged
  • If we judge that our new relationship will be more 'profitable' than the CL then the relationship will be judged as worthwhile
  • If we judge the new relationship as below our CL, the relationship is not seen as worthwhile
  • 4 stages in development of the relationship - sampling: weighing up costs and rewards of potential relationships; bargaining: partners give and receive reward and test whether a deeper relationship is worthwhile; commitment: each partner recognises how to elicit rewards from the other and costs are lowered and institutionalisation: norms are established within the relationship (Some Boys Can't Ice-skate)
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AO2 - Social Exchange Theory

  • Does not explain why some women remain in abusive relationships.
  • However Rusbult and Martz (1995) argue that when investment is high i.e. children and alternatives are few e.g. no home/no money,  a profit situation still exists and the person is more likely to remain in the relationship
  • Reductionist explanation as it breaks down relationships into basic, social interactions that are focused of selfish awards of single individual i.e. stages in the development of a relationship
  • Difficult to test social exchange theory because attractiveness is subjective and comparison levels differ between each person
  • Takes into account individual differences because different individuals perceive profits and losses differently so what is acceptable for one person may not be acceptable for another
  • Ignores the contribution of fairness in exchange rather than simply seeking profits
  • The ‘selfish’ nature of this theory reveals a cultural bias: social exchange may only apply to Western relationships. Moghaddam et al (1993) found that even within Western culture, it may still only apply to short-term relationships among folks with high social mobility.
  • Social exchange theory has been criticized for focusing only on the individual’s view of their relationships, ignoring any relevant social aspects.  This theory erroneously assumes that people are only concerned with themselves.
  • Problem of over generalisation: they view behaviour as universal rather than specific and contextual. In some relationships we are concerned with costs, rewards and fairness but not it all relationships. 
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AO1 - Equity Theory

  • Equity Theory was developed by Walster et al. 1978
  • Extension of SET
  • Main assumption is that people strive for fairness in relationships, not just personal gain
  • Both parties should feel distressed if they perceive unfairness i.e. under/over-benefitting (Messick and Cook 1983) i.e. people who give /receive a great deal and get little/too much in return will feel dissatisfied.
  • But if there is an imbalance, it can be tolerated as long as the parties’ can accept the situation.
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AO2 - Equity Theory

  • Hatfield et al. (1979) found that underbenefited newlyweds expressed the lowest level of satisfacition with their marriage, the overbenefited came next and those who perceived an equitable relationship had the highest level of satisfaction
  • Buunk and van Yperen (1991) found that married people who perceived their relationships as equitable were the most happy with them. Thos who felt they were under-benefiting felt the least content.
  • However these findings only applied to those couple who were high in exchange orientation. Those low in exchange orientation were fairly satisfied whether they over-benefited, under-benefited or felt they received equal benefit.
  • Buunk and Van Yperen, in a large study of 736 pxs found that twice as many women as men felt under-benefited, and men were more likely to feel over-benefited.
  • Argyle (1988) found that over-benefited men were almost as satisfied as those in an equitable relationship, but over-benefited women were much less satisfied than women with equal benefit.
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