PSYA3 - Maintenance of Romantic relationships

HideShow resource information
  • Created by: Stacy
  • Created on: 01-10-15 09:37

Social Exchange Theory

Thibault + Kelley (1959)

Profit and Loss:

  • Social behaviour is a series of exchanges - Maximise rewards + minimise costs
  • People hope they will be in 'profit' - rewards outweight costs
  • Rewards; companionship, being cared for, sex. Costs; effort, finanicial investment, time wasted.
  • The more profitable, the longer the relationship is maintained. 

Comparison Level:

  • We develop a CL to see if a person offers more than another - a standard agaisnt which relationships are judged.
  • Formed by our idea of relationships + past relationships.
  • If we judge our relationship to be more profitable than the CL, we remain in it, but if not we look elsewhere.

Comparison Level for Alternatives:

  • If a person is dissatisfied they may look elsewhere. 
  • Weigh up the potential costs of ending the relationship agaisnt the rewards from another partner.
  • A new relationship can take the place of the existing one if its profit level is significantly higher. 
1 of 5

Evaluation of Social Exchange Theory

Profit + Loss:

  • Martz (1995) - when investments are high (e.g. financial security, children), and alternatives are low (e.g. place to live) we may choose to remain in the relationship.
  • This may explain abusive relationships.

Comparison Level:

  • Simpson et al (1990) - asked participants to rate members of the opposite sex in terms of attractiveness.
  • Found that those in relationships gave lower ratings.
  • However, SET doesnt explain why people leave relationships with no alternative. 


  • Duck + Sants (1983) - Theory critisied for focusing too much on induvidual perspective + ignoring social aspects of a relationship e.g. how they communicate.
  • Selfish nature of theory - do people only maintain relationships selfishly - only applies to induvidualist cultures. 
2 of 5

Equity Theory

Walster et al (1978)

Inequity + distress:

  • Any kind of inequality has the potential to cause upset.
  • Theory assumes that people strive to achieve fairness in a relationship.
  • People who give a great deal in a relationship and get little in return would percieve inequity + would be dissatisfied with the relationship - The same is also true for those who give a little and get a lot in return.
  • Profit is less important than fairness.

Ratio of inputs + outputs:

  • Equality does not mean equity.
  • Partners can give + recieve different amounts and still have an equitable relationship.
  • What is considered 'fair' is subjective to the induvidual e.g. work pressures.
  • We may also compare other relationships around us.
  • Equity can be restored by: Changing the amount we put into the relationship; Changing the amount we demand from a relationship; Changing perceptions of relative inputs + outputs. 
3 of 5

Evaluation of Equity Theory

Exchange + communal relationships:

  • Clark + Mills (1979) - disagreed with the claim that all relationships are based on economics - distinguished between exchange relationships (colleagues) + communal (lovers, friends).
  • Exchange kept track of rewards + costs, but communal are goverened by responding to the needs of the partner.

The role of relationship inequity in marriage disruption:

  • Demaris (2007) - investigated whether maritial inequity is associated with maritial disruption.
  • Looked at 1500 couples + found that the only subjective index of inequity associated with disruption is women feeling under-benefited.
  • The greater the under-benefit, the greater the rate of divorce.

Equity: an insufficient theory:

  • Ragsdale + Brandau-Brown (2007) - argue the theory is too simplistic when explaining th diversity of maritial behaviour.
  • Not enough to explain maritial maintainance. 
4 of 5


Cultural bias in equity + exchange:

  • Moghaddam (1998) - suggests that 'economic' theories only apply to western culutres, and specifically only to short-term relationships with high mobility.
  • When there is little time to maintain a long-term relationship, it makes sense to be concerned with give-and-take.
  • Less mobile groups are more likely to value security.

RWA - relationship therapy:

  • Induviduals in unsuccessful marriages frequently report a lack of positive exchanges + an excess of negative exchanges with their partner.
  • Gottman + Levenson (1992) - found that in successful marriages the ratio of positive to negative exchanges was 5:1, but in unsuccessful marriages it was only 1:1.
  • Relationship therapy aims to increase positive exchanges. 
  • Intergrated behavioural couples therapy (IBCT) helps partners to break down the pattern of negative behaviour. 
5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Relationships resources »