Psychology - Relationships

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 1

Social Exchange theory claims that in relationships, partners will have an expectation of ‘profit’ i.e. that the rewards gained from the relationship will be greater than the costs. Commitment to a relationship is dependent on its profitability. For a relationship to succeed, its costs should be minimal and should certainly be fewer than the profits

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 2

The comparison level is used as a standard to judge the quality of our existing relationships. Our comparison Level is determined by our experience of previous relationships and our observations of others relationships. If the profitability of our current relationship exceeds the comparison Level the relationship is judged as worthwhile. The comparison level for alternatives is how people weigh the profitability of their current relationship with that of potential future relationships. 

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Support for Social Exchange theory comes from Simpson et al. who found that participants in existing relationships rated people of the opposite sex less attractive than participants not in relationships. This suggests that people judge prospects of new alternative relationships as less profitable if they are already in a committed relationship.

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 4

Support for Comparison level for alternatives, comes from women who choose to stay in abusive relationships. If investments in the relationship are high e.g. children, financial security and alternative prospects are low e.g. poverty, homelessness then women may see staying in the abusive relationship to be more profitable than leaving it.

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 5

However social exchange theory has been criticised for focusing only on the individual’s view of their relationships, ignoring any social aspects. These include the way in which partners communicate as well as wider context of a relationship e.g. involvement of families or other people. This theory massively assumes that people are only concerned with themselves. 

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 6

This theory also reveals a cultural bias, social exchange theory may only apply to western relationships. Moghaddam found that even within western culture, it may still only apply to short term relationships among folks with high social mobility. This suggests that this theory does not represent a universal explanation of romantic relationships and thus is culture biased.

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Equity theory proposes hat people strive to achieve fairness in their relationships, any inequity can cause distress. Relationship satisfaction is highest when each partner feels that they give the same amount into the relationship and get the same amount of rewards from it. Inequity when people feel that they are giving a lot and getting little out of the relationships or are giving little and getting a lot leads to dissatisfaction and distress.

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 8

Equity does not necessarily mean that input and output in relationships is the same for each partner but that their perceived ratio of inputs and outputs is the same. If we perceive inequality in our relationship, we are motivated to change it. For example, if we feel that we are giving more than out partner we may decrease our input, try to convince our partner to increase their input or change out own perception of the input ratio

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 9

Research to support equity theory comes from Stafford and Canary who found that marital satisfaction is lowest in people who considered themselves to underbeneffitted, and higher in those who felt they were in equitable relationships, this supports equity theory which stated that equity in relationship leads to satisfaction. 

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The maintenance of romantic relationships - 10

Research to contradict equity theory comes from Steil and Weltman who argue that men and women judge equity differently, in couples where the husband earns more, both partners view the husbands work as more important however when women earn more, the tendency for women to seek less for themselves makes equity difficult to judge.

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Another problem for equity theory is that it fails to predict whether a relationship will be maintained or will break down. DeMaris found that among 1500 US couples, the only reliable indicator of divorce was the women’s sense of being under benefitted. Aspects of equity were unable to predict the likelihood of a relationship failing.

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