Psychology Unit 3 - Relationships - Breakdown of romantic relationships

  • Created by: Natalie
  • Created on: 07-06-13 18:09

Duck's theory of relationship dissolution

Duck (2001) proposed 3 broad catagories as to why relationships breakdown:

  • Pre existing doom - incompatability and failure are almost predestined
  • Mechanical failure - 2 suitable people of good will and good nature grow apart and find they cannot live together
  • Sudden death - discovery of betrayal or infidelity lead to immediate terminaton of relationship.

He also proposed some other factors that contribute to relationship dissolution:

  • Predisposing personal factors - e.g. bad habits
  • Precipitating factors - e.g. love rivals or different priorities
  • Lack of skills - e.g. sexually inexperienced
  • Lack of motivation - e.g. percieving inequity
  • Lack of maintenance - e.g. spending alot of time apart
1 of 8

Duck's theory of relationship dissolution

Duck (1982) sees breaking up/dissolution as a personal process where partners regard how things will look to friends and social networks.  

Suggests an account of dissolution comprising several parts.

His explanation begins where one partner is sufficiently dissatisfied with the relationship over a long enough period of time to consider terminating it. 

4 phases: 

1. Intrapsychic - one partner privately percieves dissatisfaction with the relationship

2. Dyadic - dissatisfaction is discussed.  If it isnt resolved there is a move to next stage

3. Social - breakdown is made public.  negotiation about children, finances and so on with wider families and friends becoming involved.

4. Grave dressing - post-relationship view on the break up is established, protecting self esteem and rebuilding life towards new relationships. 

2 of 8

Duck's theory of relationship dissolution

Characteristic behaviours of each of the 4 stages:

Intrapsychic -       Grave dressing -

  • Personal focus on partners behaviour   'Getting over' activity   
  • Assess adequacy of partners role and performance Public distribution of own verision of break up.
  • Consider costs of withdrawal
  • Assess positives of alternative relationships

Dyadic - 

  • Confront partner
  • Negotiate in 'our relationship' talks
  • Attempt repair? 

Social - 

  • Negotiate post dissolution with partner
  • Gossip/social network
  • Call intervention team.
3 of 8

Research - Duck's theory of relationship dissoluti

Kassin (1996) -

found women more likely to stress unhappiness and incompatability as reasons for dissolution whilst men blame lack of sex.  Women want to remain friends while males want clean break. 

SUGGESTS gender differences that the model doesnt consider. 

Argyle (1988) -

found women identified lack of emotional support as a reason for dissolution while men cited absence of fun.. also suggests gender differences that arent considered. 

Akert (1992) -

found that the person who instigated the break up suffers fewer negative consequences than the non-instigator 

SUGGESTING indiviudal differences in the effects og dissolution that the model doesnt consider and explain. 

4 of 8

Evaluation - Duck's theory of relationship dissolu


  • has face validity can relate to real life
  • takes both partners and social context into account
  • view of dissolution as a process rather than an event is accepted- applies mainly to romantic relationships


  • doesnt take into acocunt why dissatisfaction occured in first place
  • starting point is when dissatisfaction has already set in
  • the 4 phases dont apply to every relationship
  • doesnt apply to homosexual couples which dont involve things like consideration of children
  • simplistic and doesnt account for relationships like affairs or friendships
5 of 8

Lee's model of relationship dissolution

Lee (1984) proposed a 5 stage model of relationship dissolution 

percieves dissolution as a process occuring over time not just a single event

Theory was reached by analysing data from relationship breakups:


Dissatisfaction An individual becomes dissatisfied with relationship

Exposure Dissatisfaction is revealed to ones partner

Negotiation Discussion occurs over the nature of the dissatisfaction

Resolution Attemps are made to resolve the dissatisfaction

Termination If the dissatisfaction isnt resolved relationship ends

6 of 8

Research - Lee's model of relationship dissolution

Research studies relatind to DUCKS model can also be applied to Lee's model!!

Lee (1984) created his theory after..

conducting a survey of 112 break ups of non marital romantic relationships 

FOUND - the negotiation and exposure stages were most distressing and emotionally exhausting.  Individuals who missed out stages, going straight to termination, were those with less intimate relationships.  Those going through the stages slowly felt attracted to their former partner after termination and experienced greater feelings of loss and loneliness.

Argyle and Henderson (1984)

asked participants to consider whether rule violations were to blame for personal relationship breakdowns.

Rule violations were found to be important factors, with jealousy, lack of tolerance for 3rd party relationships, disclosing confidences, not volunteering help and public criticism being most critical

SUGGESTS Lee's explanation isnt complete as it doesnt account for these factors.

7 of 8

Evaluation - Lee's model of relationship dissoluti


  • alot of information was gethered from his research and his sample was large
  • more positive than Duck's; sees ways round problems


  • sample only contained students in premarital relationships; may not relate to all relationships including long term and those with children
  • theory is too simplisitc 
  • doesnt explain all relationships
  • cannot explain abusinve relationships
  • doesnt provide explanation as to why the process occurs
8 of 8


No comments have yet been made

Similar Psychology resources:

See all Psychology resources »See all Relationships resources »