Relationships - Formation, Maintanence and Breakdown

The Psychology of Relationships


-Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory

-Similarity Theory

Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

-Social Exchange Theory (SET)

-Equity Theory

Breakdown of Relationships

-Duck's Model of Relationship Breakdown (1999)

-Lee's Model of Relationship Breakdown (1984)

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  • Created by: mimi
  • Created on: 03-12-10 16:25

Reward/Need Satisfaction Theory

Byrne and Clore (1970) came up with this explanation for short term relationships

The theory suggests that we develop romantic relationships through classical and operant conditioning. If we associate someone with a positive feeling (i.e. happiness, excitment) then we will grow to like that person and would want to be around them as much as possble (classical conditioning)

Individuals can also reinforce and reward our behaviour which would also make us like them and want to spend time with them (operant conditioning)

The needs which we look for to be fulfilled are such as sexual, social, financial, emotional needs.

Hamilton et al (1980) took a volunteer female gratuates sample and asked them to rate pictures of men based on physical attractivness. Those who were listning to positve music rated the men as most attractive, compared to those who were listening to negative music.

Griffith (1969) gave participants a task to complete. Those who were praised by their experimenter liked him and found him more attractive than those who were given bad results.

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Evaluation (AO3 points are in italics)

+ve A sufficient explanation for friendships, hetrosexual and homosexual relationships. If our friends don't reward us in any way, with emotional/social support for example, then we will no longer want to be friends with them

-ve It doesn't explain parent-child relationships where the parent may give more than what they take. For example is such a scenario where a teenager is also moody with the parent yet the parent continues to love their child. Therefore it is not true for all relationships

-ve The theory is very heavily influenced by context because a prostitue may satisfy a man's sexual needs but he does not develop a romantic attachment because she does not fulfil his emotional needs

-ve The model does not consider the fact that we like to give aswell as take and how complicated the human mind is. It assumes that we are selfish beings. As well as this it has been proved that women focus more on giving rather than taking (Lott et al) which is an evolutionary percepective. Therefore there must some reason behind this

-ve Most studies supporting the theory are laboratory studies which means they lack mundame realism. The situations created in in the lab experiments do not mirror real life experiences therefore we cannot be sure that the results are true to life

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Similarity Theory

Byrne et al (1986)

A few years later Byrne and his companions came up with 5 factors which they believe influence the formation of romantic relationships the most.

PHYSICAL ATTRACTION - Cunningham (1986) found out that universally males prefer younger females and females prefer older males. We look for someone who is either on the same attraction level as us or more attractive (Walster et al (1969)

PERSONALITY - opposites attract or birds of the same feather flock together?

ATTITUDE - attitudes towards life, new experiences, religion, sex, money ect

DEMOGRAPHIC FACTORS - there are factors such as sex, gender, ethical background, religious beliefs. The things that define us ethically

SIMILARITY & FAMILARITY - we find those who are most familiar to us to be most attractive. Also those who are similar to us (i.e. in physical attractiveness) we find most attractive

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+ve We are more likely to get along with people who are most similar to us. Also when people agree with you it rewards you which adds onto the Reward/Need Theory

+ve Back et al (1950) found that 2/3 of graduate students had a best friend who lived in the same building as them. This supports the proximity and familiarity factors (that we develop romantic relationships to those closest to us and whom we see most often because it is easiest)

+ve Newcomb (1961) found out that 58% of married couples were similar in attitudes, and only 25% were dissimilar

-ve The theory may be outdated. We now have internet, phones, e-mails ect. which makes it very easy for us to talk to people from all over the world, therefore demographic factors may not be such an issue today

-ve The lack of physical attraction in someone could be compensated for by other factors, i.e. money, fame

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Social Exchange Theory (SET)

Now we have moved onto how to maintain romantic relationships. These theories are also called the economic theories because they are all about giving and taking.

Thibault and Kelley (1959) believed that all relationships occur through a series of exchanges.

Romantic relationships go through four stages; 1. Sampling (the couples tests the waters of the possible relationship) 2. Bargaining (to achieve a satisfying level of rewards and losses) 3. Commitment (the couple agrees on terms and conditions) 4. Institutialisation (the couple settles down for life)

rewards - losses = outcome (a profit or loss)

If the relationship equals in a loss then there is still a chance to save it through bargaining

Comparison Level - An individual compares their current relationship to the standart they have set

Comparison Level for Alternatives - The individual compares current relationship to past or potential future relationships

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+ve Rusball carried out a longitudinal questionnaire study over the course of 7 months. He asked participants what they looked for in a relationship and found that most individuals said

- Individuals look for careful weighting of costs and rewards
- Investement in the relationship is considered
- Attractive alternatives are considered

+ve Accounts for the fact that we don't always look to gain in a relationship and that we can settle down and be happy despite a certain amount of losses

-ve Theory is culturally biased and does not apply to kinship relationships or arranged marriage situations. In arranged marriages people fall in love withouth going through the first 3 stages. The theory doesn't consider the social pressure of arranged marriages

-ve Very simplistic and deterministic. Human emotions are not as simple as to put into an equation

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Equity Theory

Unlike the SET where an individual wants to maximise their rewards and minimise their losses, the Equity Theory (Walster et al, 1978) suggests that fairness is the key to success and happiness.

  • A couple is expected to want to share the costs and rewards equally, any inequality would upset the balance. Therefore relationships need constant maintenance
  • A couple would negotiate in order to achieve a balance
  • The disadventaged person will always try to make the relationship more fair


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+ve Stafford and Canary (2006) carried out a questionnaire study on 200 married US couples which showed the couples who had equality in their relationship were most happy. Where one of the individual was overbenefitting came second, and where one individual was underbenefitting was the least happiest couple

+ve The theory considers both individuals and sees them working as a team. This is realistic and true to life because both partners need to work together in order to keep a healthy relationship

-ve Culturally biased. In some cultures women are expected to underbenefit. There is also evolutionary evidence to prove that women don't mind underbenefitting more than men.

-ve The theory fails to predict the breakdown of relationships

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Reasons for Relationship Breakdown

Sometimes if a relationship becomes too hard to maintain it could lead to it its breakdown. Here are some reasons why a relationship could breakdown (suggested by Duck, 1999)

Lack of Skills - one of the indivdual is unable to maintain a good, honest and open relationship. They may have inexperience with relationships or lack social and interpersonal skills

Cultural Differences - each partner might have different religious beliefs which could come in the way of the relationship

Maintanence Difficulties - if one partner moves far away for example. Maintaining the relationship would require a lot more efford and energy. If one or both of the partners do not try hard enough they could drift apart

Lack of Stimulation - most people and relationships seek change and excitment. If there is no mystery between two people the relationship could become boring and uninteresting, in some cases a chore. This could also lead to relationship breakdown

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Duck's Model (1999)

Duck (1999) proposed that relationship breakdowns go through the following phases

Breakdown phase - one or both of the partners becomes unhappy with the relationship

Interphsychic phase - the individual begins to overexaggarate the irritating things the other one does. They continue thinking about the bad times

Dyadic phase - the unhappy partner confronts the other one and they bargain and negotiate terms and conditions

Social phase - both partners tell their friends and family who take sides to either support the relationship or the breakup

Grave Dressing phase - each ex-partner begins to move on (they may lie to others about what happened to make themselves seem innocent)

BIDSG makes BID on a Sausage Girl

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+ve The fact that Duck called them 'phases' suggests that there may be some way around in and around them so that not all couples go through every single stage

+ve Gives a slight inside to relationship breakdowns and considers important influencial factors such as the opinion of friends and family

+ve Pays attention to communication which has real life application where it could be used in marriage councilling

-ve Not all couples and individuals are so open about their relationships. Some prefer to keep problems behind closed doors. This makes the model culturally biased (towards Western / individualistic cultures)

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Lee's Model (1984)

Lee came up with his model after analysing 112 premarital romantic relationships. He suggested that the stronger a relationship seems the longer it will take for the couple to go through all these stages because they have more worth fighting for and saving.

1. Disatisfaction stage - one or both of the partners become unhappy with the relationship
2. Exposure stage - the problems arise to the surface
3. Negotiational stage - the couple try to find some kind of middle ground
4. Resolution stage - if they can't agree on new terms and conditions then this leads to the final stage
5. Termination stage - the relationship breaksdown if the couple are unaware to solve their problems

Famlee suggested that one of the reasons why a relationship might break down could be due to 'fatal attraction'. The things that once attracted you to your partner may soon become something that you resent and hate (i.e. your partner has a baby voice which at first you found cute but now is just annoying)

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+ve The model was identified from a large sample of real life couples. As well as this most stages can be identified in any real (ex) relationship

+ve It has been somewhat considered by the negotiation stage that relationships are a team effort and both partners work together to make it work

-ve However this the model is very rigid, inflexible, and deterministic because for one it assumes that relationship breakdowns are based on very shallow emotions and second, it doesn't account for individual differences.

-ve It doesn't predict relationship breakdown and doesn't explain why relationships breakdown

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WOOOOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWW" Why was the half of the text in wrong way round



these are realy good revision notes! =)


thank you, you're a star :) :) 5*!


Quite poorly written but at least the information is all there lol - thanks a lot for this, helpful having formation, maintenance and breakdown all in one place

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