The Maintenance of Romantic Relationships

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Thibaut + Kelley's (1959) Social Exchange Theory

People want to maximise rewards (e.g. companionship, sex, being cared for) and minimise costs (e.g. effort, financial investment, time wasted) in a relationship.

The more profitable the relationship the better (the higher the rewards in comparison to the costs)

Comparison level for alternatives (based on past exeriences + expectations) is developed to judge if someone else offers something better or worse than the current partner

Comparison level for alternatives = potential increase in rewards from new partner - cost of ending the current relationship

The current relationship could be replaced if the profit level is higher in a new reationship.

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Evaluating Social Exchange Theory

  • Rusbult + Martz (1995) - Theory explains why women stay in abusive relationships. when investments are high and alternatives are low staying in abusive relationship is still profitable.
  • Simpson et al (1990) - people in relationshis rate opposite sex's attractiveness lower to reduce the threat of alternatives and protect their relationship. 
  • The theory doesn't explain whys ome people leave relationhips without having an alternative
  • Gottman + Levenson (1992) - in successful marriages positive to negative exchanges are 5:1. unsuccesful marriages = 1:1 or lower. 
  • Christensen et al (2004) - Integrated behavioural couples therapy breaks negative behaviour patterns e.g. low ratio of positive to negative exchanges. 2/3rds of relationships improv
  • Social exchange theory focuses on individual perspectives + ignores how partners communicate and interpret shared events
  • Theory criticised for suggesting people only want to maintain relationship for selfish reasons
  • Moghaddam (1998) - theory only applies to western countries, short term relationships where there's social mobility b/c they'd be concerned with hive and take but in long term relationships with low mobility security is more valued than personal profit
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Walster et al (1978)'s Equity Theory

  • Theory assumes people want to achieve fairness in their relationship and feel distressed if they perceive unfairness
  • Inequity (inequality) => disatisfaction => causes distress
  • individual gives too much, doesn't get much back = perceives inequity + is disatisfied
  • individual gets too much, doesn't give as much = perceives inequity + is disatisfied
  • Partners can contribute + receive completely different amounts and still think the relationship is equitable. 
  • Fair input + output depends on individual opinions
  • May try to restore equity by changing the amount they put into the relationship/change how much they ask for from relationship
  • May instead compare relationship to comparison level to see if current relationship is worth investing in

Equitable Relationship:

one partners benefits - costs = other partners benefits - costs

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Evaluating Equity Theory

De Maris (2007) - woman feeling under benefitted raises risk of divorce

Clark + Mills (1979) - Exchange relationships (between colleagues/associates) is based on rewards and costs BUT communal relationships (between friends/lovers) is based on  a desire to respond to the partners needs

Ragsdale et al (2007) - the theory doesn't explain marital maintenance because the key factor in maintaining marital satisfaction isn't equity

There are gender differences  in the way men and women judge reationship equity. Husbands earn more = husband and wife both perceive husbands career as more important. Wife earns more = husbands career still more important

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