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Compare and contrast two Theories of the Maintenance and Breakdown of Romantic Relationships

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Compare and contrast two theories of the maintenance and breakdown of romantic relationships, including research studies. (25 marks) One theory of the maintenance and breakdown of relationships is Social Exchange Theory. This theory, proposed by Homans (1974), says that we view our interactions with others in terms of rewards and costs. Reward minus cost gives us 'profit'. Thus, those relationships in which the profits are great will give us the most satisfaction. Blau (1964) argues that interactions are expensive in terms of our time, commitment and energy and thus what we gain from one must exceed what we put into it. Berscheid and Walster state that our degree of attraction to a partner depends on the rewards we receive from being with that person compared with the costs of commiting oneself to that person. This theory is highly simplistic and one could argue scientifically indefensible, as it is difficult to objectively describe rewards and costs. As such, there are not really any case studies that prove the validity of the theory, apart from perhaps specific rewards, e.g., monetary awards, as these can be quantified, and those rewards described in Reward Theory. ...read more.


But, the idea of physical attractiveness affecting compatability has been measured in the context of initial attraction. Berscheid and Walster found that the enjoyment of a partner's company in a dance directly correlated with the physical attractiveness of the partner (measured by an objective bystander who scored their attractiveness). Therefore, we could assume that physical attractiveness is a very real reward, and that it would help maintain the quality of the relationship. If one partner became progressively unfit or unattractive, faster than the second partner, then the second partner should become dissatisfied. This could lead to the breakdown of the relationship, if the second partner felt that the comparison level alternative (Thibaut and Kelley) would satisfy them better. Similarity is rewarding, according to Rubin (1973), because: agreement is likely to provide the opportunity for partners to engage in joint activity; we assume those with similar views to ourselves will like us, so like them in return; communication is easier if we agree on things that matter to us; if our partner agrees with us, this boosts our self ...read more.


I.e. if both people put effort into the relationship, the rewards are greater than the sum of the effort of both. This tends to happen, so seems legitimate. Another similarity between the two theories is that they are both concerned with people's cognitions - i.e. what people think about the quality of the relationship and with people's emotions - i.e. whether they are satisfied emotionally in the relationship. It would be possible for theories to have a sociobiological slant or some kind of neurological slant, but these definitely do not. Another similarity is that they view people as fundamentally selfish, and are both theoretically limited in this sense. For example, neither take into account whether people might stay together for any ethical reason like for the sake of a child. They assume that people only think about themselves, and it is almost as if the two people are not in love at all. If they were in love, you would think that they would want to help their partner, rather than only doing so in expectation of a reward. ...read more.

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