Discuss explanations of the maintenance of relationships:
There are two main theories explaining the maintenance of relationships. The first is the social exchange theory. This claims that for the individual, the best result from a relationship would be to make a profit; for this to occur, there must be minimum costs and maximum reward. The principle of operant conditioning applies in this theory. If something is rewarding, e.g. companionship and sex, we pursue and value it. Yet on the other hand if something is costly, e.g. financial investment and opportunities missed, then we avoid it as we would avoid punishment. In terms of relationship profit, the rewards in a relationship must exceed or outweigh the costs. The less profit, the more chance there is that the relationship with terminate.
Thibaut and Kelley introduced two comparison levels against which an existing relationship can be evaluated. These enable an individual to judge the ‘value’ of a current relationship against previous and future relationships. The comparison level is a comparison between the current relationship and what we have been used to in the past or believe is appropriate in the current relationship. If the reference relationship compares favourable, the person is motivated to stay in the relationship. The comparison level for alternatives is concerned with the benefits of possible alternative relationships; for example, an alternative partner may offer more positive outcomes. If the person feels they might have more rewards with a new partner they may end the current relationship.