Outline and evaluate theories on the maintenance of romantic relationships (24 Marks)

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Outline and evaluate the maintenance of romantic relationships

There are two theories that can explain the maintenance of romantic relationships. The Social Exchange Theory and the Equity Theory provide useful explanations to the maintenance of relationships.

The social exchange theory (SET) devised by Thibaut and Kelley argue that relationships involve the exchange of rewards and costs between two people. Examples of rewards would be affection and sharing, whereas cost might include arguments, loss of freedom and boredom. We aim to maintain a relationship by maximising rewards and minimising costs. The theory argues that we compare an existing relationship with two bench marks to see how it’s doing. The comparison level (CL) is used as a standard to judge the quality of our existing relationships. Our CL is determined by our experiences of previous relationships and our observations of others’ relationships. If the profitability of our current relationships exceeds the CL, the relationship is judged as worthwhile. The comparison level for alternatives (CLA) is how people weigh the profitability of their current relationship with that of potential future relationships. If other possibilities compare favourably, we may be less pleased with our own relationship.  According to SET relationship is likely to breakdown when the costs involved outweigh the rewards. If the costs do not outweigh the rewards, it should be maintained.

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Research has demonstrated the importance of comparison levels in relationships. Simpson et al. found that participants in existing relationships rated people the opposite gender as less attractive than participants not in relationships. This suggests that people judge prospects of new alternative relationships as less profitable if they are already in a committed relationship.

In addition, the comparison level for alternatives may provide an explanation as to why many women choose to stay in abusive relationships. If investments in the relationship are high like children and financial security and the alternative prospects are bleak like homelessness, then a woman may see staying in ...

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