Describe and Evaluate Two Theories for the Maintenance of Relationships

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Social Exchange Theory & Equity Theory
Social exchange theories exist in various forms but the underlying theme is that people may be selfish. Social exchange theories argue people may view relationships in a “profit” or “loss” way. Thibaut & Kelley believed people will look to see how rewarding a relationship is and then how much it costs to be in the relationship. If there is a profit left over (rewards – costs = profit) then that may encourage them to continue the relationship where as if there is a loss – this may motivate them to end the relationship. Blau argued that interactions are “expensive”, as they take time, energy and commitment and may involve unpleasant emotions and experiences. Therefore what we get out of a relationship must exceed what goes in. Walster et al believed that social interactions involve an exchange of rewards, like affection, information, status. The degree of attraction or liking reflects how people evaluate the rewards they receive in relative to those given. SET is therefore an economic theory explaining relationships in terms of maximising benefits and minimising costs. The “Social exchange” is the mutual exchange of rewards between partners; like friendship, sex and the costs of being in the relationship may be freedoms given up, time, effort. A person may make their assessment of their rewards by using two comparisons: The comparison level (CL) – where rewards are compared to costs to judge profits. This may be based on past experiences and relationships as well as what we expect to get from a relationship. The comparison level for alternative relationships (CLalt) – Where rewards and costs are compared against perceived alternative relationships and how they compare. A relationship is maintained if profit is perceived in both these two comparisons. Thibaut & Kelley proposed a four-stage model setting how relationships could be maintained, predicting that over time people develop a predictable and mutually beneficial pattern of exchanges assisting the maintenance of relationships; Sampling – Rewards and costs are assessed in a number of relationships Bargaining – A relationship is “costed out” and sources of profit and loss are identified Commitment – Relationship is established and maintained by predictable exchange of rewards Institutionalisation – Interactions are established and the couple “settle down”. Mills et al identified two kinds of intimate relationships; (a) The communal couple where each partner gives out of concern for the other and (b) The Exchange couple who keep mental records of who is ahead and who is behind. This indicates that there are different types of relationships and SET may apply to some of them but not universally to all. Rusbult asked participants to complete questionnaires over a 7-month period concerning rewards and costs and found that SET did not explain the early “honeymoon” phase of the relationship when balance of exchanges was ignored. However later on relationship costs were compared with degree of satisfaction which suggests that the theory is best applied to the maintenance of relationships. Rusbult found that costs and rewards from a relationship were weighed up in comparison to possible alternative relationships when deciding whether they should be maintained which supports that social exchange models idea that people assess rewards by making comparisons. However a third element of investment (Commitment) was also a factor in this in which people compared how much they had invested into the relationship and what they stood to lose – which SET does not fully recognise suggesting it does not explain such things. Rusbults Investment model looks at this however and better explains this. Hatfield looked at people who felt over or under-benefited. The under-benefitted felt angry and deprived while the over-benefited felt guilty and uncomfortable. This supports SET theory by suggesting that regardless of whether individuals benefitted, they...
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