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Relationships

The theories and research on this topic are mainly heteronormative. We do not wish to pretend that all relationships are heterosexual, we are simply following the AQA A Level Psychology curriculum.

According to the medical profession, spending time with people who love you reduces the risk of early death by 50%. But how and why do we fall in love?

What is a relationship and why do we choose our partners?

The way we define relationships today is very different from the way we defined them 70 years ago. These days, they can be between people of any gender, race, and can even include more than two people. They can be established online, in person, or through an app. But what makes us choose our partners? Why are some relationships long-term, and others end up being short-term?

Relationships [+] A couple in love [+] StudySmarterA couple in love, canva.com

Sexual relationships

Let's discuss what motivates attraction and sexual relationships.

What motivates attraction?

According to The Journal of Sexual Medicine, falling in love has similar effects to taking drugs. In other words, a kind of addiction. But why are we attracted to certain people so much that we become almost addicted to them? (2)

Psychologists disagree about what motivates sexual relationships. Some believe attraction is an innate, evolutionary process, motivated by the need to survive and reproduce. Others believe attraction is based on an exchange of information leading to trust between couples. Of course, physical attractiveness also plays a part. Some psychologists think that physical attractiveness is the primary motivator for sexual attraction whilst others theorise that people go through several filters when selecting a mate, starting at physical proximity and ending with similar moral values.

Romantic relationships

Let's find out what psychology can teach us about romantic relationships.

How are relationships maintained?

The models of relationship maintenance studied here consider relationships to be an economic exchange of investment, benefit, and cost. According to some, there is a constant struggle between parties. To others, the exchange should be equitable for a relationship to last.

Why do relationships break down?

Duck (2007) stated that relationships break down in stages. This begins when one person beings to think about breaking up and ends with 'grave dressing'. Grave dressing is when both partners attempt to make themselves look good post-breakup.

Either way, heartbreak is tough. It can result in physical symptoms such as chest pains and shortness of breath, also known as Broken Heart Syndrome.

One way to avoid this may be by following the principles of equity theory. This theory states that relationships must be equitable to last. If both partners do not give and take equally, the relationship will break down due to feelings of guilt and dissatisfaction.

Relationships [+] Broken heart [+] StudySmarterBroken heart, canva.com

Virtual relationships

There are over 7500 dating websites worldwide (4), but not all virtual relationships are romantic. Nevertheless, it remains the case that online dating accounts for a large number of new relationships these days, but how are virtual relationships formed?

Self-disclosure (sharing personal information) is important in this process. Sharing things with a potential partner in the absence of gates (characteristics that may impede attraction when people meet in person eg the way someone smells or how they look in person) may speed up the formation of a relationship.

Parasocial relationships

Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships such as a fan's adoration of a celebrity. These relationships are explained by psychologists using absorption addiction models and attachment theory.

Relationships [+] A woman in an online call [+] StudySmarterA woman in an online call, canva.com

Relationships - Key takeaways

  • Psychological theories of romantic and sexual relationships generally see them as evolutionary, economic, or social.
  • Many theories of relationship maintenance see relationships as an exchange of cost and benefit.
  • Many theories of relationships use stage models to explain how relationships are formed and broken down.
  • Virtual relationships rely on self-disclosure and the absence of gates.
  • Parasocial relationships are one-sided and can be explained through addiction and attachment theories.

Frequently Asked Questions about Relationships

Psychologists differ in how they define relationships. Some think they are an exchange of benefits and costs. Others think that they are motivated by a mutual need to reproduce, but ultimately a relationship is a partnership between two or more people. 

Family relationships, friendships, acquaintanceships, and romantic relationships

Relationship psychologists study romantic relationships. 

According to some psychologists, sex is very important to a relationship as they are motivated by a a mutual desire to reproduce. 

A polyamorous relationship is when one or both of the partners in a relationship engage in other relationships. 

Final Relationships Quiz

Question

What are the main psychological theories of relationships based on?

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Answer

Evolution, information sharing, physical attraction, and filtering.

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Question

What are the main psychological theories of relationship maintenance based on?

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Answer

Economic metaphors.

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Question

What is self-disclosure?

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Answer

Self-disclosure is when a potential partner shares information about themselves. Psychologists state that this is important in relationship formation (both in normal and virtual relationships) and maintenance.

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Question

Which theories explain parasocial relationships?


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Answer

Attachment theory and the absorption addiction model

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Question

Who proposed a theory of relationship breakdown which progresses in stages?


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Answer

Duck (2007)

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Question

List the different types of relationships. 


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Answer

Sexual relationships, romantic relationships and parasocial relationships.

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Question

Define the different types of relationships. 


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Answer

  • Sexual relationships: relationships motivated by sexual urges. 

  • Romantic relationships: an intimate, interpersonal relationship motivated by emotional intimacy 

  • Parasocial relationships: one-sided relationships such as a fan's 'relationship' with a celebrity 

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Question

What are parasocial relationships?


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Answer

Parasocial relationships are one-sided relationships, such as a fan's 'relationship' with a celebrity.

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Question

Give an example of a parasocial relationship


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Answer

The dating app Bumble provides an example of a parasocial relationship. On the app, women choose men and must message them first to maintain the match. At first, these relationships are one-sided and thus parasocial.

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Question

Can parasocial relationships only be online?


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Answer

No, they can also be in person. The main feature of parasocial relationships is that they are one-sided.

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Question

Psychological theories of relationships are mainly based on 


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Answer

Economic Metaphors

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Question

'Mary is hopelessly in love with a man called John. Unfortunately, John has no idea who Mary is. To him, she is just the lady who comes to his cafe every day and orders a cappuccino. ' What kind of relationship is John and Mary's?

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Answer

Parasocial because it is one-sided.

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Question

What is an example of a gate in virtual relationships? 


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Answer

Physical attraction. If you haven't met a person in real life you may not know if you are physically attracted to them and therefore be able to form a relationship without this impeding you.

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Question

'I don't know, he says he loves me but I'm the one doing all the household chores and planning dates and everything ... I'm just not happy anymore' What theory might psychologists use to explain this person's unhappiness in their relationship?


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Answer

According to equity theory, the person is unhappy because they feel the relationship is unequal as they are doing most of the work.

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Question

What is a potential 'cost' in a relationship?


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Answer

Compromise, such as agreeing to have two kids when you want three.

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