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Romantic Relationship

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Romantic Relationship

Psychologists are interested in investigating why we form romantic relationships and why they last, as they are an intrinsic part of human life for many of the population. The theories studied here take an economic approach, stating that relationships exchange costs and benefits. Some argue that these exchanges should be unequal, whereas others think they should be equitable.

Psychologists have also studied relationship breakdown. Duck (2007) states that relationships break down in stages ranging from the thought of breaking up to the grave dressing, wherein partners make themselves look good in preparation for their next relationship.

Before we delve into that, let us define a romantic relationship.

According to psychologists, a romantic relationship is when two people form an intimate connection based on attachment, interdependence and a sense of their needs being met.

Types of romantic relationships include casual relationships, dating, marriage, and family.

Romantic Relationship Example StudySmarter

A romantic relationship example, Flaticon

Theories of romantic relationships

According to psychologists, romantic relationships develop in several ways: physical attraction, proximity, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity, among other things.

Multiple theories of romantic relationships exist, and we shall cover them below.

Romantic relationships theory: social exchange theory

Thibaut and Kelley (1959) describe relationships in economic terms. They claim that partners strive to maximise rewards (praise, comfort, etc.) and minimise costs (arguments, compromises, stress, etc.). According to Thibaut and Kelley, partners use comparison levels to assess how profitable their relationships are. They also use them to move through the stages of sampling (evaluating the potential costs and benefits of a relationship), bargaining (negotiating costs and benefits), and commitment (when a relationship is stable, rewards increase, and costs decrease).

Comparison level is where partners in a relationship compare the cost and rewards of the current relationship to their previous one. If the current one is better, they will be more motivated to maintain the current relationship.

Alternative comparison level compares the current relationship to future, possible relationships. Naturally, this affects whether or not a person decides to stay in a relationship. If they can find a better relationship, they may leave the current one.

Evaluation of social exchange theory

For your exam, it is essential to understand the strengths and weaknesses of this theory.

Strengths:

  • Supported by research Sprecher (2001) found that the comparison level of alternatives is a significant factor in relationship commitment.

  • The theory is applicable in real life, e.g., couples therapy.

Weaknesses:

  • Social exchange theory lacks mundane realism (does not reflect real-world situations).

  • Subjective (everyone has a different experience of relationships).

  • Nomothetic approach – tries to set a precedent applicable to everyone.

  • Deterministic and reductionist – theory states that relationships are based exclusively on costs and benefits when in reality, many factors influence them.

Social exchange theory views relationships as a conflict between partners to reap the rewards.

Romantic Relationship Social exchange theory, relationships based on costs and benefits StudySmarter

Social exchange theory: relationships based on costs and benefits, Pixabay

Romantic relationships theory: equity theory

Proposed by Walster et al. (1978), equity theory states that partners are concerned with fairness in relationships, concerning the input and output each partner provides and receives off one another. When one partner reaps more rewards from a relationship, they feel guilty, whilst the other partner is dissatisfied, and this is known as inequity and distress.

According to equity theory, partners must strive for equal costs and rewards to maintain a happy, fair relationship.

Evaluation of equity theory

Strengths:

  • Supported by research, e.g., Stafford and Canary (2006). They found that partners who view their relationships as equal are the most satisfied.

  • Advocates gender equity as it assumes that equitable relationships are the healthiest.

Weaknesses:

  • Berg and McQuinn (1986) argued against the equity theory. They conducted a study on married couples and found that dissatisfaction in inequitable relationships was assessed at the beginning of a relationship and predicted if the relationship would last. In contrast, equity theory states that dissatisfaction goes hand in hand with inequity and develops over time, contrary to the results of this study.

  • Cause and effect suggest that inequity is the cause of unhappiness in relationships, neglecting other factors that might influence it.

  • Gender differences Sprecher (1992) points out that women feel more guilty when over-benefitting and more unhappy when under-benefitting, implying that equity theory is more applicable to women.

  • Cultural differencesAumer-Ryan et al. (2006) revealed that equity plays a greater role in Western cultures.

Romantic relationships theory: investment model

Rusbult et al. (2001) aimed to improve the social exchange theory, as they found that many couples stay together even though the costs outweigh the benefits.

  • According to Rusbult et al. (2001), three main factors ensure commitment: satisfaction level, comparison, and the most important, investment (intrinsic and extrinsic).
  • Rusbult et al. (2001) also identified maintenance mechanisms (accommodation, forgiveness, ridiculing alternatives, positive illusions, and willingness to sacrifice) that aid the continuance of a relationship.

Evaluation of the investment model

The investment model has multiple strengths and weaknesses, which you must know for your exam.

Strengths:

  • Supported by numerous studies: Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002), Le and Agnew (2003),

    Rhahgan and Axsom (2006), and Bui, Peplau, & Hill (1996).

  • We can apply it to abusive relationships. For example, if you are more invested in a relationship, you are more likely to stay, even in abusive situations.

Weaknesses:

  • The majority of research support is correlational.

  • Research on equity theory is subjective and unreliable, resulting from questionnaires and interviews.

Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown

Duck (2007) stated that although breakups seem like a one-time event, they are a progressive breakdown in stages. The romantic relationship stages of breakdown are:


  • The first stage is the intra-psychic stage, in which a person admits their dissatisfaction.
  • In the second stage, the dyadic stage, they admit to their partner that they are unhappy before revealing this to others in the social stage.
  • Finally, there is the grave-dressing stage, in which partners try to minimise their mistakes and maximise their positive attributes.
  • In 2006, Duck and Rollie added a new stage, the resurrection phase. In this stage, partners move past the pain of the separation and experience personal growth.

Romantic Relationship Duck's dyadic stage of relationship breakdown StudySmarter

Intra-psychic stage of a relationship breakdown, Pixabay

Evaluation of Duck’s theory of relationship breakdown

Again, it is important to know the strengths and weaknesses of this theory for your exam.

Strengths:

  • Supported by scholarly research, such as Tashiro and Frasier (2003).

  • We can apply it to everyday life, e.g., couples counselling.

Weaknesses:

  • Most research that supports Duck’s theory is unreliable because it relies on retrospective data (participants look back at their relationships).

  • Ethical issues exist, such as invasion of privacy.

  • Individual differences exist, as relationships can fail for a variety of reasons.

  • Cultural bias – a model based on individualistic cultures, where a breakup is a personal choice and therefore cannot be applied to some collectivist cultures, in which relationships are arranged for the benefit of the group.

  • It doesn’t state why relationships fail, only that they do.


Romantic Relationship - Key takeaways

  • There are many theories about why we form romantic relationships, namely: the social exchange theory (Thibaut and Kelley), equity theory (Walster et al.), the investment model (Rusbult), and Duck’s phase model.

  • Some psychologists believe that our attraction is an innate, evolutionary force, whereas others view it as a social phenomenon, stating that factors such as similarity of values influence our attraction.

  • The reasons why we stay in a relationship are also debatable. Some think that partners try to take advantage of a relationship, whereas others consider they should strive for equity.

  • Duck proposed that relationships break down over time in a series of stages.

  • The advantages of relationships theories are that they are instrumental and have much research to support them.

  • The disadvantages of theories of relationships are that they are often subjective and come from anecdotal, retrospective evidence.

Frequently Asked Questions about Romantic Relationship

According to psychologists, a romantic relationship is when two people form an intimate connection based on attachment, interdependence and a sense of their needs being met. 

It means to have an intimate connection and relationship with another person.

Casual, dating, marriage, family. 

According to psychologists, romantic relationships develop in several ways: physical attraction, proximity, the similarity of attitudes, and complementarity, among other things.

Two people form an intimate connection.

Final Romantic Relationship Quiz

Question

What does SET stand for?

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Answer

Social Exchange Theory

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Who developed SET?

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Answer

Thibault and Kelly

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When was SET developed?

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Answer

In 1959.

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What kind of theory is SET?

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Answer

Economic 

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Why is SET subjective?


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Answer

People may view costs and rewards differently.

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What kind of relationships does SET fail to explain and why?

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Answer

Abusive relationships as the costs outweigh the costs in this case, and yet the partners stay together.

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Question

Give an example of a cost.

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Answer

Your partner is a really bad cook.

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Give an example of a benefit.

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Answer

Your partner is good in bed.

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What is the comparison level?


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This level measures the rewards a person thinks they are entitled to in a relationship.

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What is the comparison level of alternatives?

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This level refers to how happy a person thinks they will be in or out of their relationship.

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What is the three-stage of social exchange theory?

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Sampling, bargaining, and commitment.

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What is sampling?

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Sampling is a stage in which potential partners explore the possible costs and rewards of a relationship.

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 What is bargaining?


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Bargaining is the first stage of any romantic relationship, where partners exchange rewards and costs to figure out the most profitable exchanges and the dynamics of a relationship.

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What is a commitment?

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Commitment is a stage in which the relationship becomes stable, as do the rewards and costs; rewards increase, and costs decrease.

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Give three negatives of social exchange theory.

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Answer

It is reductionist, nomothetic, and subjective.

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Question

Give a study that supports equity theory.

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Answer

Utne et al. (1984) measured satisfaction and equity in 118 newlyweds aged 16 to 24 using self-report scales. Each couple had already been together for at least two years before marriage, and the study reported that greater equity led to higher satisfaction.

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Give a negative evaluation of equity theory.

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Answer

It fails to consider the differences between men and women. Women have been proven more sensitive to inequity and feel more guilty than men if inequity occurs, meaning they are more likely to strive for equitable relationships whilst men are not.

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Who developed the equity theory?

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Answer

Hatfield

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When did Hatfield develop equity theory?

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1981

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Equity theory is an extension of _____ theory?


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Social exchange theory

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How is equity theory different from social exchange theory?

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Answer

While social exchange theory suggests partners strive for the most benefits and least costs, equity theory states couples should accept costs and benefits to be equitable with their partners for a successful relationship.

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Who suggested that much of the input in romantic relationships is emotional and therefore unquantifiable?

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Answer

Mills and Clarke (1982)

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What did Van Yperen and Buunk (1990) find was more important than equity in a relationship?

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Self-disclosure

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Why is equity not the same as equality?

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Equality refers to treating everyone the same, while equity refers to treating people differently to account for differences in cost/benefit/prejudice, e.g., if your partner has had a long day at work, making them dinner.

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Where is equity theory not applicable?

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Non-Western countries.

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Who suggested that women focus more on relationships and are more sensitive to injustices?

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Answer

DeMaris et al. (1998)

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How many couples did Utne et al. (1981) study?

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118

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What did Stafford and Canary study?

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Answer

Relationship equity, maintenance, and satisfaction.

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What were the findings of Stafford and Canary’s study?

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They found that partners who viewed their relationships as equitable were most satisfied, followed by those who over-benefitted. The least satisfied were those who felt they were under-benefitted.

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What did Brosnan and De Waal study?

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Answer

Capuchin monkies.

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What theory did Rusbult expand using his investment model?

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Social exchange theory.

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When did Rusbult come up with his investment model?

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Between 1980 and 1983.

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What are the three factors of commitment according to Rusbult's investment model?

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Answer

Satisfaction, comparison with alternatives, investment size.

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Which factor affecting commitment is the most important?

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Investment.

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What are the maintenance mechanisms described by Rusbult?

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Accommodation, willingness to sacrifice, forgiveness, positive illusions, ridiculing alternatives.

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What type of relationship can the investment model explain which other models cannot?

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Answer

Abusive.

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Give an example of investment.

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Children are an investment in a relationship because not only do parents commit to investing time and money with each other, but they also commit to having a long-lasting relationship with them, whether they stay together as a couple or not.

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Give an example of a tangible investment.

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Money.

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Give an example of an intangible investment.

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Answer

Happy memories.

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What is an intrinsic investment?

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An investment that is part of being in a relationship, e.g., investing time.

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What is an extrinsic investment?

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An investment that comes about as a result of the relationship, e.g., children.

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Which of these are examples of an extrinsic investment?

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Children.

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Question

Name three studies that support Rusbult's Investment Model.

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Answer

Impett, Beals, and Peplau (2002), Rhahgan and Axsom (2006), and Bui, Peplau, and Hill (1996).

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Question

Provide a criticism of the investment model.

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Much research into the theory has been correlational, meaning that you cannot establish a scientific, cause-and-effect relationship between investment and commitment.

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Provide an argument in support of the investment model 

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It is cross-cultural, i.e., it can be applied to western and non-western cultures, individualistic and collectivist cultures, as well as subgroups such as the LGBTQIA + community.

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What approach do the theories of romantic relationships take?

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Answer

Economic

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Who proposed the social exchange theory?


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Answer

Thibaut and Kelley.

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What is grave dressing?


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It's when ex-partners try to make themselves look good and their ex-partner look bad when they get out of their relationship to protect themselves.

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What are the three stages of Duck's model of relationship breakdown? 


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Intrapsychic stage, the dyadic stage, and grave dressing.

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When did Duck and Rollie add a new stage to the phase model of relationship breakdown?


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Answer

2006

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