Discuss research into the maintenance of romantic relationships - essay

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A-Level Psychology (Relationships) Note on Discuss research into the maintenance of romantic relationships - essay, created by hannahsmith77 on 11/16/2015.

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Discuss research into the maintenance of romantic relationships. (8+16 marks)One theory that attempts to explain the maintenance of romantic relationships is social exchange theory. This is a theory that argues that the maintenance of relationships is down to economic principles. Fundamentally, humans are selfish, and so maintain their relationships keeping an eye of the costs and rewards involved in the relationship. Costs come in different forms, such as the cost of money, time, disappointment and embarrassment. Rewards can include attention, money and love. If the rewards outweigh the costs in a relationship, then the relationship is said to be in a state of profit, and so the individual will want to continue maintaining the relationship. However, if the costs outweigh the rewards, then the relationship is said to be in a state of 'loss' and so the maintenance of the relationship will be under threat.Thibaut and Kelly argue that our assessment of the rewards and costs involved in maintaining a relationship will depend on what we have come to expect from previous relationships. In other words, we have a comparison level (CL) which represents the outcomes we believe we deserve based on past experiences. If we have had negative past relationships, we will expect negative things from our present and future relationships. In addition, we also weigh up the costs and benefits associated with the formation of a relationship with someone else, known as the comparison level of alternatives (CLalt.) If the CLalt offers a viable and attractive relationship then the current relationship may cease to be maintained. This can be supported by research conducted by Simpson, who asked participants to rate members of the opposite sex for attractiveness. It was found that, on average, those participants already in relationships rated them as less attractive, which supports the theory as it shows that alternatives are not considered as favorably if the current relationship is profitable.Additional support for this theory comes from Rusbult et al, who used the notion of exchange to explain why some women stay in abusive relationships. They argued that when investment is high (e.g. children)and alternatives are few (nowhere else to live, no money) a profit situation still exists, and so the woman will remain in the relationship. This supports the idea that a relationship will still be maintained if a profit situation exists. An additional theory that attempts to explain the maintenance of romantic relationships is the equity theory. Equity theory is an extension of the underlying belief that humans try to maximise their rewards and minimising the costs. Equities theories central assumption is that people try to achieve fairness in their relationships and feel distressed if they perceive unfairness. According to equity theory, any kind of inequity has the potential to create distress. People who give a great deal in their relationship but receive very little rewards would perceive inequity and so would be dissatisfied in the relationship. However, the same is true for those who receive a great deal in their relationship but give very little. Any inequity would lead to the maintenance of the relationship being threatened; maintenance requires equity. However, it is important to mention that equity doesn't necessarily mean equality, what matters is the subjective opinion of the individuals and their perceived ratio of inputs and outputs.One piece of research that can be used to support this theory was carried out by Stafford and Canary who asked over 200 couples to complete measures of equity and relationship satisfaction. Findings revealed that satisfaction was highest for spouses who perceived their relationship to be equitable, followed by over-benefited spouses and then under-benefited. This supports the idea that couples feel most satisfied when in a fair relationship.However, contradicting research comes from Clark and Mills, who disagreed with the claim that all relationships are based on economics. They stated that we may keep track of rewards and costs in exchange relationships (e.g. work colleagues), but in communal relationships (e.g. friends, family and lovers) we are governed more by a desire to respond to the needs of that other person. This contradicts the theory as it suggests that we are not so much concerned about how much profit we are receiving but how much our partner. One limitation of these theories is that they bring into question ethical issues. Such research into the maintenance of romantic relationships involves asking people personal questions about their romantic relationships and their preferences, which can lead to embarrassment. Also, it raises the issues of informed consent and confidentiality and so is a limitation as the research involved may not meet the standards set by BPS.An additional limitation of the research is that it can be considered culturally biased. It has been argued that the theories may be more suited to individualist western cultures, and so may not be applicable to collectivist cultures. In collectivist cultures, the maintenance of romantic relationships is not only based on the benefits it brings to the individual, but their entire family. So the aim is not for one party to be benefited but for their to be a mutual benefit for all. This is therefore a limitation of these theories of maintenance of romantic relationships as it suggests there may be other reasons in different cultures that relationships are maintained, and that other cultures do not place as much as a selfish view on relationships as individualistic cultures do.However, one strength of the theories is that they provide substantial practical applications. The theories show the importance of rewards and fairness for the maintenance of romantic relationships, and so couples councilors can use these guidelines to make suggestions to couples in unsuccessful relationships. This can then lead to individuals who were feeling dissatisfied in their relationship, either because they put in more than they got out, or they perceived their to be inequity in the relationship, feeling satisfied in their relationships again. This is therefore a strength as it shows how the theories can prevent the breakdown of some relationships.

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