Outline and evaluate research into the breakdown of romantic relationships. (24 marks) One piece of research into the breakdown of romantic relationships conducted by Thibaut and Kelly, can explain why a relationship may breakdown using the Social Exchange Theory. A relationship may breakdown due to the ‘profits’ and ‘losses’ in the relationship, one of the participants in the relationship may compare the current relationship to a previous one and realise they are not getting what they should be out of it.
However, Hatfield’s Equity Theory suggests that individuals in a relationship are not trying to maximise the benefits and minimise the costs, but the happiest individuals were the ones where the rewards for both parties were equal. Therefore, a relationship may not breakdown because a person is under-benefitting but because there is an imbalance in the rewards. This research is supported by further research carried out by Hatfield which shows that the happiest newlyweds were the ones who felt like they both inputted equally into the relationship and had equal rewards.
The ones under-benefitted had feelings of anger, resentment and deprivation, and those over benefitted felt guilty and uncomfortable. However, this may not mean that a relationship will break down. Karney and Bradbury (1995) found that marital unhappiness did not strong predict a future divorce. A problem with both of the theories is that they cannot explain why people stay in unhappy relationships, where the costs are clearly outweighing the benefits, or where the rewards are unequal.
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For example in an abusive relationship, many partners stay in the relationship even though they are not having any benefits from it. Another criticism of the social exchange theory is that they imply that people are extremely selfish and underestimates the role of altruism. There are also problems when trying to quantify the costs and benefits in a relationship. A problem with the equity theory is that there are strong individual differences as to how much equity people expect from a marriage or romantic relationship.
These two theories focus on individualist cultures, where there is an emphasis on personal freedom. They may not apply to collectivist cultures where there is an emphasis more on what is best for society. Another researcher, Duck (1992) looked at findings from several longitudinal studies into the breakdown of relationships. He found that there are many predisposing factors that could influence the dissolution of a relationship. These factors can either be internal; which is where the risk lies in the partners background and personality, or external where it is events outside the relationship that may threaten it.
Graziano et al (1996) supports the fact that personality has shown to be an important factor in the breakdown of relationships and says that individuals who are high in agreeableness (co-operative, supportive and non-confrontational) tend to be in relationships which last longer and there is less conflict. They also believe that relationships where one of both of the couple is high in neuroticism are more likely to end in a divorce. Duck’s predisposing factors do offer reasonable explanations for why some marriages may fail.
However only some of the marriages that meet most of all of the criteria will actually end in a divorce, many divorces will involve couples that do not meet any of the criteria. This then suggests that the predisposing factors oversimplify the complex behaviour. This would make the theory reductionist and therefore is not good in explaining the breakdown of relationships. Another problem with the research is that a lot of it can be troubled by various factors such as individual differences with the individuals involved in the relationships.
Many of the couples interviewed were often white and middle class, this is culturally biased and therefore means that the results found from the studies cannot be generalised to the cultures of the rest of the world. The data gathered from the research is often mainly retrospective self-report, this is bad because the retrospective means looking back after the event has happened and therefore may be unreliable as it relies on the memory of the individuals meaning that it is not reliable, the self-reports also may lack in validity because it is possible for the participants to lie.
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