Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

Social Exchange Theory

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Reaction Paper #2 The Social Exchange Theory was very interesting for me to research as I was not familiar with it before this class. I learned about the basic parts of the theory, how it can pertain to marriage and divorce, and how it can help me in parenting. Self-interest is the main focus of this particular theory and can be described as a utilitarian way of thinking. After more research, I learned that utilitarian thinking in family studies is concerned with achieving outcomes that are most valued (White & Klein, 2008). Within this theory, the actors are most concerned with rewards and costs.

Rewards are considered anything that is perceived as beneficial to the person’s interest, and the costs are just the inverse of the rewards. As a past math teacher, this was analytically easy for me to understand, but seemed very selfish to me. To me, someone who based their relationships and choices on this theory did it for their own personal profit and maximization. Even if there are no rewards, the actors will make whatever choices are necessary to minimize the costs (Chibucos & Leite, 2005). I did not fully accept and understand the social exchange theory until I read the additional assigned readings.

One of these articles was written by Susan Sprecher. She completed a longitudinal study on the social exchange theory within dating couples (Chibucos & Leite, 2005). As I examined her findings, I realized that most individuals make choices based on rewards and costs, and I sometimes refer to them as pros and cons of a decision. It did not seem so selfish, but more of a well thought out plan. I also realized that I had made choices as described by the social exchange theory many times in my life, specifically concerning my long-term relationships. I chose to get married in 1990 because the benefits outweighed the costs of marriage.

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Yes, I even made a list. The benefits included companionship of the one I loved and trusted, the option to start a family and have children, and begin building lifelong relationship with the person that I had chosen to grown old with. I knew there were going to be costs to a marriage, but as a young adult, I did not realize all of them. The costs, in my mind, included a loss of independence, putting our money together, accountability, and maybe some contention. It seemed to me that my benefits were greater than any costs, and I was willing and excited to make my vows.

As time went on, children began arriving into our home. It seemed that as the stresses of family life increased, so did our marital contention. Somewhere during our fifth year of marriage, I made a list of the benefits and costs, or pros and cons as it seemed at the time, as to whether or not to continue my marriage. The benefits were about the same, but the costs were increasing annually. Finances were very tight, my husband chose to spend a lot of time away from home, anger problems were escalating, and being a mother of two children was hard without help from my husband.

Nonetheless, the benefits seemed to outweigh the costs, because I knew divorce would be more costly. By the eighteenth year of our marriage, my marriage had taken a terrible turn. A private investigator informed me that my husband was living with a 22-year-old and had been for over three months. I had five children, relied solely on my husband’s salary for support, and did not want the identity of being “divorced. ” But I think the devastation of discovering his romantic relationship, the length of his infidelity, and the fact that he made no attempts to resolve matters, made my benefits and costs equation easy to solve.

My benefits were to teach my daughters that this was unacceptable behavior and should never be tolerated and to teach my sons that there are dire consequences to such choices as a husband. I almost felt that my agency had been taken away as I had to choose to divorce my husband. Now three years later, I can examine that divorce equation and see that I made the best choice for my family, and that without even realizing it, I was using the social exchange theory to resolve a great issue in my life.

This theory is more easily seen within large issues to me, what about my everyday parenting? I have watched for the past few weeks how I can help my children within these guidelines. With some careful thought, I helped one of our children decide the best place to sit on the school bus. If he chose one seat, he could sit with more popular kids, but he stood a higher chance of getting in trouble for misconduct. If he chose a less desirable seat, he could stay out of trouble and befriend a new student who recently moved into town, therefore, making a new friend.

With some discussion, he was able to analyze on his own which seat would be more beneficial to him. Another time I was able to use this knowledge within parenting was in helping my daughter with her math teacher. My daughter dislikes math anyway, and sees no longterm reason to learn it. She was assigned a specific teacher at school and was not doing especially well, per her grades. My daughter disliked the teacher stating that she was too strict and assigned too much homework. Her friends told her that she did not need the specific math class to graduate and encouraged her to change classes.

Using the social exchange theory, we not only discussed the importance of math, but how learning to get along with this math teacher could greatly benefit her grades. We encouraged her to talk to her teacher about her difficulties and to request some clarifications about specific concepts. My daughter chose to try it out because during our discussion she could see the benefits, although, she was not completely convinced. She went to her teacher, worked out some differences, and her grades reflect the benefits. I now more fully appreciate the opportunity I have had to research, analyze, and give a presentation on the social exchange theory.

It increased my knowledge and gave me the opportunity to reflect on some past decisions I have made in my life. I can see that this theory is not applicable to all choices, but it is helpful to know that it is an option when dealing with difficult decisions pertaining to relationships. I can see why some would consider it reductionist (Piercy class notes, September 29, 2011). I think I would feel that a therapist was not taking my personal issues seriously if they were reduced to just costs or benefits. With this in mind, a marriage and family therapist might not want to use this framework when working with major relationship issues.

When the social exchange theory was further explained in class, I was able to grasp the thought of being under benefitted and over benefitted in a relationship (Piercy class notes, September 29, 2011). I do not think that any relationship is ever equal, but if we think about how and/or if each person involved benefits, we can help each person better relate to one another. This might be a better way that a therapist could use this theory in a counseling setting. As Dr. Piercy said, “Satisfaction and commitment are more important than equity” (Piercy class notes, September 29, 2011).

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Social Exchange Theory. (2018, Oct 13). Retrieved from

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