Psychology Breakdown Of Relationships Essay

One theory for the maintenance of romantic relationships is Social exchange theory. This views relationship behaviour as a series of exchanges based on rewards, costs and profit. Each person attempts to maximise their rewards while minimising their costs. The exchange element occurs when individuals receive rewards and thus feel obliged to reciprocate. Rewards are seen as pleasurable and beneficial, which may include company, security, intimacy or sex. Costs can be anything that occurs that is viewed as a loss to the individual due to being in the relationship e.g. effort, financial investment or time. This can also be problems, arguments, abuse, and loss of other relationship opportunities faced by the individual due to maintaining the current relationship. The costs subtracted from rewards equals in a perceived loss or profit for the individual. This theory proposes relationships are maintained with further commitment as long as the individual perceives a profit occurring. This theory proposes individuals use a comparison level to determine the value of exchanges. This comparison level is based on previous experiences of relationships, the person’s expectations of the relationship and a comparison of possible alternative relationships that may be available. This comparison may also look at the benefits of not being in a relationship compared to the current one and the gains of that (e.g. less arguments, more time with friends, freedom etc) If a person judges the current relationship offers poor value based on this comparison level they may be motivated to end it or maintain it provided the expected profits exceed this comparison level.

Another theory for the maintenance of romantic relationships is Equity theory. This is similar in that it sees behaviour within relationships as a series of exchanges with people trying to maximise their rewards and minimise costs however the goal is not for profit but to achieve perceived fairness (equity). This theory proposes under-benefiting or over-benefiting both cause inequity within the relationship leading to dissatisfaction or possible dissolution. The greater the perceived inequity the greater the dissatisfaction and distress. Recognising inequity also provides a chance for the relationship to be saved by making adjustments to re-establish equity. This is provided the “loser” feels there is a chance of restoring fairness and is motivated to attempt to save the relationship. This can be done by changing they amount put into the relationship (Input), changing the amount taken from the relationship (Output) or changing their perception of Inputs and Outputs. (Practical applications in counselling IDA). Equity does not necessarily mean equality and both people can put in different amounts within the relationship and it can still be deemed equitable. If someone puts in little they may get little back while those who put in more may get more in return. Equity theory is therefore dependent on input/output ratios. People may still compare the relationship to their comparison level for other relationships to determine whether it is worth them continuing to invest or start a new relationship.

The Investment Model (Rusbult 1983) AO1 Theory (Psya3: The Maintenance Of Romantic Relationships)

A third theory explaining the maintenance of romantic relationships is the Investment Model by Rusbult (Investment Theory). Research has focused on whether individuals decide to remain in a relationship or whether they choose to leave with the term “commitment” used to describe a relationship continuing. The level of satisfaction a member receives by being in the relationship strengthens this commitment while possible alternatives weaken it. A third measure introduced by Rusbult was “investment” which further increases this commitment. Similar to social exchange theory, satisfaction is derived when the costs of the relationship are subtracted from the rewards with the remaining outcomes compared to a personal comparison level by the individual of what they feel is acceptable. If the outcomes surpass this comparison level then the individual will be satisfied while not meeting it will likely result in unhappiness.

The quality of alternatives available may also lead an individual to end one relationship and start another while a lack of alternatives may lead the individual to continue to maintain the current relationship. The benefits of not being in the relationship may also be weighed up and if  having no relationship is perceived as more attractive than being in an unhappy relationship this may also motivate them to end their current relationship.

Rusbult proposed that the level of investment by individuals also contributed to the stability and maintenance of the relationship. Investment can be seen as anything an individual puts into the relationship and this can vary from money to time, effort, shared friends to even emotional energy and possessions. Therefore the higher the investment an individual has put into the relationship the more chances of it being maintained. Rusbult tested this theory by asking college students (IDA – lacks generalisation to wider population) in heterosexual relationships (IDA – bias towards heterosexual relationships only – cannot explain gay/lesbien relationships and thus lacks wider generalisation!)to complete questionnaires over a 7 month period. They kept a record of how happy they were within their relationships, the possible alternatives as well as their level of investment and commitment. Results found that satisfaction, comparison against alternatives and investment all contributed to commitment and breakup. High levels of commitment and investment contributed heavily to committed relationships while the possibility of alternative relationships appeared to influence individuals to end relationships.

A* Model Essays For Psya3 Relationships by an A* Student

If you wish to get a proven A* model essay answers with all the evaluation and Issues, debates and approaches to answer a full question on this topic for AQA A Psychology for your June exams – check out my Model A* essay book which covers the maintenance of romantic relationships and every other possible question in the Psya3 Relationships topic. Click the image on the left for more details.

AQA Psychology Relationships Paper 3

Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown see’s relationship breakdown as a process of stages rather than a one-off event. There are four distinct phases with each one marked by one or both partners reaching a threshold where their perception of the relationship changes, usually for the worse, allowing each to progress through the different stages. Relationship breakdown begins when a partner realises they are unhappy within the current relationship. This may be because the relationship is deemed inequitable or the relationship results in a greater loss. The lack of stimulation may also contribute to partners feeling the relationship is not progressing or developing. A lack of maintenance or circumstances where partners are not spending enough time together due to work commitments may also lead to strain.

Intra-psychic phase

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The first phase is the intra-psychic phase where the focus is on the cognitive processes within the individual. The individual may not say anything about their dissatisfaction but feel resentful and unhappy and have thoughts around whether they would be better off without the relationship. Their unhappiness may also be expressed indirectly through social withdrawal. The threshold for this stage is usually characterised by thoughts such as “I can’t stand this anymore” indicating a need for change.

Dyadic phase

The second phase is the dyadic phase and sees the unhappy partner discuss their dissatisfaction. A series of discussions take place where partners may discuss their lack of inequity, resentment and imbalanced roles. Feelings of anger and guilt may also be aired at this point between both and two possible outcomes may come from this phase. Provided the discussions can be constructive, this can lead to reconciliation with a desire to repair the relationship or if this fails the threshold for the next phase is reached. This threshold may be characterised by thoughts such as “I would be better off without this relationship”.

Social phase

The social phase sees the breakup made public within their social circles. Each partner will seek support, forge alliances and negotiations will take place over assets. Mutual friends may be expected to pick a side and gossip may be traded with some being judgmental placing blame on one partner. Some may provide previously withheld secrets to hasten the end of the relationship or help repair the relationship between them. The threshold here would be thoughts such as “this is now inevitable” as often once others become aware this is the point of no return.

Grave-dressing phase

The grave-dressing phase sees a post view of the relationship breakdown being established by both. This will cover why the breakdown occurred with each person having their own account that presents themselves favourably often at the expense of the other. The rebuilding of self-esteem for future relationships occurs here to show trust and loyalty, two important qualities which are under question after breakdown. People may try to retain social credit by blaming circumstances, the other partner, people or anything except themselves. They may also create a story that sits comfortably with themselves such as traits they found initially endearing about the partner not reinterpreted as a characteristic that contributed to the relationship breakdown. The threshold here would be the individual concluding “its time to start a new life”.


How to reference/cite/link to this article: <a href=”https://www.loopa.co.uk/ducks-phase-model-relationship-breakdown-aqa-psychology/”>Duck’s Model Of Relationship Breakdown</a>


This is an essay answer taken from the relationships ebook for AQA psychology A level students studying paper 3 as part of their A level psychology course (new specification). You can download all the possible essay questions and model answers in the relationships ebook.

Strengths, Weaknesses and Evaluation

One strength of the theory is it has face validity as the process of breakdown occurring through phases is something most people can relate to through their own experiences. Hatfields study (1984) supports Duck’s breakdown model as this study found individuals reported to feel dissatisfaction and resentment and feelings of under-benefitting which lead to social withdrawal. This supports the notion of an intrapsychic phase as the model proposes.

However gender differences exist and this theory could be argued to suffer from gender bias, particularly beta bias as it attempts to play down gender differences assuming the process is experienced similarly by men and women. Argyle (1988) found women cited a lack of emotional support as the reason for breakdown while men cited an absence of fun. Kassin (1996) found further support for gender differences with women citing unhappiness and incompatibility while men blamed a lack of sex. Women also wanted to remain friends while men preferred clean breaks. This suggests gender differences exist that the model is unable to explain.

Another criticism of Ducks breakdown explanation is Individual differences also exist and a possible additional phase that is unaccounted for. Akert (1992) found that the person who instigated the break-up tended to suffer fewer negative consequences than the non-instigator. This suggests individual differences in the effects of the dissolution but also the fact that another stage may exist where the instigator may already have calculated the breakup costing them less overall at some point which falls outside of Duck’s explanation.

Another criticism is the model for breakdown is not universal as it does not apply to every case of relationship breakdown nor does the phases always occur in the same order. The model does not apply to homosexual relationships or heterosexual relationships where there are no children.
Duck’s model of breakdown does present us with real-world applications particularly as it has implications for interventions to save relationships. The model identifies opportunities for different repair strategies at different points. For example during the intrapsychic stage where people brood over the negatives of their partner and the relationship, they can be encouraged to focus instead on the positives. During the Dyadic stage communication is key and ensuring this is constructive and solution focused rather than blame orientated can help avoid hitting the next threshold where breakdown is more difficult to avoid as it becomes social. Therefore such insights into the break-up process as applications particularly in relationship counselling.

A criticism of Duck’s model is it does not fully explain how breakdowns occur offering a description rather than an explanation which undermines this explanation. Research into breakdown like this also raises ethical issues as it focuses on sensitive areas which raises the issue of vulnerability in participants who may have to relive the experiences of breakdown causing further stress. Privacy and confidentiality are also invaded as researchers question them to find out why the relationship broke down and this presents a major issue particularly when domestic abuse is a factor.

Duck’s model is also based heavily on western society and therefore suffers from cultural bias. In some cultures arranged marriages tend to be more permanent and involve families in crisis, which these models cannot fully explain. Therefore the model can be argued to be ethnocentric and lacking external validity to wider generalisation across different cultures.

The model does not account for love and how that may play a mitigating role in relationship breakdown yet it is universally accepted as a key component within relationships. In addition the theory cannot fully explain abusive relationships where an abused partner may not initiate the stages of dissolution but instead walk away completely.


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