Theories and Explanations for the Dissolution of Relationships Essay

Duck suggested that there are predisposing factors that lead to relationship dissolution, one of which includes a lack of skills. An example could be applied to poor conversationalists- their lack of interpersonal skills may be interpreted by their partners as them being uninterested in the relationship, causing it to break down. A lack of stimulation may also cause relationship breakdown. In terms of social exchange theory, this could be explained by one or both of the individuals experiencing a lack of satisfaction, therefore less reward.

Baxter supports this reason, claiming that a relationship which has stopped developing causes the reward – cost ratio to lean towards a lack of rewards, and so costs may outweigh. It can be assumed that such relationships have plateaued, with the lack of change preventing the relationship from going any further. Maintenance difficulties are also thought to play a role, identified by Shaver.

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Close contact is needed to maintain a relationship, meaning that the relationship needs attention from each partner in order to continue thriving.

Going away to university, for example, places a great strain on existing relationships and is often responsible for their dissolution. Personality has been shown to be an important factor in relationship breakup, providing some support for the concept of social skills being a factor. Graziano et al found that relationships where one or both of the couple are high in neuroticism are more likely to end in divorce. Similarly, individuals who are high in agreeableness (co-operative, supportive and non-confrontational) tend to be in relationships which have less conflict and are longer lasting.

A lot of research into relationship breakdown such as Graziano et al’s is hampered by various factors however, such as observer bias and the use of imposed practices (such as the use of Western questionnaires to assess attitudes to relationships). Another weakness is that much of this research is based on retrospective accounts that preceded relationship termination. Because such accounts are susceptible to distortions in the interpretation of and memory for past events, the results of cross-sectional research must be interpreted with caution.

Despite suggested maintenance difficulties, some long distance romantic relationships (LDRRs) have been known to continue successfully. Rohlfing et al’s findings supported this, showing that approximately 70% of students sampled had experienced at least one LDRR. If maintenance difficulties were a definite factor in the dissolution of a relationship, then Rohlfing’s findings should have indicated far fewer LDRRs taking place. Rohlfing’ research is criticised however as his sample was biased, consisting only of students. Such a bias prevents any findings from being fully representative of other LDRRs (such as between non-student married couples) as it could be argued that the lifestyles of students create specific dynamics that make LDRRs differ greatly to other such relationships.

However, Holt and Store found that there was little decrease in relationship satisfaction with LDRRs, which suggests that the lessened ability for each couple to reunite is not a strong reason for relationship dissolution. As Rohlfing’s research was conducted in 1988, his findings may be considered outdated. Technological developments have lead to a far more mobile society for many, such as Skype and easy access to transport, meaning that couples are far more able to reunite than they were twenty years ago and so relationships can be more easily maintained. The predisposing factors identified by Duck may only apply to some cultures, with each focussing on individualistic culture norms such as personal freedom. Moghaddam identifies the major difference between Western-style marriage and non-Western arranged marriages in terms of Sternberg’s love triangle (intimacy, passion and commitment). With romantic marriages in western societies, passion is most important during the initial stages of a relationship but in arranged marriages commitment is, and that commitment involves the entire family.

It may be therefore that Duck’s suggested predisposing factors such as a lack of skills/ stimulation have little or no effect on relationship breakdown in collectivist societies, as their perception of the wife role has stronger emphasis on being a married woman and mother- much less focus on the actual husband. DUCK’S four stage model was proposed in 1984. It starts with the intra-psychic phase, where an individual perceives dissatisfaction in their current relationship. They may indirectly hint this to their partner or express feelings to a third party. Next is the dyadic phase, where the dissatisfaction is discussed. At this point, there is a possibility that the relationship could be repaired, or it could deteriorate further. The social phase follows, which involves the dissatisfaction becoming public. Family and friends may speed up or slow down the dissolution in a number of ways such as taking sides, offering support and voicing their own opinions. Finally is the grave- dressing phase, in which both partners establish their view of the breakup to protect their self esteem and to avoid appearing unfavourable.

A strength of this model is that it stresses the importance of viewing relationship breakdown as a process rather than an event. Nowadays this is widely accepted to be correct; such a theory has relevance with many people’s experiences with romantic relationships and friendships. Kassin (1996) found that women are more likely to stress unhappiness and incompatibility as reasons for dissolution, whereas men will blame lack of sex. The study reports that women will typically wish to remain friends, while males want a clean break. This suggests some gender differences that the model does not consider, and so it may be considered simplistic. A stage or phase theory will always be criticised for the fact that the stages may not apply to everyone, or equally they may not take place in the order described.

This was recognised by Duck, who has since improved the theory in a new model of five processes involved in relationship breakdown rather than phases (Rollie and Duck 2006). With the theory and research into relationship dissolution, an implicit assumption has been made that all romantic relationships involve opposite sex partners- the relationship is heterosexual. Some research has explicitly referred to married couples (for example Gray and Silver) again with the assumption that marriage is by definition restricted only to heterosexual couples. Therefore the research has a heterosexual bias, which implicitly reinforces the idea that heterosexuality is normal and homosexuality is abnormal- relating to heterosexism in society. This is a great weakness as it doesn’t tell us anything about a significant category of other relationships.

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