Love and social exchange theory

Looks like my brain exercise regime is starting to fail. Ironically enough, this is in part due to the hours I’m spending in (and travelling to) school every weekday, and the free time I have is usually spent meeting up with people. My timetable changes in 2 weeks’ time, though, plus Ailin would have returned to Japan by then, so maybe it’ll pick up again then.

Although I think perhaps right now, my body needs exercise more than my brain does. Hmm.

Anyway, I recently read a post on Weiyi’s blog which challenged its readers to reply and discuss three statements. He predicted that no one would bother replying, which of course somehow made me want to prove him wrong, plus one of the questions actually reminded me of something I’d covered in university before, so I figured I’d take some time to tackle it, if less thoroughly than might be expected for ’20-mark questions’.

In your response, consider the dynamics of relationships in our contemporary society. Full credit is given for expressing what you feel and think is correct. The definition of love should not be limited to a romantic relationship between a man and women. (e.g. Friendship, God, Family, Animal, Food, Gaia .. etc.)

1) Love is the only way to achieve happiness.

2) The marriage described between the couple above is normal. There is nothing sad about their situation, merely how the author chose to write it in a sombre way. As idealistic as we always hope, no marriages are fairy tales. There is no happy ever afters in our modern society.

3) Which brings us to the last conclusion that: There is nothing “bad” to stay in a relationship because the opportunity cost to find another is too high. In other words, a relationship of convenience is perfectly OK.

1) So broadly defined, I suppose that love is the only way to achieve happiness – at least, that’s what humans seem to generally think, be it love of wealth, success, God, friends, family, or what not. In fact, offhand I can’t think of any way to happiness without seeking/achieving a certain passion. I know the traditional Christian viewpoint is that you can only achieve happiness through God, but it seems like there are people who can be pretty happy (or believe that they are, anyway) with wealth and/or friends – but I do think that a more lasting happiness can be achieved in seeking higher things.

Kinda depends on how you define happiness, huh?

2) I suspect that the described marriage, one that begins to stagnate as time goes by and practical matters take precedence over the actual relationship, is very possibly a normal one, in terms of frequency. I’m not really an expert on the matter, but I do think that’s a trap that many couples would fall into. At the same time, I believe that such situations can be avoided – you probably can’t achieve happily-ever-afters, but I think that with some conscious effort to pursue common interests together (perhaps religion or eating or making retarded jokes) and to discover new ones, the marriage can be a life-long journey of discovery together, rather than a routine job you’re stuck in forever.

This all sounds a little too idealistic though, so maybe check back with me when I’ve been married for a decade.

3) This is where something I covered in my course comes in. Social exchange theory is a simplified cost-benefit model of human relationships which can be used to explain why people stick to or leave their partners, sometimes regardless of whether they’re happy with the relationship.

If I remember correctly (and feel free to correct me if I’m wrong), the theory is that people compare their current relationship against their expectations of a relationship (CL) as well as their perceived alternative options (CLAlt). If their current partner (Outcome) exceed both CL and CLAlt, the individual will be happy with the partner and not terminate the relationship. If Outcome is below CL, the individual will be unhappy, and if Outcome is below CLAlt, the individual will end the relationship.

This theory may sound oversimplistic, and people might be offended at the idea that relationships can be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis, but if you consider that the actual factors involved in the comparison levels are actually really broad-ranging (like how much history you have with your partner, any children you have, social backlash from ending the relationship, etc), I do think that it’s pretty much how humans work. This is why relationships of convenience exist – even though the Outcome is below the CL (leading to an unhappy relationship), there is no perceived CLAlt that will improve the situation, so people continue to stick together.

So, to reply the original question, no – I don’t think there’s anything really wrong with a relationship of convenience, if the perceived opportunity cost for ending the relationship is higher than for continuing it. I don’t believe in tailor-made soulmates out there waiting to be met, or in predestiny in general (but hey – if I’m wrong, it’s not like believing otherwise is going to change anything), so I do think that if you’re unlucky enough, you might never actually meet that conceptualised ‘special someone’ you hear your friends gushing about.

On the more idealistic note though, if someone is young and thinks that he/she will probably meet someone better in the years to follow, perhaps it might be worth reevaluating the CLAlt to take the future expectations into account. Assuming you aren’t psychic, there’s always a bit of a gamble involved in trying to predict the future, but I guess if the clock hasn’t started ticking for you yet – why not?


Posted on August 9, 2008, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. as a student of psychology (as even u’ve been),

    i know that there isnt any one, all encompassing theory to explain human behavior. naturally, because we are much more complex than just simple organisms or atoms.
    so in regard to the social exchange theory on relationships, its a very incomplete explanation to the concept of relationships. it does, however, apply very aptly to how relationships form and break up but this is, perhaps, from a very behavioristic or simply from a bird’s eye view point.

    have you read the psychodynamic-systemic-behavioristic model of marital relationships? thats a really interesting perspective. it mainly propounds that people interact from their psychosexual stages of development with a receding and increasing intimacy and anxiety from the partner.
    also, i think attachment has a very strong role to play too. anyway, it eventually ends in a eclectic application of these theories but simplification is definitely an aide in therapy.

  2. Hullo i ran across your internet site with my freshly, rarefied browser NetCaptor and need to say you that the blog is shown up not proper like in Firefox 2.

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