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The Social Exchange Theory and Romantic Relationships

Social exchange theory as we learned in class is an effective and versatile tool in understanding the social world. Researching different types of exchange has proven useful in identifying what factors are responsible for building trust and commitment in a relationship. In selecting a partner, giving gifts, or reevaluating a relationship, social exchange theory is an interesting alternative to approaching romantic relationships. An important aspect of any romantic relationship is found in the selection process of a partner. Social exchange theory paired with matching hypothesis effectively analyzes the mechanisms that lead an individual to select their partner.

In the market of marriage and love, we always talk about the value. According to the theory, a worthwhile relationship will be as far away from the cost category as possible. Even if there are a few costs involved in the relationship — and human behavior dictates there probably will be — if enough positive traits outweigh the negative traits, then the costs hold no value.

If the costs far outweigh the benefits, it may be an indicator that it’s time to move on; however, the theory’s aspect of evaluating alternatives prevents this decision from being automatic. Alternative evaluation involves analyzing possible replacements for an existing relationship, a process that weighs costs and benefits against a person’s comparison levels. This analysis may drive a person to the conclusion that the relationship he or she is currently in is still better than anything else that’s out there, a decision that may also cause a person to reassess the cost vs. benefit value of an existing relationship.

In my opinion, we don’t simply evaluate a relationship based on social exchange theory. It unconsciously guides us in the selecting process but most of time we just follow our feeling instead of calculating costs and benefits.



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