Discuss research into the breakdown of romantic relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

Here you should outline and evaluate theories such as Rollie and Duck's six step model and Duck's three reasons for breakdown. You can discuss as many theories as you want, but make sure your explanations have plenty of depth.


Rollie and Duck’s model of breakdown attempts to explain the process in six steps. It begins with dissatisfaction with how a relationship is conducted, which leads to an intrapsychic process that is characterised by brooding on the partner’s faults and the costs of the relationship. In the dyadic process, people confront their partners and discuss their feelings about the relationship. The relationships may be saved at this point due to a reassessment of goals, possibilities or commitment, or it may break down further.

If further breakdown occurs, social processes will take place, whereby friends and family will offer advice and support.  After having left the relationship, grave-dressing processes will commence. Partners strive to construct a representation of the relationship that does not paint their own contribution to the relationship unfavourably. This process often involves emotional distress. In the final resurrection process, each partner prepares for new relationships by learning from the mistakes of the prior relationship.

This model has been largely supported by research evidence. Tashiro & Frazier surveyed students whose relationships had recently broken down. They reported to have experienced emotional distress as well as personal growth, stating that these breakdowns had given them a clearer idea about future relationships. This provides evidence for both the grave-dressing and resurrection processes.

This model had practical applications in counselling. Assessing which stage a couple is in can help to identify what steps should be taken to save the relationship. This model stresses the importance of communication in breakdown: paying attention to what people say and how they interact will help their stage to be identified. Appropriate interventions can then be used.

A study by Akert provided a criticism for this model. Akert found that the instigators of break-ups suffer fewer negative consequences than non-instigators. Rollie & Duck use the same model for both instigators and non-instigators. This suggests that this model ignores individual differences such as this one.

This model is also perceived to be culturally biased, rooted in Western culture. Many collectivist, non-Western cultures have arranged marriages, which are generally regarded as permanent. Marital crises of these relationships are also seen as the concern of the entire family, not just the couple. Therefore, this model may not apply to non-Western relationships.

    In another theory, Duck proposed three reasons as to why relationships break down. One of these is a lack of skills. A partner may lack the interpersonal skills to make the relationship mutually satisfying. They may be a poor conversationalist, poor at indicating their interest in their partner, or their interactions with other people may be generally unrewarding.

    Another cause of relationship breakdown is a lack of stimulation. A lack of stimulation may be boredom or a belief that the relationship is not going anywhere, and this may result in breakdown. In some circumstances, relationships may become strained due to maintenance difficulties: the partners do not see each other often enough.

    One major reason for relationship breakdown is that one or both partners have an affair. Boekhout et al.asked undergraduates to rate various reasons for a partner to be unfaithful in a relationship. Partners judged that boredom & lack of attention to be among the most likely reasons, showing how affairs may be the result of a perceived lack of skills and/or stimulation and thus supporting Duck's theory.

    Social skills have been found to be important to relationships. Couples Coping Enhancement Training(CCET) aims to increase respect and improve communication between partners. Cina et al. found that couples who had had CCET reported significantly higher marital satisfaction than the control group without CCET. This demonstrates the importance of social skills in relationships.

    Long-distance relationships can be the cause of maintenance difficulties. However, Holt & Stone found that there was little decrease in relationship satisfaction as long as the lovers are able to reunite regularly. This suggests that long-distance relationships may not lead to breakdown as Duck’s explanation would suggest. However, this may be partly due to the increased accessibility to technology which allows long-distance partners to communicate fully.

    A criticism of this model is that it ignores gender differences. For example, women are more likely to stress unhappiness & incompatibility as reasons for break-up, while men are more likely to cite sexual withholding. Women also have more desire to remain friends after the dissolution, while men prefer to cut ties completely.

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