Discuss one theory of the breakdown of romantic relationships. (8 marks + 16 marks)

You should outline and evaluate just one model of breakdown. I chose to discuss Rollie and Duck's six step model.

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. Inequitable relationships are more likely to produce dissatisfaction. This leads to an intrapsychic process which is characterised by brooding on the partner’s faults and the costs of the relationship. However, this dissatisfaction is not expressed to the partner during this stage, though signs such as social withdrawal may be present.

The next stage is the dyadic process, where 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 this occurs, social processes will take place. Friends and family will offer advice and support. The relationship is likely to have ended by this point.

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.

Each of these processes has thresholds which a person must reach to progress to the next stage. For example, the intrapsychic process ends when the person feels that their doubts about the relationship are justified, so they start to share their feeling with their partner. The thresholds will occur at different times for each individual.

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.

However, carrying out research into this sensitive area presents ethical issues. Research of this nature will cause participants to revisit the issues that lead to breakdown: this may lead to emotional distress. This may be particularly true if the relationship was abusive. Issues of privacy & confidentiality are also particularly important due to the personal nature of the subject matter.

Despite some research evidence supporting the stages of this model, there is little evidence supporting the model itself. Many relationships simply do not end in this way. Duck himself found that while the phases were typical of most relationships, there were many exceptions to the model. For example, the grave-dressing processes may not occur if the break-up is seen as wholly positive.

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 criticism of this model is that it is largely descriptive: it simply describes the stages of breakdown rather than attempting to explain why the breakdown may have happened. However, Argyle & Henderson found that among the most common reasons for relationship breakdowns were jealousy, selfishness & public criticism.

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.

Another 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.

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.