One piece of research into the breakdown of romantic relationships is from Duck (1982). According to his phase model of the breakup of a relationship, it all begins with the breakdown of the relationship where there is dissatisfaction within the relationship. These dissatisfied partners then begin to consider all the problems within the relationship, thinking mostly about the relational ‘costs’ which develops a resentment for the relationship. This is known as the intra-psychic phase.
Once a threshold of being unable to withstand the relationship anymore, the dissatisfied partner expresses their uncertainties about the relationship and so the dyadic phase has been reached and the couple will re-assess their goals, possibilities and commitment. If this is not successful, the social phase has been reached where the decision to leave the relationship is made and is publically discussed between third parties. Next, self-justifications and version-makings of the breakup are offered, which is known as the grave-dressing phase.
Finally, the individuals will attempt to recreate a sense of their own social values, by preparing for different types of future relationships and knowing what they wish to get out of them, known as the resurrection process. The evolutionary perspective on relationship breakdown is another explanation into the breakdown of romantic relationships. Perilloux and Buss (2008) have developed an explanation of why evolution might have shaped the behaviour of rejecters and rejectees differently. Their research is based on four main predictions.
The first prediction is the costs related to emotional investment. In a relationship, women will consider the costs of losing the stability of a relationship whereas, if a male has high emotional investment in a relationship, he is more likely to share his resources. However, if the relationship breaks down, the male may leave his children unsupported. This highlights the importance of a males resources to the female, who will experience higher costs associated with the loss of emotional investment from their male partner.
The second prediction is increasing commitment as a response to the threat of a break up. A woman will value emotional commitment highly in mates, especially to ensure the survival of any offspring, so males threatened with relationship breakdown may employ strategies to exploit this, possibly increasing their commitment for example, by suggesting marriage. The third prediction is infidelity. This may be a deliberate attempt to break up a relationship with a relatively poor-quality mate, in order to make way for a higher-quality mate.
The final prediction is managing reputational damage where a rejecter may be perceived as being cruel and heartless by peers, whereas the rejectee is frequently perceived as the victim. In order to prevent any reputational damage, the rejecters will be motivated to minimize any reputational damage and make efforts to be seen as reasonable and compassionate rather than cruel and heartless. A strength of Duck’s phase model is that it is supported by observations of real life break-ups.
Researchers Tashiro and Frazier (2003) surveyed undergraduates who had recently broken up with a romantic partner and they reported that they not only experienced emotional distress, but also personal growth. These students reported that breaking up with their partner had given them new insights into themselves and a clearer idea about future partners. Through grave-dressing and resurrection processes they were able to put the original relationship to rest and get on with their lives.
However, a weakness of this study is that Tashiro and Frazier surveyed undergraduates, meaning that they may not have been in a relationship for a long time so therefore would not experience the stages of breakdown as such because they are much younger so therefore may not take into consideration the loss of costs so this therefore weakens the validity of their study. Another strength of Ducks phase model of breakdown is that the model stresses the importance of communication in relationship breakdown.
Paying attention to the things that people say, the topics that they discuss and the ways in which they talk about their relationship offers both an insight into their stage and also suggests interventions appropriate to that stage. If the relationship was in the intra-psychic stage for example, repair might involve re-establishing a liking for the partner, possibly by re-evaluating their behaviour in a more positive light. In the later stages, different strategies of repair are appropriate such as in the social phase, third parties may be able to help the partners patch up their differences.
This highlights the positive implications of the model, and how it can help couples amend the relationship, despite reaching later stages. However, a weakness of Duck’s phase model and research into rejecters and rejectees is that there are ethical issues within the breakdown research. When carrying out research in this sensitive area, it often raises issues of vulnerability, privacy and confidentiality. For example, a woman in an abusive relationship may fear recrimination from her abuser should he discover her participation in the research.
Ultimately, the researcher faces a choice of protecting a participant’s safety or pursuing this valuable information. Therefore, it is hard to measure the issues which led to the breakdown effectively. A limitation of the evolutionary perspective on relationships is that it is deterministic. The evolutionary perspective neglects personal choice and environmental influences, claiming that human behaviour is influenced by adaptations that developed in the Stone Age. This makes sense only if the environmental challenges remain static over evolutionary time.
However, if the environment is dynamic rather than static, then the only human that would be adaptive is one that is flexible and responsive in any social and physical environment they are in. In some environments, it may be adaptive for males and females to act in the ways suggested, but not in all. For example, nowadays, due to changes within our environment it has enabled women to be less dependent on men for their resources. This therefore challenges the claim of these being universal human behaviours as it has ignored the dynamic nature of relationship breakdown.
Another limitation of the evolutionary perspective on relationships is that is gender biased. Researcher Hollway (1989) argues that gender differences evident in the relationship behaviour of males and females reflect less the role of evolutionary forces and more the shared cultural discourses of the different sexes. These discourses are patterns of thinking and communication that are common within one gender but not the other within a particular culture. For example, with the ‘male sexual drive’ discourse, a man may be more likely to report greater infidelity.
However, Holloway claims this is not because they are like that by ‘nature’, but because there is a cultural discourse that instructs him how to act on the basis of his sex. In the case of breakdowns, gender differences in how an individual reacts may be less determined by our adaptive biology and more to do with what males and females believe is the appropriate way to behave given that they are products of gender-specific socialization within that society. Overall, evolutionary explanations of sex differences in this area represent a gender-biased representation of how males and females behave during relationship break-ups.
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