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According to Levinger’s stage theory of maintenance (1980), over time a relationship becomes more intimate. The five stages in his model are: 1) Acquaintance – a relationship starts with mutual attraction. 2) Build-up – couple may become increasingly interdependent. Perhaps based on rewards and costs. 3) Continuation – relationship becomes consolidated. 4) Deterioration – not all relationships reach this stage. For those that do there may be an imbalance of rewards and costs. 5) Ending – deterioration may lead to a break up or end of the relationship.

This theory shows that all types or relationships have a tendency to break down over time. But Levinger’s theory suggests that there is a fixed order in which the five stages occur and focuses on the similarities in relationships. Brehm (1992) suggested that there are large differences among couples in the progress of their relationships. It is for this reason that Brehm suggested it is preferable to think in terms of flexible phases rather than fixed stages.

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The social penetration theory suggests that relationships develop as a result of mutual self-disclosure, this lessens in time. Sternberg (1986) found intimacy to be a key factor in both loving and liking. Therefore self-disclosure (revealing personal and sensitive information about oneself to another) is of extremely high importance in developing and maintaining intimacy. Evidence suggests that women self-disclose more to women than men. (Dindia & Allen 1992)

Commitment can be explained by the investment model proposed by Rusbult (1980) it identifies 3 key factors: 1) Satisfaction – rewards provided by the relationship. 2) Perceived quality of alternatives: individuals will be more committed if there are no other attractive options. 3) Investment size – the more time/money/effort etc invested in the relationship, the greater the commitment.

This theory has been challenged by Lund (1985) who found that level of commitment depended more on investment size than satisfaction or rewards. Evidence which supports Lund is Michaels et al ( 1986) who found that commitment was stronger when the outcomes received exceeded those anticipated in alternative relationships than when they were smaller. Rusbult’s theory has been criticised by Buunk (1996) because the 3 three factors are not necessarily independent of one another, also the research focuses mainly on short-term relationships and ignores long-term relationships.

During the early stages of a relationship, maintenance strategies can be used to sustain the relationship. According to Rusbult et al (1986) there are four different strategies that people use to deal with conflicts: voice, loyalty, neglect, exit. Argyle (1988) argued that informal relationship rules are important for maintenance – “behaviour which it is believed ought or ought not to be performed in each relationship”. There appear to be six key friendship rules which are: trust the other person; show emotional support; share news of success; strive to make the friend happy; offer help in time of need; and stand up for a friend in his or her absence. Finally, a cognitive factor proposed by Duck and Pond (1989) claimed that the key factor about routines is the way that partners talk to one another in and about their interactions.

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