We all know that relationships are about giving and making compromises, but even if we try to do our best, we end up being ignored, not feeling satisfied or appreciated, or not being able to keep the relationships strong.
What if I told you that the solution to understanding this and doing something about it lies in a psychological theory?
What is The Social Exchange Theory?
The Social Exchange Theory is an interesting term, used to describe the relationship between two people as an exchange process.
The give and take approach plays a big role, but so does our perception of how meaningful this is, what the deserve, and what we think we are investing in this.
How Does The Theory Look Like in Real Life?
This doesn’t apply only to romantic relationships , though, but to every situation from life where 2 parties interact. And if you think about it, you’ve already seen this in action.
If you don’t feel like your efforts at work are noticed, you might start thinking about making it clear that you can easily leave and find a new job.
Investing more time in choosing a present for a friend, be it with or without an occasion, will unconsciously make you expect him to react in a certain way. But when he or she just says ‘Thanks.’ and continues to do something else, you’ll end up disappointed. That’s when you might consider the fact that this friendship isn’t worth the investment of your time and energy, and you should see this person less often so that you don’t feel like that again.
These are just simple examples of how the social exchange theory works.
But you might be asking, why does this happen, and how exactly?
Well, here’s how the process looks like for us, regardless of who the other person is:
It begins with what we think we deserve.
If you’ve always had bad relationships, you won’t really expect to be treated with respect by new people either, so that will make you put up with those who don’t deserve your attention. But because you’ve seen plenty of this in the past and are okay with it now, you won’t notice it and will think this is the best you can get;
Calculating the possible outcomes
Leaving your job with confidence would only be possible if you feel sure that you’ll find something else, and as good, soon. If not, if you’ll have a much lower salary at the new place, or if it’s far away from your home, you might decide to stay where you are now and accept that it’s the best you can get at this moment;
Your definition of fairness
In the end of the day, all that matters is what you think is fair. Depending on how we define this, we create a level of comparison in our heads and evaluate all our interactions with other people based on this. In some cases you’ll give more, in others you’ll expect to get more out of the relationship.
All these combined are how the social exchange theory works.
It’s all about finding the balance between what we give and what we receive. Unfortunately, the balance in all areas of life is usually the hardest thing to achieve. Especially when talking about social life, when other people are involved and we rarely know what’s going on in their heads.
But the importance of this psychological set of ideas is undeniable. Once we truly grasp its meaning and how it happens, we’ll be more conscious when deciding whether or not we should keep someone in our lives.
Now that we’ve defined the theory and know why it matters, let’s see how we can use it to our advantage and actually form better relationships.
Steps to Take to Improve Our Relationships
1. Think before you act, and before you ask
That’s a great mindset shift you can make if you want to never feel like you’re giving more where it’s not appreciated , and to make sure you’re investing as much as the other person in this.
Meaning, before doing a favor, rationalize. Think if that person would do the same for you. Only this way can you see when it’s unreasonable and it’s time for you to say ‘no’ and set some boundaries. Otherwise, people will start using you,
The opposite is also true.
When you’re about to ask for something (even if it’s for someone to spend more time with you, give you something, share stuff about his life, or else), think if you’ve given him the same.
This will lead to knowing what type of exchange there is in each relationship in your life, and where you should focus on giving more.
2. Speak up. Talk to them. It shows that you really care
When someone isn’t treating you the way you think you deserve, talk to them . Say it directly. This will save you both time and unpleasant emotions in the future.
That might also help him realize his mistake and encourage an eagerness to change. If not, if he doesn’t seem impressed in any way or bothered by that, you’ll know you were right about your feelings and don’t need to keep seeing him.
To make sure you aren’t the one taking more out of a relationship, ask if the other person feels okay around you every now and then. This shows that you care, leaves room for improvement, and can be the game-changer in whether or not a relationship strengthens and lasts longer.
3. Be present
Thinking about what has been before, having regrets about letting someone get close to you too soon, or wondering what could be different, is a waste of time.
The best thing you can do, that’s great for both of you and anyone else involved, is to practice mindfulness . That means being present and focusing on what’s going on now. Saying things out loud, being here and enjoying other people’s company, and taking action if anything needs to be changed.
Over to you now.
What can you do today to improve your relationships, using what you just learned about the social exchange theory?