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Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

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Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

We have all been through or seen someone we love go through a breakup. There are many theories about the emotions and phases we go through, such as grief, anger, sadness, jealousy, apathy, etc. But according to psychologist Duck (1982, 1998), a relationship breaks down in five stages ranging from thinking about breaking up to making yourself look good.

Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown

Duck’s phase model of relationship has several stages. Let’s go through them one by one.

Intrapsychic stage

The first stage of Duck’s model is the intrapsychic stage. A person thinks about how they are dissatisfied in their relationship and begins to weigh up the costs and benefits of staying in that relationship. At the end of this stage, the person reaches a threshold of thinking, ‘I can’t stand this any more’.

Dyadic stage

At this stage, the dissatisfied partner confronts their partner about the issues they are experiencing, and the breakup is initiated. The threshold for this stage is ‘I would be justified in withdrawing’.

Social stage

At this stage, the dissatisfied partner discusses their issues with their partner. Duck states that at this point, it is much more difficult for a couple to repair their relationship as their problems have been made public. This phase normally leads to the dissolution of the relationship, and the threshold is ‘I mean it’.

Grave dressing

At the end of a relationship, each partner tries to minimise their faults and maximise their positive attributes, known as grave dressing. The attempt to make themselves look good and their partner bad prepares for a new relationship. The threshold at this stage is ‘it’s time to start a new life’.

Resurrection stage

Duck added this phase in 2006, referring to when the partners move beyond the pain of breaking up and experience personal growth. There is no set threshold for this stage.

Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown Stages StudySmarterDuck’s relationship breakdown stages, Yzabelle Bostyn - StudySmarter Originals

Evaluation of Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown

What are the strengths and weaknesses of Duck’s phase model of relationship?

Strengths

  • Research support Tashiro and Frazier (2003) documented that undergraduates who recently experienced a breakup reported personal growth after the event as well as emotional distress.

Tashiro and Frazier (2003) also found that if ex-partners saw the situation as responsible for the breakup rather than their faults, they often saw the end of the relationship in a positive light.

  • Real-world applications Duck’s phase model can help couples understand why a relationship broke down, which may help them get over the breakup. The model can help when a couple is going through the first two stages to repair the relationship, such as focusing on the positive aspects of their partners and communicating clearly. It may be used in couples’ or individual therapy to help people understand their issues, perhaps preventing breakups.

Weaknesses

  • Retrospective and self-reported data: most research into Duck’s model is retrospective, meaning that partners may remember details inaccurately or have bias. A further issue is that the data is often self-reported, i.e., it is subjective, unscientific, and subject to bias.

  • Ethical issues: studying people’s relationships is problematic as it may cause psychological harm to the participants if they have to recall the breakdown of a relationship, which is often very painful.

  • Subjective the social phase is subjective, i.e., people experience it differently. Dickson (1995) found that whilst the friends and family of younger couples didn’t try to get them back together, family and friends encouraged older couples to get back together. This finding suggests that the social stage is not the same for everyone, and Duck’s phase model cannot be generalised.

  • Cultural bias Duck’s model applies mainly to individualistic cultures, where a breakup is an individual’s choice regardless of the effect on their wider communities/groups. In collectivist cultures, a relationship and its outcome could be the group’s choice and therefore not go through the stages Duck described.

  • Why do relationships break down? Duck’s model explains how relationships break down but not why and thus only gives a limited understanding of relationship breakdown. Without the why, the approach is simplified and doesn’t account for individual differences, making it nomothetic.

Duck’s Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown - Key takeaways

  • According to Duck (1982, 1998), relationships break down into five stages: the intrapsychic stage, the dyadic stage, the social stage, the grave dressing stage, and the resurrection stage.

  • Tashiro and Frazier (2003) support the model, finding that undergraduates who recently experienced a breakup reported personal growth. If ex-partners saw the situation as responsible for the breakup rather than their faults, they often saw the end of the relationship in a positive light.

  • Strengths of the model are research support and real-world applications, such as helping couples understand why a relationship broke down. The model can also help couples repair the relationship through the first two stages. It may be used in couples’ or individual therapy.

  • Weaknesses are that the model is subjective, has ethical issues, uses self-report data, and is subject to cultural bias. The model also doesn’t explain why relationships break down.

Frequently Asked Questions about Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

Duck’s phase model states that relationships break down in five stages: the intrapsychic stage, the dyadic stage, the social stage, the grave dressing stage, and the resurrection stage. Although there is research support for the model and real-life applications, there are ethical issues and issues with the methods used to collect data to support the model. It also fails to explain why relationships break down, to apply to different cultures and is too subjective. 

The intrapsychic stage, the dyadic stage, the social stage, and the grave dressing stage.

Psychologists have differing opinions on why relationships break down. Some state they might break down due to inequity, a lack of complementarity, and more. 

The first stage of Duck’s model is the intrapsychic stage. A person thinks about how they are dissatisfied in their relationship and begins to weigh up the costs and benefits of staying in that relationship. At the end of this stage, the person reaches a threshold of thinking, ‘I can’t stand this any more’.

At this stage, the dissatisfied partner confronts their partner about the issues they are experiencing, and the breakup is initiated. The threshold for this stage is ‘I would be justified in withdrawing’. 

Final Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown Quiz

Question

Which of the following is the first in Duck's phases of relationship dissolution?

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Answer

Resurrection stage.

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Question

When did Duck add the resurrection phase of relationship breakdown?

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Answer

2006.

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Question

When did Duck come up with the phase model of a relationship breakdown?

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Answer

In 1982 and 1998.

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Question

What is the threshold of the intrapsychic stage?

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Answer

‘I can’t stand this any more’.

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Question

What is the threshold of the dyadic stage?

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Answer

The threshold for this stage is ‘I would be justified in withdrawing’.

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Question

What is the threshold of the social stage?

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Answer

The threshold is ‘I mean it’.

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Question

What is the threshold of the resurrection stage?


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Answer

The threshold at this stage is ‘it’s time to start a new life’.

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Question

What is the social stage?

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Answer

It is when the dissatisfied partner talks to their friends and family about their relationship issues.

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Question

At what stage does the dissatisfied partner confront their partner?

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Answer

Dyadic.

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Question

How can Duck's model be applied to the real world.

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Answer

  • Duck’s phase model can help couples understand why a relationship broke down, which may help them get over the breakup.
  • The model can help when a couple is going through the first two stages to repair the relationship, such as focusing on the positive aspects of their partners and communicating clearly.

Show question

Question

What did Dickson (1995) find in their study?

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Answer

Dickson (1995) found that whilst the friends and family of younger couples didn’t try to get them back together, family and friends encouraged older couples to get back together. This finding suggests that the social stage is not the same for everyone, and Duck’s phase model cannot be generalised.

Show question

Question

Most of the research into Duck’s model uses retrospective and self-reported data. Why is this a weakness?

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Answer

As data is retrospective, partners may remember details inaccurately or have bias. As data is self-reported, it is subjective, unscientific, and subject to bias. 

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