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 phases of how a relationship breaks down, and they often revolve around the emotions people experience when a relationship begins to fall apart, such as grief, anger, sadness, jealousy, and apathy, to name a few. According to psychologist Duck (1982, 1998), a relationship breaks down into five stages, from thinking about breaking up to making yourself look good, known formally as Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown.

Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

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Table of contents
    • We are going to explore Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown.
    • First, we will establish the breakdown of relationships in psychology and how prominent relationships are in human society.
    • Following this, we will discuss psychology's Duck's phase model, identifying the different phases, including the grave dressing phase. Here, we will provide a grave dressing definition.
    • Finally, we will provide Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown evaluation, discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the theory.

    Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown, couple breaking up on a bench in the park, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Duck's phase model explores the process of relationships breaking down.

    Breakdown of Relationships: Psychology

    Relationships are complex. They can involve intimate relations between partners, platonic relationships between friends, and the loving relationships we experience between family members. A lot of human society is based on cultivating relationships, and oftentimes, it is key to reproductive success.

    So, why is it that relationships break down? Let's explore the breakdown of relationships from a psychological perspective. One of the key theories that explore the breakdown of relationships is Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown.

    Psychology's Duck’s Phase Model

    Relationships break down for multiple reasons, and Duck explored three potential causes: pre-existing doom, mechanical failure, and sudden death. Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown has several stages: the intrapsychic stage, the dyadic stage, the social stage, and the grave dressing stage.

    Intrapsychic Phase

    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 anymore.'

    Dyadic Phase

    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 Phase

    At this stage, the dissatisfied partner discusses their issues with their partner and alerts their social circle. 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, but it is still possible. This phase normally leads to the dissolution of the relationship, and the threshold is ‘I mean it.'

    Grave Dressing Phase: Grave Dressing Definition

    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 the resurrection 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, flowers sprouting in a graveyard, StudySmarterFig. 2 - The grave dressing stage refers to how each partner attempts to maximise positive attributes after the relationship breakdown.

    Evaluation of Duck’s Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown

    Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown explores the different phases people in relationships go through when the relationship begins to decline. But what are the strengths and weaknesses of Duck’s phase model of relationship? Is the theory credible in the grand scheme of things? Let's explore this through an evaluation of Duck's phase model.

    Strengths

    First, let's examine the strengths of Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown.

    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 fault, 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 overcome the breakup. The model can help when a couple goes 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

    Now, let's explore some of the weaknesses of Duck's phase model of relationship breakdown.

    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 depressing.

    Subjectivity: 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 phase, the dyadic phase, the social phase, and the grave dressing phase. It is known as Duck's Phase Model of Relationship Breakdown.

    • The intrapsychic phase involves one partner realising their dissatisfaction in a relationship. The dyadic phase involved communication with the other partner about this dissatisfaction. The social phase refers to alerting family and friends, and the grave dressing phase refers to the minimisation of personal faults and maximisation of attributes at the end of a relationship.

    • Tashiro and Frazier (2003) support the model, finding that undergraduates who recently experienced a breakup reported personal growth.

    • The 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.

    • Weaknesses are that the model is subjective, has ethical issues, uses self-report data, and is subject to cultural bias.

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

    Describe and evaluate Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown.

    According to Duck (1982, 1998), relationships break down in five phases: the intrapsychic phase, the dyadic phase, the social phase, and the grave dressing phase. 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. 

    What are Duck's 1982 four stages of dissolving a relationship?

    According to Duck (1982, 1998), relationships break down in five phases: the intrapsychic phase, the dyadic phase, the social phase, and the grave dressing phase. 

    Why do relationships break down, according to psychology?

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

    What is the intrapsychic stage in the Duck phase model?

    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’.

    What is a 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’. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

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

    True or False: Duck added the resurrection phase in 2006, referring to when the partners move beyond the pain of breaking up and experience personal growth. 

    True or False: 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.   

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