aqa  A2 Option: Duck’s phase model of relationship breakdown: intra-psychic, dyadic, social and grave dressing phases.

Rollie and Duck

Outline: Duck refined his original 1982 theory of relationship breakdown to focus on the processes (e.g. patterns of communication) that typify relationship breakdown, rather than the distinct stages.

  • Breakdown: The turning point or threshold for this element is when one party decides that the relationship must end. If things do not improve, and dissatisfaction is great enough, they will move onto the next stage.
  • Intrapsychic processes: An individual who has reached the breakdown point looks hard at their relationship and may see the other partner in negative terms. This promotes social withdrawal, so that the individual can nurse their wounds and stock. More thinking than communicating occurs.
  • Dyadic processes: These processes begin once the person declares their resentment to the partner. The perceived problems are then aired and disputed by the partners. The relationship can be saved by effective communication and a resolve on the part of both parties to address the problems they are experiencing. However if the problems cannot be resolved then a split is announced.
  • Social processes: The intention to break up the relationship is made public. Advice from family or friends may mend the relationship or delay its conclusion.
  • Grave-dressing processes: The split has usually already occurred when these processes begin. It is when the ‘official’ account of the split is formulated by those involved. Accounts may differ between the partners. Grave-dressing is important in making sure their account of the split does not deter new partners by putting themselves in a good light.
  • Resurrection processes: It is the point when someone moves on, possibly to a new relationship. They learn from their previous mistakes and think about what they want in future relationships.


Issues & Debates
  • Role played in break-up important: Akert (1998) found that the role people played in the break-up was an important predictor in determining the impact of breakdown. Akert found that those who did not initiate the break-down were more likely to report being miserable afterwards. However, partners who initiated the break-up found the ending of the relationship less upsetting and less stressful than those who did not.
  • Ethnocentric Bias: Most research is based on data from White, middle-class individuals and therefore displays ethnocentric bias. Social expectations will affect the process of break-up. It could be argued that in a culture where divorce and separation is frowned on, the social processes phase will be received differently than in cultures where breakdown is more widely accepted. Similarly, in cultures where polygamy is practiced, the resurrection phase may not apply to individuals who have multiple partners already.
  • A heterosexual bias: The model has been developed from the experience of heterosexual individuals. As a result they may not represent gay and lesbian partnerships. For example if the couple have not told many people about their relationship, there may be less focus on the social processes stage. Similarly within heterosexual partnerships, there are many different types of relationship (married, co-habiting, dating), which may affect the break-up process.
  • Real life application: The model can have real-life application if used to prevent the break-down of a relationship. Duck claims that by paying attention to the topics people discuss and how they talk about their relationship, it may be possible to intervene before the break-down processes. This not only offers an indication about their stage in the process, but may also suggest interventions appropriate to that stage. For example:
    • An individual in the intrapsychic phase might be encouraged to think about the strengths of their partner and to reflect on their own contribution to the current problem.
    • Individuals who attempt to enlist support from others might be seen as being in the social phase, already committed to leaving and therefore in need to advise as to how to do it.