On Wednesday, November 8th, the topic in my communication class was relationships. I always ask my students how they can improve their interpersonal communication. This  is one of my favorite topics to discuss because no matter how introverted some students may be, this chapter always gets head nods and contemplative facial responses.

Social-Exchange-TheoryOne of the chapter concepts was social exchange theory, which I truly enjoy demonstrating.  To introduce it, I use banking as an example. One student has an imaginary balance in her/his account and as the scenario continues, each student has borrowed money from the account holder for various reasons. Somewhere between these transactions, the account holder experiences a couple of “pay days” and receives a direct deposit into their account. We calculate the total of the withdrawals and the deposits – what was lent to friends/family and the balance we could have had if little to no lending took place. Usually, students have voiced their opinions by this point about how the account holder shouldn’t have been so giving and how in “real life,” they would never lend out so much money. Then, I pose the following –

“If we are so careful with our money to monitor what is coming and going, why aren’t we just as careful with our relationships? You can give of your time, energy, and resources, but if that person does something you like, it’s like a pay day and all’s right with the world and you forget about their offenses. What if the deposits and withdrawals don’t balance out relationally? How do we determine whether the cost is worth paying? Before we are offended, how do we communicate our needs to the people we love?”

It’s generally quiet in the room after that spill with a grunt or two. I love it. It means they are thinking.

One of the corollaries of social exchange theory is that if the perceived cost is higher than the perceived reward, we will continue to remain in the relationship. It doesn’t matter if it is familial, platonic, professional, or romantic – we will stay if the cost of leaving seems too high. So, I am asking you, Sweetheart, what are the costs of your relationships? Do you do anything that perpetuates low benefits and high costs? Relationships will never be equitable at all times, but are we monitoring the costs of our exchanges like we monitor our money?

When the cost is worth it, it is called an investment. Let’s try to keep the costs low and the investments high.

Peace & Thanks for listening!

Featured image courtesy of ClipArtBarn.com
In-text image courtesy of Sam Owen, Relationship Coach

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