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National MFT Exam Study System

QS: Social Exchange Theory

● First developed by George Homans in the 1960’s.

● Humans seek rewards and avoid punishments.
● Humans are rational beings.
● Most gratification among humans is located in others.
● The standards that humans use to evaluate costs and rewards vary over time
and from person to person.

Theory of Change: People weigh the benefits and risks of social relationships. When a
risk outweighs the benefits, an individual may abandon that relationship.
● Stable relationships are characterized by a ration of negative to positive
behaviors of 1:5.

Role of the Therapist:

● Assist the couple in identifying and changing problematic behaviors.
● Increase positive behaviors within the relationship.

Main Concepts:
● Relationship satisfaction is a function of the ratio of positive to negative
● Costs are the elements of a relationship that have a negative value to a person
such as money, time, and effort
● Rewards/Benefits are the elements of a relationship that have positive value
such as companionship, social support, and having fun.
● Therefore the basic formula for predicting the behavior for any socialized
individual in any situation is:
○ Behavior (Profits)=Rewards of interaction-Cost of interaction.

Treatment Goals:
● Improve communication and problem-solving skills.
● Cognitive restructuring.
● Emotional communication skills training.
● Enhance Acceptance.

Quick Study: Social Exchange Theory Page 1 of 2

© 2018, The Therapist Development Center.
National MFT Exam Study System

● Behavioral Exchange: The purpose is to increase positive behaviors.
○ Individuals identify positive behaviors that can be done for their partner
and then they implement those behaviors.
○ These behaviors should be done independently without informing the
partner, starting small and then increasing the frequency of behaviors over
● Schedule Pleasant Events: Couples who are distressed may avoid spending
time together in anticipation of conflict.
○ Couples identify activities they would like to take part in and then problem
solving takes place around potential barriers.
○ The goal is to create an event that results in a positive experience
● Self-Regulation: Satisfaction in a relationship changes when an individual
makes efforts to change his or her own behaviors, thoughts, and emotions.
○ Each individual is encouraged to come up with ways to identify and
decrease their own problematic behavior.

Example: A man is in a relationship where he is always the one making the plans, goes
out of his way to see his partner, and gives up a lot of time to help the other person. His
partner rarely contributes to the relationship and is unsupportive of his career choice.
The man is most likely to abandon that relationship because in this case the costs
outweigh the benefits.

Quick Study: Social Exchange Theory Page 2 of 2

© 2018, The Therapist Development Center.