According to Lauer and Lauer (2012), “a theory is an explanation.” A theory is a set of logically related propositions that explain some fact. Social scientists use theories not only to explain but to also guide research. The textbook explains the four theories briefly that contains the topic of marriages and families. The four theories discussed in Chapter 1 of the text is systems theory, exchange theory, symbolic interaction theory, and conflict theory. “Most theoretical perspectives used to study intimate relationships are derived from other disciplines” (Lauer & Lauer, 2012, p. 20).
System theory is the first theory that the book discusses. System theory is “an interdisciplinary theory about the nature of complex systems in nature, society, and science, and is a framework by which one can investigate and/or describe any group of objects that work together to produce some result.” A mixture of theories falls under the overall title of system theory, but all share certain assumptions. System theory in relation to marriage tends to be viewed as a whole and can carry unique characteristics that may make the marriage stand out from others. When looking at an intimate relationship, system theory states that the intimate group must be analyzed as a whole. The group has boundaries that distinguish it from other groups. Family therapists use system theory because humans respond primarily at the emotional level. Asking “what was the family system in which my partner grew up and how can my knowledge of that help me in our relationship?” can help understand system theory (Lauer & Lauer, 2012, p. 22).
Exchange theory is the second theory that the book discusses. Exchange theory view is that “social order as the unplanned outcome of acts of exchange between members of society.” The theory has roots in economics, psychology, and sociology.” According to Lauer and Lauer (2012), the term “‘you owe me one’ is a popular expression of exchange theory.” It states that we all try to keep our cost lower than our reward in interaction. Cost refers to such things as time, money, emotional, or intellectual energy, or anything else that an individual defines as part of their investment in a relationship. An example of exchange theory would be if a relationship continually cost us more than it rewards us, we are likely to avoid the person or break the relationship. Asking “Is our relationship less satisfying because one of us feels that is costs more than it’s worth?” can help understand exchange theory (Lauer & Lauer, 2012, p. 22)
Symbolic interaction theory is the third theory that the book discusses. According to Lauer and Lauer (2012), “symbolic interaction theory views humans primarily as cognitive creatures who are influenced and shaped by their interaction experiences.” This process of interaction is the formation of meanings for individuals. An important concept in symbolic interaction is definition of the situation. When referring to this concept, defining a situation as real has to have real consequences. An example of symbolic interaction theory would be if a man is jealous of his girlfriend because he thinks she is flirting with other men but in fact she is completely faithful to her boyfriend, yet he feels she is flirting; this will be real and can result in damaging consequences to the relationship. It all falls on how they define their situation.
Conflict theory is the last theory that the book discusses. According to Lauer and Lauer (2012), “conflict theory asserts that all societies are characterized by inequality, conflict, and changes as a group within the society struggle over scarce resources.” It is a theory that claims society is in a state of continuous conflict due to competition for limited resources. Prestige and wealth often form the basis for the most intense competitions. Conflict theory focus on two types of groups in family studies: social class and gender. An example of conflict theory focused on social class would be the higher your social class, the more resources you have available. An example of conflict theory focused on gender would be that feminists argue that the traditional family is a male-controlled arrangement that men use to maintain their power over women. These two types of groups are the most common in conflict theory when dealing with marriages and families.
In conclusion, theories are a crucial part of intimacy in relationships. “There is however, no single theory that encompasses that field of marriage and family (Lauer & Lauer, 2012, p. 20). Theory is an important part of the study of intimate relationships. Patterns of intimate relationships change over time.