It was a Valentine’s Day oh so countless years ago. I had a crush on a girl in ~ my middle school, and I invested my meager pin money on a Valentine’s day gift because that her. I was excited, I gave it come her, she claimed thank you. I was end the moon. Later in the day–after school–she stopped by mine house and also gave me a small box the chocolates in return. Now this could sound strange, yet I to be crushed. Plainly she only got me something since I got her something! go she not just appreciate my authorize of affection?! It was all also clear the my gift did no much more than existing her with a new burden–to repay me.

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<1> Yes, I’m gift dramatic, yet I’m additionally stepping ago into mine 12-year-old brain, so forgive me. Also, of course ns ate the chocolates.

Perhaps you’ve had similar (if much less love-stricken) experiences once you just wanted to offer a gift because that the sake of giving a gift and the other human being responded choose he or she had actually to salary you earlier right away. Yet you might have had actually the opposite experience: one where you save helping who out and also they never seem to repay you. What’s the distinction there?

Exchange vs. Communal Relationships

A well-known model in society psychology figured out two general types of relationships, and also the key difference is in just how we give and receive “benefits.”

According to this model, “benefits” have the right to be all sorts that things, yet it’s anything that deserve to be exchanged in between partners in a relationship. So if my girlfriend brings me a sounveir when he’s comes house from vacation, that’s a advantage that I’ve received. If I offer to pay for my co-worker’s coffee, that’s a advantage that I’ve given.

In their standard 1979 paper, Margaret Clark and Judson Mills declared that countless relationships can be defined by just how they act the giving and also taking that benefits. Castle proposed two varieties of relationships: exchange relationship and communal relationships.


In an exchange relationship, there is the expectation the balance in giving and taking. Each human assumes that once one person offers a benefit, the or she need to then mean to get a comparable benefit from the various other person. It’s a clear case of “If I scratch your back, you’ll scratch mine.” If ns pay because that coffee today, you need to pay for coffee tomorrow. This kind of relationship involves keeping track of each person’s contributions and also making sure every little thing is even. These are varieties of relationships that company partners, acquaintances, and strangers have with each other.

Communal relationships, on the other hand, space less concerned with perfect balance in between partners. Instead, civilization in these relationship give benefits non-contingently. The is, lock don’t necessarily mean to be payment back. They provide simply since they’re looking out for the other person’s needs. Sure, you might hope the your partner in a communal partnership will additionally look the end for your needs, however you’re not keeping a spreadsheet of every person’s contributions. These are the types of relationships that families, friends, spouses, and also romantic partners tend to have.

Speedy Repayment Backfires in Communal Relationships

It can sound strange that people in communal relationships really aren’t that concerned around being paid earlier for what they provide the various other person. In fact, this idea flies in the challenge of a theory that was popular when the “exchange vs. Communal” concept came out: equity theory.

According to equity theory, human being are urged to maintain balance in your relationships. As soon as one person provided something for their partner, it would create a debt that need to be paid earlier for the relationship to thrive.

However, if communal relationships really are pertained to primarily through looking out for each other’s needs, then an equity theory purist would have actually a tough time explaining that. What perform you do once two theories make different predictions? You operation a study!<2> Or an ext accurately, someone runs a study. Probably you. Ya know, if you’re interested in that sort of thing.

Several studies have shown that as soon as people are trying to find an exchange relationship with someone, they’re upset if that human doesn’t return a favor. For example, if I realize that I’ve paid for drinks double in a row and also you never even offered, I’m upset around it.<3> Seriously, how could you?

Interestingly, though, in communal relationships, once one person quickly repays a favor, the other human is less happy around it. In communal relationships, it’s in reality unpleasant as soon as the other human tries come make things perfectly equal due to the fact that it misses the suggest of a communal relationship. In fact, the more people have tendency to treat their relationships as exchange relationships, the less satisfied they space in marriages since they end up dealing with what’s supposed to it is in a communal relationship favor an exchange relationship, i beg your pardon undermines the actions that do a marital relationship successful (being responsive to every other’s needs).

Some people are more Communal Overall

Although it’s true that some types of relationship (e.g., coworkers) are an ext likely to be exchange relationships and others (e.g., married couples) are much more likely come be communal ones, some civilization are likewise just an ext likely to be communal, nevertheless of the specific relationship. these are people who typically take people’s feelings right into account and go out of their method to aid other people.

People through such a “communal orientation” are more likely to help people, to express emotion in a relationship, come treat others fairly, and also to provide other people credit for success.

Just Two varieties of Relationships…

There castle are–the only two types of relationships! Okay, things are rarely as basic as that. Back the difference between “exchange” and “communal” relationships provides a good understanding that the nuances in relationships, it can’t call the entirety story. As Clark and also Mills have pointed out, not all relationship “must be communal or exchange in nature.” For instance, they suggest that exploitative relationship don’t plainly fit either “exchange” or “communal” definitions. Over there are likewise relationships that are a sort of “hybrid” or exchange and communal goals.

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Nevertheless, this two species of relationships carry out insight into what makes a relationship successful and also why it can not it is in a an excellent idea to treat your coworker precisely as you would certainly treat her parent…and angry versa.