What Are the Main Principles of the Social Exchange Theory of Relationships?


Vincent White

The Social Exchange Theory of Relationships is a psychological concept that explains why individuals choose to enter and maintain relationships with others. This theory suggests that people engage in social interactions because they believe it will result in a positive outcome for themselves.

So, what are the main principles of this theory? Let’s dive in.

Principle 1: Rewards and Costs
According to the Social Exchange Theory, every relationship involves rewards and costs. Rewards can be anything from emotional support to material benefits, while costs can range from time investment to financial expenses. People tend to seek relationships where the rewards outweigh the costs.

Principle 2: Comparison Level
The comparison level is an individual’s expectation of what they deserve or what they can get out of a relationship. This level is based on past experiences, cultural values, and societal norms. People tend to stay in relationships where their outcomes meet or exceed their comparison level.

Principle 3: Comparison Level for Alternatives
The comparison level for alternatives is an individual’s evaluation of other potential relationships that could provide better rewards or fewer costs than their current relationship. People tend to stay in relationships when they perceive no better alternative.

Principle 4: Equity
Equity refers to the balance between rewards and costs for both individuals in a relationship. When both partners perceive fairness or equity in a relationship, they are more likely to remain committed.

Principle 5: Communal Relationships
In communal relationships, partners feel responsible for each other’s well-being and prioritize the needs of their partner over their own. These types of relationships are often more satisfying than those based solely on exchange principles.

The Impact of Social Exchange Theory on Relationships

Social Exchange Theory has significant implications for our understanding of how individuals evaluate and approach their interpersonal interactions. It suggests that individuals are rational actors who weigh the costs and benefits of their relationships. The theory also highlights the importance of fairness and equity in relationships.


In conclusion, the Social Exchange Theory of Relationships provides a framework for understanding why people enter and maintain relationships. The principles of rewards and costs, comparison levels, equity, and communal relationships all play a role in determining the success and satisfaction of a relationship. By understanding these principles, individuals can make informed decisions about their relationships and work towards creating healthy and equitable partnerships.