In an earlier post, I began analyzing the marriage between Homer and Marge Simpson, one of America’s most enduring fictional TV couples. As mentioned then, analyzing the stability of any relationship can be done via application of the Investment Model,1 which states that commitment between partners derives from three sources: (1) satisfaction, (2) dependence (based on perceived alternatives), and (3) investment level.2 Whereas Part 1 of this series focused on satisfaction, in Part 2 we move on to the second variable: Dependence.
The extent to which we are dependent on a relationship is driven by perceived alternatives. We’ve all questioned a relationship at some point in our past, and one of the first questions to pop up is probably: If I weren’t in this relationship, what are my options? These perceived alternatives are referred to by Interdependence Theorists as CLalt or the “Comparison Level for Alternatives.”3 Alternatives include other people you could date, being single, or simply enjoying the company of your cat — whatever floats your boat. If you don’t have any other good options, you’ll probably stay in the current situation because it’s the best you can get (or at least, the best you think you can get). Are Homer and Marge dependent? Let’s consider their alternatives.
Like many married couples, opportunities arise for each of them to have an affair. Surprisingly, other women have found Homer attractive over the years, including Mindy (a beautiful co-worker at the power plant) and Lurleen, an up-and-coming country music singer. While both of these women provide opportunities and potentially rewarding outcomes (e.g., a varied sex life, increased income as Lurleen’s manager, etc.), Homer eventually rejects both of their advances, consciously choosing Marge and his established family life instead.
Marge has also considered other relationships. Most memorably, she almost had an affair with her bowling instructor, Jacques, after Homer gives her the infamous gift of a bowling ball with the word “Homer” engraved on it. Although she is greatly attracted to Jacques and entertains fantasies of what their lives would be like together, Marge also ultimately rejects this potential alternative in favor of staying with Homer.
Homer sums up the alternatives situation quite nicely in the episode “Large Marge,” when he reassures Marge that she’s the only woman for him: “Why would I want Purina when I’ve got Fancy Feast right here?” Repeatedly, both of them have chosen to stay together in spite of potential alternatives; the key is that they don’t perceive those alternatives as being better than what they already have. Awww….
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at the last piece of the Investment Model: Investments (hence the name).
1Rusbult, C. E. (1980). Commitment and satisfaction in romantic associations: A test of the investment model. Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, 16, 172-186.
2Le, B., & Agnew, C. R. (2003). Commitment and its theorized determinants: A meta-analysis of the Investment Model. Personal Relationships, 10, 37-57.
3Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: Wiley.
Dr. Wind Goodfriend – Articles | Website/CV
Dr. Goodfriend’s research focuses on cognitive bias within romantic relationships: how partners view each other in a subjective, instead of objective, way. These biases can sometimes be positive, but they can also perpetuate unhealthy or violent relationships.