Interdependence Theory

(Thibaut & Kelley)



A. Interdependence: the manner in which – as well as the

degree to which – interacting individuals act upon or

influence one another’s experiences, in reference to the fact

that the preferences, motives and behavior of the individual

are relevant to those of the interaction partner.


1. The defining feature of interpersonal relationships

is the interdependence between partners (Kelley, et al., 1983).


2. Interdependence is an elemental feature of social experience.


B. Fundamentals of interactions.


1. Interdependence theory identifies interaction as a

core feature of all interpersonal relationships.


2. Like all social exchange theories outcomes can be

conceptualized in terms of rewards and costs. Reward

equals positive consequences of an interaction and cost

refer to negative consequences.


3. Individuals are assumed to be goal-oriented, implicitly

seeking to obtain good outcomes and avoid bad outcomes.


D. Standards for evaluating interactions and relationships.


1. Comparison level (CL) refers to the quality of outcomes an individual has come to expect. CL is influenced by previous experience in relationships and social comparison.


2. Comparison level for alternatives (CL-alt) refers to the lowest level of outcomes an individual finds acceptable in light of outcomes obtainable elsewhere. CL-alt influenced not only by the attractiveness of specific alternate relationships but also by the desirability of the field of eligibles and the option of non-involvement.


3. CL influences feelings of satisfaction.

4. CL-alt affects dependence.

5. Satisfaction level refers to the degree to which a

relationship is experienced as gratifying.


   1. Although CL and CL-alt are described as static

phenomena, over the course of an ongoing relationship

these standards may change.