Romantic Relationships: Duck's Model of Relationship Breakdown

Updated on July 18, 2019
Angel Harper profile image

Angel is currently studying for her A-levels (English, Sociology and Psychology) in the hopes to go to university next year.

We've all experienced breakups one way or another; whether it's our own or our friends, or even our favorite celebrity couple. Duck proposes that when experiencing a breakup we go through a series of stages.


The Model of Relationship Breakdown

Duck's model explains what stages we go through when experiencing the end of a romantic relationship; the model consists of five stages, although Duck later added a sixth.

  • The first stage is breakdown which is when partners become distressed about their relationship and feel dissatisfied.
  • Once these feelings become more intense, they enter the intrapsychic phase where an individual will begin to focus on the negative emotions associated with their relationship but do not voice these feelings openly yet.
  • During the dyadic phase, an individual may communicate their distress to their partner. This stage may consist of many arguments and feelings of anger, sadness or guilt.
  • If the issues addressed are still not resolved, individuals enter the social phase. In this section, friends and family become aware of the struggling relationship. They might try to help solve their problems, or they may pick sides and encourage the breakup.
  • Once the couple has broken up, they experience the grave-dressing phase in which individuals formulate stories to imply that it was not their fault. They do this in order to preserve their 'social credit' so that their reputation is not damaged for future use.

The sixth stage was added later after Duck realised that the model fails to include the possibility of personal growth. Rollie and Duck included a final resurrection process where individuals are able to learn from the past and experience personal growth. This is supported by Tashiro and Frazier who studies 92 students who had experienced a breakup. Although they had felt distressed, they also experienced personal growth.

Duck's Model of Relationship Breakdown
Duck's Model of Relationship Breakdown

Supporting Research in Romantic Relationships

There has been lots of research to support the grave dressing phase of the model. Although Monroe et al found that students who experienced a breakup were more likely to become depressed, Tashiro and Frazier observed that when an individual focussed on the situation, not their own personal flaws they felt better. For example, a long distance couple broke up because one cheated on the other. Rather than doting over personal flaws, to feel better they would look at how their long-distance relationship may be the reason behind their actions. This shows how people deal with breakups by trying to leave their 'social credit' intact- providing support for the grave dressing phase.

An advantage of Duck's model of relationship breakdown is that is has provided help for real-life relationships. The model stresses the importance of communication and how to fix a turbulent relationship. Not all relationships end in heartbreak, and the model implies that if issues are resolved early on, a couple won't have to progress through every stage of the model. It suggests that intervention from friends and family is key to encouraging individuals to try to salvage their relationship. This means that Duck's understanding of relationship breakdown can help couples prevent experiencing it themselves.

Limitations of the Breakdown Model

A limitation of the model is that the social phase is different depending on the type of relationship. For example, teenager relationships are less stable as they are often treated as a 'testing ground' for future relationships. Friends are likely to approach relationship issues with an 'oh well, there are plenty more fish in the sea' attitude. In contrast, older adults have a lower expectation of finding a replacement. This means the social phase for adults may focus more on attempting to resolve issues and maintain the relationship. The model may not be universal as differences such as age may affect attitudes and beliefs regarding relationships.

There is also an issue with research on this topic. Participants will have to discuss very personal and distressing events which may cause psychological harm. Due to the nature of the studies, participants may also wish for their identity to remain anonymous, especially if their previous relationship was abusive. These ethical concerns make research difficult because it is socially sensitive and could potentially result in harm. To reduce this possibility, researchers provide all participants with debriefing after the study.


Real World Application

Do you feel this model is a universal experience? Perhaps you have gone through your own heartbreaking splits with a partner. One could even apply the model to celebrity breakups. For instance, the recent split of Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson. Although we cannot really take a look at the dyadic and intrapsychic phases as those are private, we can see examples of the social and grave dressing phases. The news website eonline claims Davidson has "a strong support system of family and friends around him" (an example of the social phase). We can also see instances of the grave dressing phase where both of them imply that it is not their fault. Davidson says "I'm a good guy that just keeps getting kicked in the £@$%." According to etonline Grande posted a week after the breakup that she wanted to "get rid of toxicity".

To Conclude

Duck's model proposes that during a breakup, individuals go through six phases: breakdown, intrapsychic, dyadic, social, grave dressing and the resurrection process.

Research supports this model and has even found that it can be used to prevent breakups. However, some argue that the model ignores individual differences. There are also ethical issues with research on this topic due to the potential harm of talking about traumatic events.


Cardwell, M., Flanagan, C. (2016) Psychology A level The Complete Companion Student Book fourth edition. Published by Oxford University Press, United Kingdom.

© 2018 Angel Harper


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    • Asad Dillz profile image

      Asad Dillz Khan 

      12 months ago from United Kingdom

      An amazing and interesting writing! Well written article Angel! Nicely done and good job!

    • Angel Harper profile imageAUTHOR

      Angel Harper 

      18 months ago

      Quinapondan, I agree! I think the final stage brings some optimism to the breakup experience, so I'm glad it was added in. Thanks for reading and commenting, I really appreciate it!

    • manunulat profile image

      Jason Behm 

      19 months ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Interesting article.

      I have observed those stages from my friends and I am glad to know that Duck added the last phase, Resurrection Stage. At least, in his model, we could see hope in it. And, we should truly learn from our mistakes from the previous relationships we have or else we will be having a cycle of the stages which I believe we don't want to undergo over and over again.

    • Angel Harper profile imageAUTHOR

      Angel Harper 

      19 months ago

      dashingscorpio, very fascinating points, I don't know if Duck took gender into account, but it would certainly be interesting to study gender differences.

      I read somewhere that the reason more women initiate divorces is that women are more aware of sexism and less tolerant of it now that there are more career opportunities available for them. Although I also can't help but wonder whether women maybe also have a more Romanticised expectation for relationships, where they seek romance in the form of Hollywood movies so are pickier? I think Beck and Giddens say something similar about how people are now looking for a 'pure' relationship...

      Oh! I hadn't even thought about narcissists! How interesting! I guess that same goes for psychopaths as well.

    • dashingscorpio profile image


      20 months ago from Chicago

      Another interesting topic!

      "Friends are likely to approach relationship issues with an 'oh well, there are plenty more fish in the sea' attitude. In contrast, older adults have a lower expectation of finding a replacement."

      I wonder if Duck's model also took (gender) into account.

      A 35 or 40 year old male may have a high expectation of finding a replacement and still being able to start a family. According to one statistic I read divorced men are likely to remarry sooner than divorced women. Senior online dating sites contain more women.

      An AARP survey conducted several years ago revealed in the U.S. women (initiate) 66% or 2/3rds of divorce filings.

      One theory for this compared to the 1960s and previous eras is women are not likely to be as financially dependent on their husbands. Better career opportunities and higher income.

      The more options one has the less crap they will put up with! :)

      Some people stay in toxic and unsatisfying relationships because they really do not believe they can do any better. Others feel like they've already "invested" so much time in their current relationship and simply dread the thought of "starting over" with someone new. We are where we choose to be.

      No one is "stuck" with anyone. Suffering is optional.

      Another factor to consider with Duck's model involves overlooking{narcissistic people}. They most likely do not experience a lot of "grieving" when a relationship comes to an end. If anything they believe they can get their ex back if they really wanted to.

      As Vivien Leigh said at the end of 'Gone With The Wind'.

      "After all tomorrow is another day."


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