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Lecture Notes: Week 10 Managing Conflict in Marriages and Families

Lecture Notes: Week 10 Managing Conflict in Marriages and Families

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Communication Managing Conflict in Marriages and Families

Conflict is a natural part of every relationship. In Week 10 Communication Managing Conflict in Marriages and Families, Research psychologists and family counselors recognize that denying conflict may be destructive to individuals and relationships. Family conflict itself is an inevitable part of normal family life. Research shows that two things distinguish unhappily married couples:

1-      failure to manage conflict

2-      the absence of positive affect or communication of affection between them


Family Cohesion: refers to the emotional bonding of family members.

             Stinnett’s Six Qualities of Strong Families:

1-      communicating appreciation for one another

2-      arranged their personal schedules so that they could do things together

3-      high degree of commitment to promoting one another’s happiness and welfare to the family group

4-      spiritual orientation; a sense of some power and purpose greater than themselves

5-      an ability to deal positively with crisis

6-      positive communication patterns


Active Listening: refers to paying close attention to what is being said. Involves giving feedback and checking it out. Active listening in communicating means letting the other person know you are hearing what is being said. You must let the other person know what you are hearing by using the following techniques:

Feedback: repeating what is said in one’s own words

Checking it out: checking in with the other person to see if your perception is correct

Listener backchannels: refers to the usual brief vocalizations, head nods, and facial movements that convey to the speaker that the listener is tracking what is being said.

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Conflict and Love: No marriage is perfect. As noted, “marital anger and conflict are necessary forces and a challenge to be met rather than avoided.

Passive-Aggression: when anger is expressed indirectly rather than directly. Examples are chronic criticism, nagging, nitpicking, sarcasm, and procrastination.

Sabotage: when one partner attempts to spoil or undermine some activity the other has planned.

Displacement: a person directs anger at people or things that the other cherishes

Communication and Conflict Management: Social psychologist John Gottman specializes in the field of marital communication. Using video cameras, he studied married couples. He kept in contact with more than 650 couples with whom he kept contact for as many as 14 years. Some highlights of the research are as follows:

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling.

Contempt: expressed as a feeling that one’s partner is inferior or undesirable

Criticism: making disapproving judgments or evaluations of one’s partner

Defensiveness: preparing to defend one’s self against what one presumes is an upcoming attack

Stonewalling: resistance, refusing to listen to one’s partner, particularly to a partner’s complaints

Belligerence: added later after additional research: a behavior that is provocative and that challenges the spouse’s power and authority

Gottman and his colleagues noted that these attitudes and behaviors are attributed to unhappy marriages and signal impending divorce. Noted is that they found similar patterns among gay and lesbian couples.

Gender Difference in Couple Communication

Report Talk: conversation aimed mainly at conveying information. Usually attributed to men

Rapport Talk: conversation aimed at gaining or reinforcing rapport or intimacy


Bonding Fights: Nine Guidelines

Although arguing is a normal part of most loving relationships, there are better and worse ways of managing conflict. Bonding fights often resolve issues and bring partners closer together by improving communication. The couple should focus on building up and not tearing down each other’s self-esteem. Bonding fights may be characterized by attitudes of and efforts at gentleness, soothing, and de-escalation of negativity. In bonding fights, both partners win.

Guideline 1: Level with Each Other: be candid, honest, open

Guideline 2: Avoid Attacks, Use I-Statements When You Can: allows for more communication, is

honest, less threatening.

Guideline 3: Avoid Mixed, or Double, Messages: simultaneous messages are confusing and


Guideline 4: Choose the Time and Place Carefully: avoid audiences when the partner is upset, tired,

or otherwise unprepared. Having “gripe times” or discussion times is helpful.

Guideline 5: Focus on Anger Only on Specific Issues: stay with the “now.” Don’t bring up the past.

Guideline 6: Ask for a Specific Change, but Be Open to Compromise: This promotes dialog and can

minimize resentment. Allows each partner to feel equal.

Guideline 7: Be Willing to Change Yourself: be prepared to deal with the compromise and make the

required changes. Action is a part of the communication process.

Guideline 8: Don’t Try to Win: If winning and losing is on the table, it will be harder for one partner

to assume the loser role. Look at the situation as a compromise, a meeting of the minds

for an acceptable alternative.

Guideline 9: Remember to End the Argument: Don’t go to bed with this lingering. Couples must

determine when to end. If there is no immediate solution, agree on when to resume the



Changing Conflict – Management Habits: 

One social scientist (Suzanne Steinmetz) traced patterns of how families resolve conflict. Her research showed that individual families assume consistent patterns or habits for facing conflict and that these patterns are passed from generation to generation. Thus, parents who physically abuse their children teach their children that abuse is an acceptable outlet for tension. This is a promotion of the “cycle of violence.”

It is also noted that regarding a generational change, some children will choose partners different from their parents regarding marital conflict style.

Another point is that newer generations are dealing with societal laws that may be useful in promoting alternatives to destructive means of communicating. An example would be the laws regarding domestic violence. Victims of domestic violence are learning they have the right to protect themselves against domestic violence. They are informed on how to pursue these rights. Another example is child abuse laws. Children learn of their rights in school and in advertisements and learn how to identify abuse. These are examples of how marital behavior can change despite dysfunctional family patterns.

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