If you’ve ever tried to work out a problem with your partner, you know it can be a situation with tension, heightened negative emotion and perhaps a face-off of epic proportions until one of you “wins.” If one partner disengages by avoiding the issue or not treating it seriously, the other partner may feel that the discussion falls flat and nothing is truly resolved. The cooperation of both partners is essential when coping with disagreements; it plays a role in how emotions rise and fall during and after conflict.
Entries in conflict (35)
I’ve noticed that, come speech time at weddings (my favorite part), there is a certain piece of advice that will almost certainly be uttered into the microphone. Whether it’s the father of the bride, a long-married matron of honor, or the groom’s batty Aunt Rose, someone always seems to advise the cheery newlyweds to “never go to bed angry.” Does this little nugget of wisdom truly deserve to surpass “be kind to each other” or “do the dishes without being asked”? Probably so; if you’re concerned about getting a good night’s sleep, “never go to bed angry” just might be the best advice out there.
You: “I’m sorry I was late picking you up today…”
Your partner responds: “That’s okay; it happens...”
Your partner thinks: “But it always seems to happen to YOU!”
Wouldn’t it be great to know what your partner was thinking about during a disagreement? Having a sense of his or her thoughts during a conflict could provide an important window into how your partner feels about you and might indicate how satisfied (or dissatisfied) your partner is with the relationship overall. Similarly, what your partner thinks about during a conflict might be associated with your satisfaction as well. For example, you might pick up on their annoyance with your tardiness, which might make you annoyed with them!
Relationship researchers would also love to “get inside your head” during an argument. But if you are in the midst of resolving a conflict by talking with your partner, how would you simultaneously describe what you’re thinking about?
How did you sleep last night? Did you wake up this morning feeling refreshed and energized, or were you fatigued and sluggish? Your answers to these questions may provide insight into how you will interact with your romantic partner today.
Sometimes people’s eyes get wide when I tell them that I’m a psychologist who studies dreams, and they immediately start confiding in me about their “weird/crazy/strange/vivid” dreams that often include similar themes (like their teeth falling out). Then they ask me what it means, and to their disappointment, I tell them that based on the limited scientific data on dreams, we just don’t know. Despite what some artists, philosophers, or “psychics” might tell you, there’s no universal codebook that helps you translate content from a dream into direct meaning. Instead, the human mind constructs dreams based on unique experiences (some psychologists have said that dreams are like mental fingerprints). Perhaps someone had their teeth painfully pulled at the dentist or wore braces at a young age, and perhaps another person got a tooth chipped (or knocked out) while playing sports. Those two people with different “teeth experiences” could form dreams with very different meanings, even if they both contain teeth as a central image. The dreams you have likely represents your unique conception rather than some universal symbolic meaning.
But what about relationship dreams?
My brother is married to a passive aggressive woman and he is very unhappy in his relationship. I have a friend who just got engaged to a passive-aggressive woman. Both my friend and my brother have developed quite a few negative personality traits that make me not want to be around or even talk to them. Do you think it's their true natures coming out (ages 35-40) or the result of relationships with passive aggressive women?
Great question! I am sorry that you are having a difficult time being around your friend and brother right now. Passive-aggressive behaviors, which are hostile and resistant actions that a person expresses in very subtle or indirect ways, are not fun to experience. For example, your sister-in-law might give your brother the “cold shoulder” to show she is angry and defiant rather than telling him about the real reason she is she upset about something.
If you are in a romantic relationship, it is nearly inevitable that you will experience conflict with your partner at some point. How you deal with conflict influences your relationship. When disagreements arise, some people manage them better than others. For example, some are able to talk through their problems in a supportive and respectful manner, whereas others fail to express their concerns and resolve their disagreements. These different conflict resolution skills (or lack thereof) come from many places, but recent research in Psychological Science suggests that your family climate during your adolescence may have something to do with how you manage conflict as an adult.
I kicked off SPSP this year by attending the close relationships pre-conference where Dr. Emily Impett (my mentor) received the Early Career Award. In her award address, Dr. Impett presented research on how we may give up our self-interests to meet our relationship partner’s needs, and when this can be beneficial and when it is may be less ideal.
When the Beatles proclaimed that “love is all you need,” little did they know these lyrics would be subjected to scientific scrutiny. Indeed, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, the classic song holds some truth for real relationships. Specifically, relationship success may depend not only on fighting less, but also on being more affectionate in contexts where positive, loving behavior is appropriate or expected. While relationships research has historically focused on alleviating negative communication patterns and distress, such as during conflict, a number of recent studies have explored the role of positive processes in promoting optimal relationship functioning.
Think about the last time you had a crush. What did it feel like? Chances are this experience involved overwhelming feelings of passion, confusion and excitement. Relationship researchers often refer to this experience as passionate love,1 or “Eros.”2 When someone is in this state of crush, thoughts about their partner (or desired partner) dominate their mind. Further, a person often thinks about their crush in highly idealized ways; their partner is the most beautiful, intelligent, and compassionate person in the world, and there is simply no way you can convince the crush-er otherwise.
Although common when someone is crushing, these idealizations—called positive illusions3—can occur at any relationship stage.
To determine how partners’ relative body weights affect their relationships, researchers collected data from couples of varying girth profiles (e.g., both healthy weight, both overweight, or mismatched weights). Couples responded about their daily conflict and the frequency with which they ate meals (and, presumably, Cheetos) together. Couples with an overweight woman and healthy-weight man experienced the greatest level of conflict; overweight male - healthy female couples had the lowest levels of conflict. Importantly, mismatched-weight couples who ate together more frequently reported more conflict, regardless of which partner was overweight (apparently, it’s a lot easier to be critical if you see what your partner eats).
Burke, T. J., Randall, A. K., Corkery, S. A., Young, V. J., & Butler, E. A. (in press, 2012). “You’re going to eat that?” Relationship processes and conflict among mixed-weight couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. doi: 10.1177/0265407512451199
High conflict with an ex-husband spills over negatively onto women’s relationships with their children. In a recent survey of a random sample of 1,239 divorced mothers, conflict with an ex-husband was associated with increased feelings of parental stress -- the greater the conflict, the more mothers felt their children were challenging to deal with (acting out, tantrums, etc.). This stress reduced the quality of mother-child interactions. The researchers proposed that mediated communication between ex-spouses, such as with a lawyer or psychologist, could help alleviate some of this conflict and improve family relations.
Hakvoort, E. M., Bos, H. M. W., Van Balen, F., & Hermanns, J. M. A. (2012). Spillover between mothers’ postdivorce relationships: The mediating role of parenting stress. Personal Relationships, 19, 247-254.
image source: parentdish.co.uk
"Sacrificing your happiness for the happiness of the one you love, is by far, the truest type of love." This famous quotation says it all: Making sacrifices, whether big or small, is a crucial ingredient of successful relationships. Unfortunately, making sacrifices for our partners or our relationships doesn’t always feel good. Compromising one’s goals and desires can sometimes bring about anger, sadness, and resentment. People cope with these emotions in different ways: While some people openly express their feelings, others choose to hide their feelings from their partners. Who’s right? What is the better way to cope with not-so-good feelings that can come with making a sacrifice?
Last week we were fortunate to publish a post on cohabitation guest-authored by two of the foremost experts on the topic. Their research addresses one of the more controversial and hotly-debated patterns of findings in the relationship science world: the marriages of couples that live together (cohabit) before tying the knot often fare worse than the marriages of couples that do not cohabit prior to marrying (commonly referred to as “the cohabitation effect”). There are a number of possible explanations for this effect, (and remember, correlation does not equal causation), but the purpose of this follow-up post is not to dig into those explanations (for now). Rather, I want to put the authors’ key conclusion in context for all those who might be second-guessing their decision to shack up after reading this post.
Many people assume that having conflict in a relationship reduces sexual desire and relationship satisfaction. Yet, conflict may also present a constructive opportunity for partners to discuss important relationship issues, or it may simply create a general sense of arousal that transforms into sexual excitement.
Many people believe that living together before marriage is a good idea because it helps couples test out whether they are a good fit and ready for marriage. Is he too messy? Does he leave the toilet seat open? Is her mother too involved? Is she a neat-freak? Can we manage finances well enough together? Many think that cohabiting will teach us something important about each other that we need to know before tying the knot. It’s counterintuitive then that some research indicates the living together before marriage, particularly before engagement, is associated with higher risks for divorce.
A new Relationship Matters (the official podcast of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships) has just been released. Dr. Tamara Afifi (Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) talks about why women find (conflict) avoidance more dissatisfying than men. Check it out here.
Let’s face it: Many marriages end. Divorce occurs for a variety of reasons, but regardless of the cause, ex-partners often need to negotiate with one another during the divorce process. For example, if there are kids in the picture, how is custody resolved? How does the couple divide up their friends? Who gets to keep the reality TV show that helped pay the bills?
You awaken with a startle, the clang of metal against metal resounding in your ears. To your left, someone’s scream of anguish is cut ominously short. To your right, a primal war cry, mixed with the menacing growls of large feral creatures, chills you to the bone. You bolt up from the couch in a panic, only to find that you’re not in danger after all, at least not of being gutted by a Death Knight. However, your gamer spouse, who is stabbing frantically at the keyboard, eyes glued to the battle unfolding on the computer screen, might be missing some vital limbs soon if you don’t both get some sleep.