7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 11 - Power and Conflict in Marriage
People encounter enormous
lifetimes as they attempt to raise families and live their
lives. The text mentions stress that comes from within the
family, between husband and wife or between parents and
children.. But there are forces outside the family
that work to break it apart. Unfortunately, when marriages
fail, the family members often blame themselves. Think
about this table:
Stressful events can
occur inside the family, due either to normal day-to-day
living, or because of abnormal conditions. They can also
come from outside the family, in the course of normal
world conditions, or because of abnormal ones. Quite
often the symptoms of Abnormal stress are the same as
depending on the courage and fortitude of family members.
Similarly, Outside causes of stress can cause damage to
the family even though they are the fault of no one in the
family. Also, some families seem to do well when
under severe abnormal stress, while others can't seem to
withstand the slightest snag in their routine. While being
socialized, some people experience more of life, and
therefore have more experience to draw on in times of
crisis. Others are sheltered more from life's experiences,
and have less to use when faced with tough times. The
moral of the story is this:
The Issue of Power in
Marriage: Power is
the ability to get another person to think, feel, or do
something they would not have ordinarily done
spontaneously. If one possesses the means to affect
another, one has power vis-à-vis
that person. If one uses one's power, it is called influence. If one's influence is
successful, it is called control.
lead to Influence.
Influence can lead to Control. Each person in a relationship has
some power. It might be skewed to one person or the other.
To unfairly use one's power constitutes an injustice in a
marriage. Marriage can involve conflict and a struggle for
power within the relationship.
- Never think you are so smart that you have nothing to
learn from others and from life.
- Keep your eyes open and be slow to comment on what's
happening around you.
- Listen to people who are older than you when they
offer advice. You don't have to take their advice, but
they might say something that you can use.
- Conflict theorists regard issues of power and conflict
as central to all human interaction.
- Blood and Wolfe found four different patterns of power
in marriages: wife-dominant, husband dominant;
autonomic; and syncratic. Their methodology has been
criticized and criticism has also involved the point of
view that power involves more than simply who makes the
final decisions on specific issues.
- In fact, we need power - to have power is to have some
sense of control over our lives. Symbolic
interactionists emphasize that what is most important
involves whether people define their situation as one in
which they have some power. The use of power is
inevitable in an intimate relationship.
- There are different sources of power. Whoever has the
most resources will have the most power. One important
resource is money. There are other important
non-material resources: education, emotional support,
budgeting skills, the ability to organize and maintain
an efficient home, and parenting skills.
- Raven, Centers, and Rodrigues have identified six
different kinds of power that people can exert in a
marriage: coercive, reward, legitimate, expert,
referent, and informational.
It is one thing, as the
text suggests, to get one's spouse to perform some
specific behavior or service. It is quite another to get
one's spouse to engage in behavior that are against their
moral or ethical code. In order to maintain the balance of
power in a marriage relationship, the partners must
constantly work towards equality in the marriage.
Marriage may at times be
looked upon as a power
struggle. Reactance theory states that when
someone tries to force us to engage in a behavior, even
though the behavior is consistent with our attitudes, we
are likely to resist and even change our
attitudes. There are various ways that spouses can
attempt to either exert or avoid power when communicating
with each other. First, a conversation can be either
symmetrical or complementary. There are three types of
symmetrical discussions: competitive, neutralized, and
submissive. In complementary interaction, the two spouses
indicate agreement that one is dominant and the other is
Lack of conflict is not
necessarily the sign of a good marriage.
Areas of Conflict - conflict
is a direct result of power struggles in marriage.
- Healthy marriages have some degree of conflict.
Perhaps the most powerful predictor of whether a couple
will break up or stay together is the way they handle
- Conflict can have both positive and negative
consequences for a marriage. But conflict need not have
deleterious consequences. Well-managed conflict also has
a number of other positive functions: conflict brings
issues out into the open; conflict helps clarify issues;
conflict can promote growth; small conflicts help to
defuse more serious conflict; and conflict can create
and maintain an equitable balance of power.
- If a marriage is generally satisfying, the amount of
conflict tends to diminish over time. There are
countless topics that are the subject of marital
conflict, including decisions; attention and rewards;
division and fulfillment of responsibility; and sloppy,
impulsive, or careless behavior. People fight about
everything and anything.
A. Money - the number 1 area of conflict for people in
their first marriage (Remarried people fight about their
children more). Fighting about money can be resolved by:
To know what people fight
about is not necessarily to know why they fight. There are
social, interpersonal, and personal sources of tension.
B. Work - the 2nd biggest trouble maker is argument over
time spent at work - particularly husbands who work too
much! Other areas under work disagreements:
- Keeping track of debts and payments
- Careful checkbook management
- Keeping spending patterns of each person under
- Being in agreement about strategies for money
- Making spending decisions together
C. Sex - 3rd in frequency of disagreement is the general
area of sex - the frequency, the quality, and sometimes
- Should wife work outside the home?
- Balancing housework and chores with work outside -
who cleans what?.
- Child care and nurturing of children - equal child
- Relationship maintenance and romance - Time for the
couple or there will be no couple!
Destructive Consequences of
Conflict - If left
unresolved, conflict can fester into emotional wounds that
are hard to heal. The best practice is to never allow
conflict to continue for very long.
- Issues about money are a common battleground in
marriages. Another social factor is the illusions that
prevail in our society, including the notion that a
marriage can be conflict-free.
- Conflict also arises from tensions within the
relationship and within the individual spouses,
including the following areas: power and control,
nurturance, intimacy and privacy, trust, fidelity, and
differences in style.
A. Frustration = the emotion that is experienced when an
important need is being blocked or when an important
satisfaction is being denied.
Psychological Games - an interaction in which
each person in a conflict attacks the other - attempting
to score a "win" in stead of attacking the underlying
conflict. Psychological games are covert (hidden) and
B. Rejection and Betrayal - resulting in
- Rejection follows conflict involving a basic needs
- Emotional involvement with another person usually
involves dropping the defenses we normally keep in
place - Therefore: rejection by an intimate we have
come to trust and upon whom we rely is a very basic
form of Betrayal.
- Lowered Self-Esteem = We chip away at each other in
some sort of Zero-Sum Game we play. This devastates
- Displacement - when our feelings are hurt and we
suffer loss of self-esteem, we begin (unknowingly y
perhaps) to displace our feelings from the real cause
of the deprivation (who we are angry with and why) to
a more convenient or safer disagreement. Sexual
conflicts, for example are often displaced to safer
topics of discussion
Attack and Defense (styles of conflict)
There are different
styles of conflict. Competition involves a high concern
for oneself and a low concern for the other. Avoidance
involves little concern for your own interests or for the
interests of the other. Accommodation is the opposite of
competition; it is a neglect of one’s own interests in
order to pursue the interests of the other. Compromise
involves some concern about both one’s own interests and
the interests of the other. Collaboration is the opposite
of avoidance; it is a high degree of concern both for
one’s own interests and for the interests of the partner.
A. Authoritarian Resolution - "I win, you lose!"
Resolution - There
are certain principles of good fighting.
B. Permissive Acceptance - always giving in
C. Passive Aggression - "You go on, I'll just sit here -
ALONE!" - "Well, if you really want me to come with
E. Honest Resolution - the only strategy that has lasting
positive results is this one.
- Couples who have a strong relationship maintain their
perspective and save their energies for the issues that
are really important.
- There are tensions in life that can lead to marital
conflict, and people need to develop tension outlets.
- Avoiding the buildup of festering resentment means
that each partner must be open and honest about his or
- Many conflicts that could otherwise have been handled
constructively work out poorly for a couple simply
because they occurred at the wrong time.
- While communication is not a cure-all, it is important
not to handle conflict with the silent treatment or by
simply hoping that everything will turn out well with
the passage of time. One must communicate without
- People who are happily married for many years believe
in the importance of both accommodation and compromise
A. Leveling - saying what you mean, and how you feel. Try
to be aware of the source of conflict when it comes. Face
up to conflict, addressing it without becoming defensive
Conflict should be used
to attack problems, not one’s
spouse. Couples must
keep loving while they are fighting.
B. Active Listening - Focus your whole attention on the
other while they explain their complaints. Make gestures
that communicate understanding Occasionally stop the
explanation and clarify.
C. Attacking the Source of the Conflict and not the
D. Role Taking - actually put yourself in the other
person's place. Restate the problem from the other's point
E. Comparing Mutual Goals