7400.602 Family in Lifespan Perspective
Topic 11 - Power and Conflict in Marriage
People encounter enormous stress over their 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 Normal stress, 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:
  1. Never think you are so smart that you have nothing to learn from others and from life.
  2. Keep your eyes open and be slow to comment on what's happening around you.
  3. 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.
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.  Power can 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.
  • 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 submissive.

Lack of conflict is not necessarily the sign of a good 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 their differences.
  • 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.
Areas of Conflict - conflict is a direct result of power struggles in marriage.
    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:
    1. Keeping track of debts and payments
    2. Careful checkbook management
    3. Keeping spending patterns of each person under control.
    4. Being in agreement about strategies for money management
    5. Making spending decisions together
    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:
    1. Should wife work outside the home?
    2. Balancing housework and chores with work outside - who cleans what?.
    3. Child care and nurturing of children - equal child care responsibilities
    4. Relationship maintenance and romance - Time for the couple or there will be no couple!
    C. Sex - 3rd in frequency of disagreement is the general area of sex - the frequency, the quality, and sometimes infidelity.
To know what people fight about is not necessarily to know why they fight. There are social, interpersonal, and personal sources of tension.
  • 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.
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.
    A. Frustration = the emotion that is experienced when an important need is being blocked or when an important satisfaction is being denied.
    B. Rejection and Betrayal - resulting in
    1. Rejection follows conflict involving a basic needs going unmet
    2. 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.
    3. Lowered Self-Esteem = We chip away at each other in some sort of Zero-Sum Game we play. This devastates the relationship.
    4. 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
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 dishonest.

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!"
    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 you..."
    D. Evasion
    E. Honest Resolution - the only strategy that has lasting positive results is this one.
Constructive Conflict Resolution - There are certain principles of good fighting.
  • 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 her feelings.
  • 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 ceasing.
  • People who are happily married for many years believe in the importance of both accommodation and compromise in conflict
    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 or hostile.
    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 person.
    D. Role Taking - actually put yourself in the other person's place. Restate the problem from the other's point of view.
    E. Comparing Mutual Goals
Conflict should be used to attack problems, not one’s spouse.      Couples must keep loving while they are fighting.