Conflict and Violence

The Nature of Conflict

•      What is Conflict?

–   Incompatibility between people’s actions, goals, desires, opinions etc. Often including negative emotions.

•      Frequency of Conflict

–   Associated with personality characteristics (neuroticism), incompatible preferences, differences in life stages.

Conflict Topics and Issues

•      Events precipitating marital conflict:

–   Criticism – verbal or nonverbal events perceived as demeaning.

–   Illegitimate demands – being asked to do things outside the normal relationship expectations.

–   Rebuffs – seeking a desired reaction and not getting it.

–   Cumulative annoyances – repeated instances of small frustrations.  

Attributions and Conflict

•      Basic Propositions:

–   Conflict increases the frequency of seeking behavioral explanations as opposed to during more pleasant interactions.

–   During conflict people take a benign view of their own motives, find excuses.

–   Conflicts may start as factual disputes and become attributional conflict over motives.


Differences Between Happy and Unhappy Couples

•      Unhappy

•      Distress maintaining causal attributions.

•      Internal, stable and global negative attributions.

•      Specific attributions for positive behavior.

•      Perceive selfish motives, negative intentions

•      Happy

•      Relationship-enhancing causal attributions.

•      Internal, stable,global positive attributions.

•      Specific attributions for negative behavior.

•      Do not

The Middle Stages of Conflict

•      Escalation, Threats and Entrapment

–   In conflict two responses are escalation or negotiation.

–   Escalation – generalization of issues, blaming the other person, personal attacks, intensified demands, and threats.

–   Escalation can result in entrapment, being unable to retreat from a position taken.


•      The Demand/Withdrawal Pattern

–   One person approaches about a problem, the partner avoids the issue.

–   Women are twice as likely as men to be the person making demands. 60/30/10


–   Why? 


•      Biological differences

•      Personality differences

•      Conflict-structure hypothesis

–   The partner wishing cooperation from the othe in an activity is put in the role of the demanding one.  This is often the woman, who is seeking a change in the man’s behavior, often related to attention and affection. Woman demand/ man withdraw is associated with decline of marital satisfaction.


•      Negotiation and Accommodation  besides escalation and negativity, rational problem solving also exists.

–   Negotiation – state positions exchange information, work towards solutions

–   Accommodation – inhibiting the impulse to respond negatively and reacting constructively in the face of destructive behavior.




•      Responding to Conflict

–   Exit – leaving the partner, threatening to end the relationship, abuse, i.e., yelling or hitting.

–   Voice – active constructive behavior, discussing problems, changing behavior obtaining advice.

–   Loyalty – passive constructive manner, optimistically waiting for conditions to improve

–   Neglect – passive destructive, avoiding discussion etc.

Conflict: 4 Types of Couples

•      Volatiles – extreme expressiveness and involvement, try to persuade each other

•      Validators – calmer, relaxed discussion, appear to be working on problem, take stock at the beginning

•      Avoiders – no strategy for conflict, hope time will take care of it

•      Hostiles – negativity, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, withdrawal, flooding (eruption of strong negative affect).

Termination and Outcomes of Conflict

•      Separation – withdraw without resolution

•      Domination – one person gets way, other gives in

•      Compromise – alternative acceptable to both, but optimal to neither

•      Integrative agreement – both partners original goals are met

•      Structural agreement – improves the relationship of the partners beyond the time of the conflict.

Can Fighting Be Good for a Relationship?

•      What do you think?






•      See table 12.3 on page 353 for fight effects.

Violence in Relationships

•      51.9% of women and 64% of men reported being physically assaulted at some time in their lives.

•      22.1% of women and 7.4% of men have been assaulted by in intimate partner.

•      Most common forms of violence are slapping or hitting, pushing, grabbing or shoving. 9.6% of men have been victims of knife attacks.

•      1.9 million women U.S. women assaulted annually---one every 17 seconds. See Figure 12.4 page 355.

Types of Couple Violence

•      Common couple violence – conflicts that get out of hand, minor forms of aggression that rarely escalate out of control.

•      Patriarchal terrorism – violence emanating from control, uses tactics like threats, isolation, and economic subordination. Escalates over time, causes injury and PTSD, depression. 4 times as likely to have left husbands multiple times.

•      Mutual violent control – both partners controlling and violent

•      Violent resistants – both partners violent, but the reisistant partner is acting in self-defense.

Gender Differences in Partner Violence

•      1985 Family Violence survey found 12.1% of women and 11.3% of men reported committing a violent act against their spouse in the preceding year.

•      Severe acts 4.4% of women and 3% of men had acted violently.

•      What accounts for this finding? 



•      Patriarchal Terrorism almost exclusively male.

•      Common couple violence gender symmetric

•      Violent resistance almost exclusively female.

Correlates of Violence

•      Stressful events – unemployment, unplanned pregnancy

•      Low socioeconomic status, low income, little education

•      Family background – growing up in a violent family

Why Don’t They All Leave?

•      Over 40% of women seeking aid in shelters return to their partners

•      In one study:

–   43% remained unattached 20%, 23% in non-abusive relationships.

–   23% with partners, but one year no violence.

–   33% still in abusive relationship 25% victims, 8% both victims and perpetrators.



•      Economic status – women who leave more likely to be employed than those who stay.

•      Commitment may turn in to entrapment

•      Love – the greater the investment in time and affection in the relationship the harder to leave.

•      Fear of greater violence.

Violence in Premarital Relationships

•      22.3% of undergraduates report that violence had occurred in their relationships.

•      One person using force – 22% female, 10% males.

•      Using force the previous year – 37% men and 35% of women.

•      More men  (39%) than women (32%) reported partners had used force against him.



•      Reasons:

•      Anger

•      Control (males)

•      Self-defense (females)