PREPARE/ENRICH: Dealing with Conflict

When you are working with couples’ and the area of conflict resolution, it might be useful to encourage couples to think about how they interpret the reasons for any unhelpful behaviours or attitudes that their partner might be engaging in or expressing.

Frank Fincham and Thomas Bradbury (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1992, 64, 613-628) have analysed this process of interpreting the reasons for the behaviour of others.

They suggest that we tend to answer a series of questions such as the following:

  • Is what they are doing due to something about me (rather than an external cause or trigger such as stress)?
  • Is it due to something not likely to change (rather than being a one-off, unusual event)?
  • Is it an issue that impacts on everything (rather than being limited and contained)?
  • And did they …

  • Intend to do it (rather than blundering in)?
  • Aim to be selfish (rather than having non-selfish or mixed motives)?
  • Fully deserve to be blamed (rather than sharing blame or blame being irrelevant)?
  • Couples sometimes interpret their partner’s behaviour and attitudes by answering these questions in the very pessimistic, universalising and negative ways rather than in the alternative and more helpful ways enclosed in the brackets.

    It may prove useful to encourage couples to challenge their interpretations of the reasons for their partner’s unhelpful responses to conflict and unhelpful ways of attempting to resolve conflict. Fincham and Bradbury found that when marital satisfaction was associated with the alternative kinds of interpretations – these couples leave room for optimism, negotiation and change.

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