When you are working with couples’ conflict resolution it might be helpful 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 those listed below:
Is what they are doing due to something…
- About them (rather than an external cause or trigger such as stress)?
- Not likely to change (rather than being a one-off, unusual event)?
- 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 kinds of ways listed above rather than in the alternative and more helpful ways enclosed in the brackets.
It may prove to be helpful 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 certainly found that marital satisfaction was more likely to be associated with the alternative kinds of interpretations – they leave room for optimism, negotiation and change.
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