Couples in Conflict

Couples in Conflict

Couples in Conflict

Couples in Conflict

Synopsis

This volume is based on the presentations and discussions of a national symposium on "Couples in Conflict" that focused on family issues. A common thread throughout is that constructive conflict and negotiation are beneficial for relationships. Together, the chapters provide a foundation for thinking about creative ways in which our society can work to prevent or minimize destructive couple conflict and to enhance couples' abilities to constructively handle their differences. Divided into four parts, this book: *addresses the societal and bioevolutionary underpinnings of couple conflict; *presents the interpersonal roots of couple conflict and the consequences for individuals and couples; *discusses what effects couple conflict have on children and how individual differences in children moderate these effects; and *outlines the issue of policies and programs that address couple conflict. This book concludes with an essay that pulls these four themes together and points to new directions for research and program efforts.

Excerpt

Couple conflict is an important antecedent of domestic violence, ineffective parenting, and marital dissolution, phenomena that threaten the strong functioning of contemporary families and the adults and children living in families. As such, couple conflict is a topic of critical importance to family scholars and those charged with developing policies and programs in this area. Not all couple conflict is damaging, however. Indeed, a thread running through this volume is that constructive conflict and negotiation is beneficial for relationships. Together, the chapters in this volume provide a foundation for thinking about creative ways in which our society can work to prevent or minimize destructive couple conflict and to enhance couples' abilities to constructively handle their differences.

The chapters in this volume are based on the presentations and discussions from a national symposium on “Couples in Conflict” held at the Pennsylvania State University, November 1–2, 1999, as the seventh in a series of annual interdisciplinary symposia focused on family issues. The book is divided into four sections, each dealing with a different aspect of couple conflict. The first section addresses the question “What are the societal and bioevolutionary underpinnings of couple conflict?” Evolutionary psychologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson make a case for why couple conflict may be the legacy of reproductive fitness strategies selected for over the course of human evolution. Drawing on several national data sets focused on homicides perpetrated by spouses or partners, they argue that women in cohabiting relationships are particularly at risk. Jay Belsky, a developmental researcher, elaborates on the evolutionary argument in his remarks. In contrast, clinical psychologist Rena L. Repetti cautions that there are many possible alternative explanations for the empirical data that Daly and Wilson present, including selection effects into and out of marriage and cohabitation. Demographer Frances K. Goldscheider concurs that contemporary Western culture offers a variety of explanations that are more parsimonious than is evolutionary theory.

In the second section of this volume, Thomas Bradbury, Ronald Rogge and Erika Lawrence—clinical psychologists whose research has focused on the longitudinal course of marriage—address the questions, “What are the interpersonal roots of couple conflict? What are the consequences for individuals and couples?” Bradbury et al. underscore the fact that couple conflict may not be the most important relationship process, and argue for the need to understand positive marital dynamics such as social support and cooperation. Steven R. H. Beach, a clinical psychologist, examines the way partners adjust their perceptions of themselves and their spouse and how these modifications influence whether potential conflict erupts or not. In a chapter that focuses more specifically on couple violence, Michael P. Johnson, a family sociologist, makes an important distinction between two types of couple violence: common couple violence and what he terms “patriarchal terrorism.” The latter pattern typically involves a highly controlling male partner who . . .

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