Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Associations among Romantic Attachment, Argumentativeness, and Verbal Aggressiveness in Romantic Relationships

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Associations among Romantic Attachment, Argumentativeness, and Verbal Aggressiveness in Romantic Relationships

Article excerpt

Arguments between romantic partners play a pivotal role in the quality and trajectory of relationships (Gottman & Notarius, 2002). Arguing effectively means, at least in part, that couples avoid excessive negativity (Christensen & Walczynski, 1997; Walton, 1989) and approach disagreements with at least some optimism that discussing differences of opinion will yield positive results (Hample, Thompson-Hayes, Wallenfelsz, Wallenfelsz, & Knapp, 2005; Johnson & Roloff, 1989). Many people, however, find themselves in arguments that spiral out of control into rounds of name calling, shouting, and worse. Indeed, research indicates that unhappy spouses sometimes are more effective arguers with total strangers than with the person whom they promised to love, honor, and cherish forever (Birchler, Weiss, & Vincent, 1975; Ryder, 1968). Why is it that so many people dread disagreements with romantic partners and/or save their worst invective for those whom they are supposed to love the most? The research presented here aids our understanding of the genesis of unproductive argumentative dialogue in romantic dyads by investigating links between people's cognitive representations of their romantic relationships and their predispositions toward arguing with their romantic partners.


Productive argumentation proceeds via moves that advance a disagreement toward a rationally acceptable conclusion (Eemeren & Grootendorst, 1992; Walton, 1989). While logical adequacy is a component of this conceptualization, the approach taken here concentrates on the functional qualities of argumentation as a goal-directed communication activity aimed at managing both the disagreement and the relationship. At least two qualities of argumentation are associated with productive and unproductive outcomes. One involves the tendency to approach arguments as an opportunity to challenge and defend standpoints using argumentation based on reasoning and evidence. A second is the propensity to avoid issuing personal attacks, or ad hominem argumentation. Research emphasizes the importance of these qualities in managing disagreements in romantic relationships. For example, romantic partners who supply reasons in support of assertions are perceived more positively than those who do not (Canary, Brossmann, Brossmann, & Weger, 1994; Canary, Weger, & Stafford, 1991). Also, family and organizational disagreements are perceived to be more constructive when characterized by argumentative, rather than verbally aggressive, behaviors (Infante, Myers, & Buerkel, 1994). Finally, rational discussion that also avoids ad hominem arguments positively affects relationship and task outcomes across interpersonal and small group contexts (for a review, see Weger, 2001).


This investigation will examine two predispositions associated with engaging in productive interaction during disagreements. One predisposition is argumentativeness (Rancer & Avtgis, 2006). People who are argumentative tend to enjoy arguing and engage in defending their own standpoints while attacking the standpoints, rather than the character, of their opponent (Infante & Rancer, 1982). People high in argumentativeness generally engage in more fimctional kinds of argumentation behaviors. For example, individuals high in argumentativeness are less verbally aggressive (Infante, Trebing, Shepherd, & Seeds, 1984), use more evidentiary appeals in supporting standpoints (Ifert & Bearden, 1998), exhibit more cognitive and communication flexibility (Martin, Anderson, & Thweat, 1998), are more competent critical thinkers (Koehler & Neer, 1997), and are less likely to experience marital violence (Infante, Chandler, & Rudd, 1989) than people who are low in argumentativeness.

The research on trait argumentativeness has been criticized for relying on written responses to hypothetical situations. …

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