Conflict Resolution in Mexican-Origin Couples: Culture, Gender, and Marital Quality

By Wheeler, Lorey A.; Updegraff, Kimberly A. et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 2010 | Go to article overview

Conflict Resolution in Mexican-Origin Couples: Culture, Gender, and Marital Quality


Wheeler, Lorey A., Updegraff, Kimberly A., Thayer, Shawna M., Journal of Marriage and Family


This study examined associations between Mexican-origin spouses' conflict resolution strategies (i.e., nonconfrontation, solution orientation, and control) and (a) gender-typed qualities and attitudes, (b) cultural orientations, and (c) marital quality in a sample of 227 couples. Results of multilevel modeling revealed that Mexican cultural orientations were positively associated with solution orientation, and Anglo cultural orientations were negatively associated with nonconfrontation. Expressive personal qualities were negatively associated with control, whereas instrumental qualities were positively related to control. Links between conflict resolution and marital quality revealed that control and nonconfrontation were associated with spouses' ratings of marital negativity. In some cases, different patterns emerged for husbands and wives. Discussion highlights the role of culture and gender dynamics in marital relationships.

Key Words: conflict, culture, dyadic/couple data, gender, Hispanic Americans, marriage and close relationships.

Managing marital conflict is crucial to spouses' perceptions of their overall relationship satisfaction, marital functioning, and marital longevity (Bradbury, Fincham, & Beach, 2000). In European American couples, some researchers have suggested that maintaining a marriage requires that spouses make use of conflict resolution that promotes personal growth, enrichment, and forgiveness (Fincham, Beach, & Davila, 2004; Greeff & de Bruyne, 2000). Years of empirical research documenting the correlates of marital relationship quality have suggested that conflict management is a vital skill for marital satisfaction (Bradbury et al., 2000). There is some evidence indicating that there are unique processes that promote relationship stability in European American, African American, and Mexican American couples (Osborne, Manning, & Smock, 2007). Yet empirical evidence linking conflict resolution and marital quality is based almost entirely on European American samples. The purpose of the present study was to examine the correlates of conflict resolution in married couples of Mexican origin.

Marriage is the norm for Hispanic families, in general, and Mexican-origin families specifically, with married couples being the majority of such families in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007). Marriage is the central relationship in the family and affects individual well-being and parent-child relationships (Gottman & Notarius, 2002). Yet there is a paucity of research on the nature and correlates of marital conflict resolution strategies in Hispanic and Mexican-origin families. In fact, a decade review of marital research in the 1990s noted a scarcity of research on culture and marital quality overall (Bradbury et al., 2000). In this study, we focused on Mexican-origin couples only (i.e., an ethnic-homogenous design) to examine how variability in conflict resolution is linked to variability in gender and cultural processes in that group. Given that Mexican-origin individuals constitute the majority of Hispanics in the United States, that Mexican-origin individuals are the largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority group in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau, 2007), that marriage is normative in this cultural group, and that cultural processes may play a role in key marital interactions like conflict resolution, it is important to understand these processes for Mexican-origin couples.

The goals of this study were threefold. The first goal was to describe conflict resolution strategies that Mexican-origin husbands and wives reported using in their marriages. Drawing on a contingency model of conflict (Putnam & Wilson, 1982) and on ideas about culturally specific processes of conflict in Mexican American families (Flores, Tschann, Marin, & Pantoja, 2004), we measured three conflict resolution strategies: nonconfrontation, solution orientation, and control. …

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