Family Communication to Resolve Conflicts
All these reasons that justify an interest in family communication in general also justify an interest in family conflict communication in particular. How persons communicate during interpersonal conflict is of paramount relevance in determining the quality and stability of their close interpersonal relationships, including family relationships. In the marital context, Gottman (1991, 1994) reported that couples that manage interpersonal conflict well in their relationships report greater relationship satisfaction, more love and respect for their partners, and greater commitment to their partners. Similar findings are reported for family conflict. Families that manage their conflicts well have more satisfied parents and children, and children perform better in school and in peer relationships (Sillars, Canary, & Tafoya, 2004). Thus, family conflict is an important determinant of relationship quality and quality of life of family members. In addition, the conflict communication behaviors socialized in families are among the most important behaviors learned in families that affect children's subsequent interpersonal relationships, further strengthening the case for studying family conflict. Finally, harmful communicationand child abuse, which constitute the third reason to study family communication mentioned above, are more likely to occur during family conflict than during any other time of family communication (Anderson, Umberson, & Elliott, 2004), which makes a thorough investigation of family conflict all the more pertinent. Despite these good reasons to study family communication in general and family conflict communicationin particular, in reviewing the relevant literature, it became apparent to us that is not easy to integrate the literature on family conflict. The main reasons are inconsistent conceptualizations of both conflict andcommunication, as well as of the relationship between them. These problems notwithstanding, in the following pages we discuss, first, how conflict and communication have been conceptualized in various studies of family conflict. We then propose definitions of both conflict and family communication that allow us to integrate at least some of the findings on family conflict and to discuss the relevant literature utilizing these definitions. In particular, we focus on the role that conflict plays in family communication at different stages of family development and in different family types. This discussion is followed by a review of the consequences of family conflict and how family conflict affects family relationships and family members' psychological well-being and social functioning. Finally, we address issues surrounding violence in families related to conflict, including factors affecting violence and its consequences. In our conclusion, we argue that family conflict is best understood in the context of more general family communicationprocesses, such as family communication patterns, and point to some of the lacunas in the research that warrant future investigation, including a more careful investigation of the roles of culture and ethnicity.
Defining Family Communication
In the broadest sense, family communication can be defined as all interactive behaviors of family members that establish family roles, maintain family rules, accomplish family functions, and sustain behavioral patterns in families (Vangelisti, 2004). In other words, all verbal and nonverbal behaviors by which family members affect one another and enact their interpersonal relationships with each other. The breadth of this conceptualization of family communication has the advantage that it opens for investigation bycommunication scholars all interpersonal behaviors. In addition, this conceptualization makes explicit the fact that interpersonal relationships are complex and that virtually any type of behavior can be interpersonally...
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