The Source of Couple Conflicts

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Paweł Janicki


The source of couple conflicts


Conflict occurs between people in all kinds of human relationships and in all social settings. Because of the wide range of potential differences among people, the absence of conflict usually signals the absence of meaningful interaction. Conflict by itself is neither good nor bad. However, the manner in which conflict is handled determines whether it is constructive or destructive (Deutsch and Coleman, 2000). The same conflict characteristic refers to couples relationships indicating their mutual and intimate interactions and defining the reasons for conflict situations.

Conflict has the potential for either a great deal of destruction or much creativity and positive social change (Fink, 1968). Therefore, it is essential to understand the basic processes of conflict in order to comprehend its nature and influence on couples lives and describe common sources of conflict.

According to Fisher (1990: 70) conflict is defined as ‘an incompatibility of goals or values between two or more parties in a relationship, combined with attempts to control each other and antagonistic feelings toward each other’. He states that the incompatibility or difference may exist in reality or may only be perceived by the parties involved. Nonetheless, the opposing actions and the hostile emotions are very real hallmarks of human conflict (Fisher, 1990).

Early reviews in the field of conflict resolution identified a large number of schemes for describing sources or types of conflict (Fink, 1968). One of the early theorists on conflict, Daniel Katz (1965), created a typology that distinguishes four main sources of conflict among couples which are: economic, value, power and communication. Katz (1965) states that economic conflict appears when each party wants to get the most that it can and the behavior and emotions of each party are directed toward maximizing its gain. Value conflict involves incompatibility in ways of life, ideologies – the preferences, principles and practices that people believe in. Power conflict is defined by Katz (1965) as the situation when each party wishes to maintain or maximize the amount of influence that it exerts in the relationship and the social setting. That is why, according to Katz (1965), it is impossible for one party to be stronger without the other being weaker, at least in terms of direct influence over each other. Thus, a power struggle arises which usually ends in a victory and defeat, or in a ‘stand-off’ with a continuing state of tension (1965: 30). Another important source of conflict is ineffective communication which seems to have a great influence on couples interactions. Katz (1965) argues that miscommunication and misunderstanding can create conflict between couples even where there are no basic incompatibilities. In addition, partners may have different perceptions as to what are the facts in a situation and until they share information and clarify their perceptions, resolution is impossible. Self-centeredness, selective perception, emotional bias, prejudices, etc., are perceived by Katz (1965) as forces that lead to perceive situations very differently from the partner. What is more, lack of communication abilities to express intended meanings in a clear and respectful fashion often results in confusion, hurt and anger, all of which simply feed the conflict process. Whether the conflict has objective sources or is due only to perceptual or communication problems, it is experienced as very real by the partners involved (Katz, 1965). In addition to that it must be noted that most conflicts are not of a pure type but involve a mixture of sources defined by Katz (1965) which may involve such ordinary problems as financial difficulties, sexual difficulties, problems with in-laws or disagreements over child rearing. Such problems may involve married couples whose conflicts may be even more diverse (Katz,...
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