This post examines the structure of marital conflict, the motivations of men and women in addressing conflict, and some scientific correlations with longitudinal marital satisfaction. Alternative motivations with more positive outcomes are suggested.
[Eds. note: Using my marriage as a laboratory, I tested the information described below for three months. I found considerable success in this endeavor, and then posted a follow up report of this social experiment, entitled, Disciplined, Submissive, Happy Wives (February 15, 2018).]
The contents are organized as follows.
- The Stereotypical ‘Demand/Withdraw’ Conflict Structure
- Wife is Authoritative or Demanding, Husband is Submissive or Withdraws
- Husband is Authoritative or Demanding, Wife is Submissive or Withdraws
- Reasons Men are Authoritative or Demanding
- Reasons Men Submit or Withdraw
- Reasons Women are Authoritative or Demanding
- Reasons Women Submit or Withdraw
- Correlations with Marital Satisfaction
- The Wife’s Behavior is Critical in Determining the Overall Health of the Relationship
- More Positive and Respectful Conflict Now Leads to More Peace and Satisfaction Later
- More Tentative Peace Now Leads to More Strife Later
[Eds. note: The bulk of this study is cited from the following paper. Emphases mine. I have added additional sources and insights, which are cited accordingly.]
L. Heavey, C. Layne, and A. Christensen, “Gender and Conflict Structure in Marital Interaction: A Replication and Extension”, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 1993 Vol. 61, No. 1, 16-27.
1. The Stereotypical ‘Demand/Withdraw’ Conflict Structure
“A pattern of marital interaction in which one spouse attempts to engage in a problem-solving discussion, often resorting to pressure and demands, while the other spouse attempts to avoid or withdraw from the discussion, has been identified as a particularly destructive style of marital interaction.”
“Additionally, researchers have noted the tendency of spouses who engage in this pattern to grow more polarized over time, leading to the increasing deterioration, and often dissolution, of marital relationships.”
The relative difference between one partner’s desire for closeness versus the other partner’s desire for independence is of the utmost importance in accounting for the demand/withdraw interaction. The partner who wants more closeness tends to assume the demanding role, whereas the partner who wants more independence tends to assume the withdrawing role. Wives generally want more closeness, whereas husbands usually want more independence (Christensen 1987; Christensen 1988; Christensen and Shenk, 1991). The greater the disparity between the partners’ desire for closeness versus independence, the greater the extent of demand/withdraw interaction in their relationship. Also, the degree of disparity between partners’ desires for closeness versus independence was greater for counseled and divorcing couples than for nondistressed couples.
“Christensen and his associates focused on this pattern of interaction as one of the central, and most intractable, destructive patterns of marital interaction. They labeled this the demand/withdraw pattern of marital interaction and undertook a program of research to study its causes and consequences. Their research demonstrated that (a) couples can agree on the presence of this pattern in their relationship; (b) the reported frequency of demand/withdraw interaction is highly associated with marital dissatisfaction; and (c) women tend to assume the demanding role, whereas men tend to assume the withdrawing role during conflictual interactions.”
“Across both observer ratings and self-reports of demand/withdraw behavior, there was no systematic difference in the roles taken by men and women when discussing the problem identified by the man. In contrast, when discussing the issue identified by the woman, women were much more likely to be demanding and men were much more likely to be withdrawing than the reverse.”
- In assessing the conflict structure, it is important to know “who has identified the issue being addressed and the extent to which each partner is invested in achieving change on that issue.”
- The roles assumed by men and women during conflict are largely determined by the structure of the conflict. That is to say, the person wanting change (e.g. more closeness, or more independence), will typically assume the demanding role, while the person who is content with the status quo will be left to assume the withdrawing role.
- People who are totally content with their lives are not likely to find that a relationship will make them more content, because being content puts them in the defensive position in a relationship.
- A large disparity between one partners desire for closeness, and the other partners desire for independence, is the most common source of conflict.
- A large disparity between one partners demandingness, and the other partners withdrawal, is the most destructive type of conflict structure.
- In general, because of their more pronounced need for closeness, which thereby makes them prone to conflict, and succumbing to temptations and unfavorable negotiations, women are thus considered to be the “weaker” sex, specifically in the areas of having faith towards achieving specific outcomes, and in maintaining emotional contentment. (1st Peter 3:7)
By extrapolation, the following types of women are considered “weaker” than others.
- Women who have been abused, or who are more emotionally needy, i.e. who have an intense craving for closeness.
- Women who are rude, ungrateful, disrespectful, domineering, and therefore cannot maintain a satisfying relationship with a man who desires to be close to them.
- Women who have been rejected by men, who consequently have a greater desire for closeness.
- Women with a low SMV/MMV, whom men do not want to be close to.
- Women who have had intimate, sexual relationships with a number of men, and thus have gained certain emotional needs/expectations which cannot be satisfied through closeness to any one man.
- Women who lack the skills and abilities required to meet other’s needs, which reduces the power they have in maintaining closeness.
2. Wife is Authoritative or Demanding, Husband is Submissive or Withdraws
“(Research shows that the stereotypical) wife-demand/husband-withdraw is significantly more likely than husband-demand/wife-withdraw during discussion of the wife’s issue than during discussion of the husband’s issue.”
“The (statistical analysis) of demandingness revealed a main effect for gender, in which women were more demanding than men.”
“…studies have shown men to be less inclined to initiate problem-solving discussions than women.”
“The finding that women are more demanding and men are more withdrawing, established across a number of naturalistic studies of marital interaction (e.g., Baucom, Notarius, Burnett, & Haefner, 1990; Christensen, 1987, 1988; Gottman & Krokoff, 1989), appears truly to be the result of the additive effects of gender differences and the nature of larger social structures in which these marriages exist.”
“This finding is particularly striking given the consistency with which this pattern appears across both self-reports and observer ratings and the almost invariably large magnitude of the differences in demand/withdraw roles during the discussion of the issue identified by the wives.”
- Simply by bringing up issues of discontent, wives are inadvertently introducing a conflict structure which leads to a downward spiral in relationship satisfaction.
- Men are adverse to the problems (e.g. complaints, conflict, drama) that women bring into their lives.
- The wife’s “weakness” (i.e. intense need for closeness and affiliation) also proves to be the weak link in the chain of marital satisfaction and happiness.
3. Husband is Authoritative or Demanding, Wife is Submissive or Withdraws
“(Research) revealed that husband-demand/wife-withdraw is more likely during discussion of the husband’s issue than during discussion of the wife’s issue. (However, there is) a lack of significant differences in roles (wife-demand/husband-withdraw vs. husband-demand/wife-withdraw) during the discussion of the husband’s issue.”
“Couples whose interactions are the reverse of these stereotyped roles experience increasing levels of satisfaction over time, presumably because they are able to avoid a vicious cycle of polarization and instead engage in more flexible and constructive problem resolution.”
Wives have been found to generally react positively to their husbands’ willingness to discuss their relationship (Acitelli, 1992). Thus, a husband’s demandingness reflects their engagement rather than withdrawal from interaction, which is perceived by wives as a sign of the man’s emotional involvement and commitment to the relationship.
“It may also be that women are more willing to change their behavior than men. Thus men’s demands might result in actual changes in the wife’s behavior, whereas women’s demands may yield increasing passive resistance, thereby beginning a vicious cycle of increasing demand/withdraw interaction. In other words, it may be not only that wives are more willing than husbands to engage the discussion, but also that they may be more willing to follow through on any agreements reached.”
- Men typically play it cool during a confrontation with a woman, however, his small contribution has a big impact on the woman.
- Women have a high profile set of emotional needs, and are therefore more pliable, more easily molded, and more willing to compromise (i.e. clinical evidence for “weakness”). [Eds. note: This is also why husbands need to honor their wives, as opposed to manipulating them for base purposes. (1st Peter 3:7)]
- Women presumably have more to gain by cooperating with the husband’s demands, rather than assuming a dominant role.
4. Reasons Men are Authoritative or Demanding
- Natural inclination due to upbringing.
- Socio-sexual ranking
- Male Identity: They believe they have the position and responsibility to do so, by virtue of being male (1st Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:23).
- Self-Image: They find it weak, cowardly, faithless, or dishonorable to either submit or withdraw (Hebrews 10:39).
- Authority/Faith: They have the faith to believe that they can enact a positive change in their marriage, and in the world around them (Matthew 8:5-13; Hebrews 10:39).
5. Reasons Men Submit or Withdraw
- Natural inclination due to upbringing.
- Socio-sexual ranking
- Male Nature: Men are socialized to place a primary emphasis on maintaining independence, building status, and being achievement-oriented (Gilligan, 1982; Rubin, 1983). Thus, men avoid energy-sucking, conflict-ridden discussions in favor of pursuing these ideals.
- Motivations: If men have higher status and greater power typically accorded to them in a relationship, then they may have no interest in change because there is nothing to gain.
- Power: Men are seen to be the high-power group in society, and as such, they have already structured the relationship to their liking and subsequently have little or no interest in engaging in a discussion about changing the status quo (Christensen, 1988; Jacobson, 1989).
- Satisfaction: Men who are content with the status quo may benefit from avoiding any discussion of problems with their partner.
- Dissatisfaction: Men who experience a great deal of nagging and complaining, in conjunction with a poor, disrespectful attitude from their wives, often seek to distance themselves in order to obtain peace and psychological balance.
- Physiology: “Men experience more physiological arousal during conflict than do women.” (Gottman and Levenson, 1986) Men’s higher level of physiological reactivity leads them to try to minimize or to avoid the conflict in order to escape the noxious arousal.
- Emotional Effect: “…both husbands and wives reported experiencing more anxiety when discussing the issue identified by the husband.” (Heavey et al. 1993) Husbands would thus favor not instigating an argument in order to avoid any additional stress.
- Self-Esteem: Men typically consider it to be more dignified, honorable and respectful to abandon a conflict with a close friend, or with a woman, rather than to escalate a fight (Eggerich, 2004).
6. Reasons Women are Authoritative or Demanding
- Natural inclination due to upbringing.
- Female Nature: Women’s general nature as being “socioemotional specialists” leads them to being more inclined to engage in conflicts than men, and thereby assume a demanding role. (Kelley et al. 1978)
- Motivations: Women are socialized to place greater emphasis on relationships and community, which presumably lead women to engage in problem-solving discussions in their search for closeness and intimacy (Gilligan, 1982; Rubin, 1983)
- Power: The larger social structure presumes that women have lesser power. Women may be more dissatisfied with the status quo, and are thus prompted to engage in discussions about change. They may perceive confrontation and conflict engagement as their only means to obtain what they want, to protect or to enhance their own positions, or to restructure the relationship according to their desires. Thus, women “have more investment in change than men”. (Christensen, 1988; Jacobson, 1989) This effect can be exacerbated through peer pressure from other, unhappy, clucking hen wives who prod them to take action, perhaps for their own vicarious ego satisfaction.
- Satisfaction: The areas in which wives wanted change centered around having more physical closeness, greater emotional intimacy, and having the husband be more involved in day-to-day chores. This finding is substantiated by data indicating that women perform more household and child-rearing tasks than the husband (Robinson 1977; Robinson, et al. 1977), even when both spouses have equal-status careers (Biernat & Wortman 1991). Men, on the other hand, being independent and dignified as they are, have no desire to drag their wives to the office and ask them to do their “fare share” of earning the income.
- Dissatisfaction: Wives desired more changes in their relationships than did husbands (Margolin, Talovic, and Weinstein 1983). Women accrue fewer benefits from marriage than men, resulting in women’s desire for more change than their husbands (Jacobson, 1990).
- Physiology: Women are less physiologically reactive to stress, compared to men, and are not compelled to circumvent conflict. (Gottman and Levenson, 1986)
- Emotional Effect: Women gain a peculiar emotional satisfaction from talking, arguing and creating drama.
- Self-Esteem: Women’s desire for maintaining a sense of community and connection might lead to their becoming coercive when their husbands withdraw and to a vicious cycle of increasing polarization (Gray-Little and Burks 1983). Women display a higher level of need for affiliation than men, and women with a high need for affiliation, combined with high stress and low inhibition, were the most physically and verbally abusive toward their partner (Mason and Blankenship (1987). It was speculated that much of this abuse was done in an attempt to coerce their partners towards meeting their need for affiliation.
7. Reasons Women Submit or Withdraw
- Natural inclination due to upbringing.
- Female Identity: They believe they have the position and responsibility to do so, by virtue of being female (1st Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24).
- Self-Image: They find it unattractive, unbecoming, dishonorable, and disrespectful to be wayward, authoritative and demanding (1st Peter 3:3-6).
- Trusting Authority: They trust their husband’s leadership, take comfort in his loving shelter, and enjoy being relieved of certain responsibilities.
- Faith: They trust in God’s provision, protection, and promises (1st Peter 3:1-2) for those who are obedient to the authorities placed over them.
8. Correlations with Marital Satisfaction
In general, satisfaction correlates inversely with the disparity between the demand and withdraw behaviors of each spouse. That is, the more one demands, and the more the other withdraws, then the less chance there is towards obtaining satisfaction from the interaction.
“Couples whose interactions are highly characterized by these gender-stereotyped roles appear to be particularly at risk for experiencing longitudinal deterioration in relationship satisfaction. Couples with stereotyped gender roles have also been shown to be less responsive to marital therapy (Jacobson et al, 1986). We speculate that gender-stereotyped couples are particularly at risk for deterioration in satisfaction because their conflict behavior becomes more polarized and rigid over time, making it increasingly difficult for them to effectively resolve their conflicts.”
A spouses’ satisfaction is significantly greater when he/she is the one who brings up the issue (being authoritative, making the demand). Satisfaction depends largely on how well their partner responds, that is, how willing and open they are during the discussion, and the extent to which they were (not) withdrawing.
“Spouses also reported being dissatisfied with the discussion when they raised the issue being discussed, and they were demanding and their partners were withdrawing. Separate analyses of demanding and withdrawing behaviors revealed that spouses’ demandingness was primarily responsible for this relationship.”
The overall pattern of demanding and withdrawing behaviors are primarily attributable to the behavior of the person making the demands, and how that behavior impacts their partner. In other words, one’s behavior during the conflict significantly predicts the amount of satisfaction with the outcome of the discussion.
“The positiveness of the individual’s behavior was generally the best predictor of both, their own, and their partner’s satisfaction with the outcome of the discussion. Negative behavior, on the other hand, could not be used to predict satisfaction with the discussion. Heavey (1993) speculated that this was due to two important negative behaviors—blaming and pressuring for change.”
[Eds. note: Somehow, that is not surprising news.]
“Observer ratings of negative behavior were generally not significantly associated with satisfaction with the outcome of the discussions.”
[Eds. note: This is not surprising either. Yet this type of behavior – blaming and pressuring for change – is immediately recognizable as the typical woman’s default conflict approach.]
“As expected, husbands’ and wives’ global relationship satisfaction was also significantly related to their satisfaction with the outcome of the discussions. This supports the commonly held view that satisfied couples have more satisfying problem-solving interactions than distressed couples.”
Conclusions: The things that contribute towards marital satisfaction include…
- Having an equal desire for closeness/independence.
- Resisting the extreme situation of being overly demanding or withdrawing.
- Developing a habit of being open and receptive when dealing with an issue raised by the other.
- Staying positive during conflict, which encourages your partner to stay open and receptive.
- Avoiding negativity, i.e. resisting the temptation to place blame, or pressure the other for changes.
9. The Wife’s Behavior is Critical in Determining the Overall Health of the Relationship
“…we examined the relation between conflict behavior and global satisfaction measured concurrently and longitudinal change in satisfaction over approximately 12 months. These analyses revealed a striking pattern of results that support the speculation of Gottman and Krokoff (1989) and Gray-Little and Burks (1983) that wife demandingness coupled with husband withdrawal is particularly destructive to long-term relationship well-being. Wife-demand/husband-withdraw interaction showed associations with both concurrent dissatisfaction and longitudinal decreases in wives’ satisfaction. In contrast, husband-demand/wife-withdraw interaction was inversely associated with concurrent satisfaction, but it was predictive of longitudinal increases in satisfaction. Similarly, the extent to which each partner was rated as demanding was negatively associated with his or her concurrent satisfaction. However, husbands’ demandingness was predictive of longitudinal increase in wives’ marital satisfaction, whereas wives’ demandingness was predictive of longitudinal decline in wives’ marital satisfaction. The pattern for negative behavior was very similar.”
“Thus, when couples fall into the gender-stereotyped roles of wives demanding and husbands withdrawing, the wives experience a significant decline in relationship satisfaction. Conversely, the extent to which couples reverse typical roles is predictive of the wives’ and husbands’ reports of improvement in relationship quality. We speculate that this pattern results from those couples who displayed stereotyped gender behavior becoming locked into their roles in an escalating vicious cycle, whereas couples that take nonstereotyped roles are able to avoid this increasing polarization and rigidity.”
“…husbands’ satisfaction is not as predictable as that of their wives. Studies have found men to be generally less affected by the nature of problem-solving interactions (e.g., Gaelick, Bodenhausen, & Wyer, 1985), as well as men’s relationship satisfaction being generally more difficult to predict (e.g., Bentler & Newcomb, 1978). It may be that husbands are less sensitive to changes in relationship quality.”
“Nonetheless, it seems reasonable to assume that an increase or decrease in wives’ satisfaction with the quality of their relationship would eventually affect the husbands’ level of satisfaction.”
- Wives would do well to kick back and take a chill pill!
- Wives would do well to hone their honeycraft skills (e.g. smile, speak warmly, show deference, respect, gratefulness), in order to set the stage for a positive interaction. By being open and receptive, rather than harsh and demanding, she can elicit a more positive response from the typical man who is easily stressed out by conflict.
- The main benefit of successful conflict management to husbands is to have a contentious, pesky, nagging wife become less harridan in nature.
- A secondary benefit of successful conflict management to husbands is that their wives might grow in faith and maturity, thereby becoming better wives and partners. (Ephesians 5:25-29; 1st Peter 3:7)
- Husbands would do well to push some buttons and spank some ass now and then!
10. More Positive and Respectful Conflict Now Leads to More Peace and Satisfaction Later
“The correlations with change in satisfaction between Time 1 and Time 2 showed a pattern of results in which men’s demandingness and negativity predicted a positive change in the wives’ satisfaction over time, whereas wives’ demandingness and negativity predicted longitudinal deterioration in wives’ relationship satisfaction. Husbands’ positive behavior, which was unrelated to Time-1 satisfaction, was positively related to a longitudinal increase in their wives’ satisfaction. In contrast, wives’ positive behavior, which was related to Time-1 satisfaction, was unrelated to longitudinal change in satisfaction.”
“Interestingly, none of the observer ratings predicted change in husbands’ satisfaction… For both husbands and wives, wife-demand/husband-withdraw interaction had no significant positive associations and some significant negative associations with current satisfaction and predicted decline (or no change) in satisfaction longitudinally. Similarly, husband-demand/wife-withdraw interaction had no positive and some significant negative associations with current satisfaction. However, in contrast, husband-demand/wife-withdraw interaction predicted longitudinal improvement in satisfaction; all four correlations were positive and three were statistically significant.”
“Gottman and Krokoff (1989) found that observer ratings of spouses’ negative conflict engagement, which are similar to our ratings of demandingness, correlated negatively with concurrent satisfaction but positively with change in satisfaction over 3 years. Furthermore, husbands’ withdrawal was not correlated with concurrent satisfaction but was predictive of longitudinal decline in relationship satisfaction. Gottman and Krokoff (1989) concluded that “couples who engage in conflict may pay a price in concurrent dissatisfaction and negative affect at home, but the strife may pay off in the long run, provided that the conflict does not invoke stubbornness, defensiveness, or withdrawal from interaction” (p. 51). Roberts and Krokoff (1990), using time-series analyses to examine the relationship of withdrawal and hostility during conflicts, found no mean differences in the amount of withdrawal exhibited by men and women or by satisfied and dissatisfied couples. Additionally, wives’ withdrawal did not predict husbands’ hostility, nor did the hostility of either spouse predict their partner’s withdrawal.”
- Men need to be more positive, more negative, and more demanding (viz. more “dramatic”) in order to increase their wives satisfaction.
- Wives absolutely need to drop the negativity (i.e. judgment, blame, being critical, demanding change), in order to stop driving their husbands to withdraw, and to eventually improve their marital satisfaction. Specifically, this means that wives who seek change should be careful not to express a negative affect in the process of elaborating their dissatisfaction. (Ephesians 4:29) In other words, it’s not what you say that matters, it’s how you say it.
- Both partners should avoid stubbornness, defensiveness, and withdrawal from conflict.
- Wives who are emotionally mature (e.g. cool, calm and collected), and who are emotionally content (i.e. have a less dire need for closeness), are wives who stand a better chance at obtaining marital satisfaction.
- Wives carry more of the responsibility towards building overall marital satisfaction, but they also reap greater subjective improvements in marital satisfaction.
11. More Tentative Peace Now Leads to More Strife Later
“Among dissatisfied couples, husbands’ withdrawal was predictive of their wives becoming hostile; no such relationship was found among satisfied couples. These two studies highlight the potential destructiveness of husbands’ withdrawal from conflict and the wives’ negative, demanding reactions.”
As mentioned earlier in Section 5, men usually withdraw in order to avoid conflict, preserve peace, reduce tension, and maintain the status quo. Thus, in the stereotypical conflict structure, women are tempted to become masculine, and men are tempted to wimp out. If couples lazily succumb to their feelings and base instincts by handling conflict in this manner, then marital discord is planted, and will gradually grow over time and with continued neglect. Men should be especially conscious of this dynamic.
- Men need to be more engaging, more demanding, and should resist the temptation to withdraw.
- Wives need to be less demanding, less negative, less verbally, psychologically and physically abusive, and more considerate of the man’s emotional needs for deference and respect. By doing so, wives are less likely to drive their husbands away in withdrawal.
- Both partners should be aware of the dynamic: If husband withdraws, then wife is negative and demanding. If wife is negative and demanding, then husband withdraws.” Both partners need to work to stop this cycle from spinning. The husband has the responsibility to be preemptively proactive, however, the wife has the upper hand in determining the acceleration of the upward or downward spiral (Eggerich 2004).
Here we notice there is a fundamental difference in the conflict structures that lead to marital satisfaction. The structure in which the husband is authoritative and demanding, and the wife submits or withdraws shows a greater propensity for satisfaction, whereas, the structure in which the husband submits or withdraws, and the wife is authoritative and demanding, shows a trend toward dissatisfaction, dissolution and divorce.
Upon a closer examination, it can be seen that the reasons why men submit or withdraw (Section 5), and the reasons why women are authoritative or demanding (Section 6), are largely due to motivations based on the natural (feral) inclinations, and/or the demands of living in this fallen world. On the other hand, the reasons why men are authoritative or demanding (Section 4), and the reasons why women submit or withdraw (Section 7), arise largely from a deeper faith in God’s provision and truth. In other words, the latter type of structure aligns more closely to the Archetypical Image of God, and thus qualifies the couple to be recipients of God’s promises and good favor. So here we see that science supports God’s Archetypical marriage structure, as outlined in the Bible (Ephesians 5:25-33).
During a conflict, men may or may not lead, and women may or may not follow. It is most advantageous to the longitudinal health and happiness of the relationship when men lead, and women follow. The next best outcome results when a man fails to lead, but the woman nevertheless still follows (through her faith in God). Poor outcomes leading to marital discord, dissolution and divorce are the inevitable result when the woman fails to follow, regardless of the man’s intervention, or lack thereof.
Sigma Frame: Disciplined, Submissive, Happy Wives (February 15, 2018)