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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A process study of marital conflict resolution Plysiuk, Michele


This is a model building study which addresses itself to observing and investigating what transpires between two couples as they complete the process of resolving a marital conflict. Four therapy sessions where the couples successfully resolved a marital conflict and one therapy session where a resolution was attempted but was unsuccessful were selected for investigation. A task analysis was completed in which the moment-by-moment interactions of the couples were rigorously tracked to reveal the interactional patterns that distinguish couples who resolve marital conflicts from those who are not successful at resolving their conflicts. The interactional task analysis involved six strategies. The investigator's cognitive map of the resolution process was outlined. The task was defined as a pursue-distance conflict in which one partner was identified as an emotional pursuer and the other identified as an emotional withdrawer. The task environment, an emotionally focused therapy session, was specified. In the first rational analysis the investigator's model was presented. The transcripts of the resolution events were reviewed and repeated patterns were identified in the first empirical analysis. In the second rational analysis process indicators that would discriminate between the stages of resolution were chosen from four process measures. In the second empirical analysis two process measures (the SASB and the Experiencing scale) were used to identify the stages of resolution and produce a final model of marital conflict resolution. The final model consists of four steps which the couples move through to reach resolution. These steps are; Escalation, De-escalation, Testing, and Mutual Openness. Escalation involves either an 'attack-defend', 'attack-withdraw', or 'attack-attack' pattern where the pursuer is blaming their partner and the other partner is either defending, withdrawing or attacking. Each partners focus is on representing their own position and both partners usually feel angry, frustrated or unheard. In De-escalation one partner openly discloses their experience or asks for what he or she needs. This usually involves an expression of vulnerability. The other partner responds with either 'affirming and understanding' or 'helping and protecting' behavior. With Testing there is an initial positive interaction in which the withdrawer responds to the pursuer's open expression of feelings or needs with 'helping and protecting', 'nurturing and comforting' or 'trusting and relying' behavior. The pursuer however suddenly switch to 'belitting and blaming', 'sulking and appeasing' or 'walling off and avoiding' behavior. The pursuer appears to be dealing with the issue of trust, they are not sure if they can trust their partners response to them as totally genuine and likely to occur again. Mutual Openness resembles De-escalation however it this stage both partners complete 'disclose/trust rely' or 'affirm/help protect' sequences. Both partners rather than just one complete a sequence in which they explore their part in the problem openly while the other partner listens and affirms them. A failure to move from Escalation to De-escalation and the absence of 'affirming and and understanding' communication behaviors distinguished the non-resolution event from the resolution events.

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