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Problems, Conflict and
Power in a marriage
What problems do young married
couples anticipate?
 Jealousy - comes from uncertainty related
to today’s attitudes towards relationships
and greater flexibility in roles
 Fears about adaptation to parenthood
(according to a study done in Montreal)
What is conflict?
The opposition of incompatible needs and
 Conflict Theory suggests that every couple
faces 3 dilemmas:
1. individual vs collective interest
2. women’s rights vs male entitilement
3. “mine” vs “yours”
2 issues stemming from these
Division of labour
 Expressive quality of the relationship
In a companionate marriage, the goal is to
maintain intimacy, so, fighting is usually
about how issues affect that balance of
Power is the ability to influence the
behaviour of someone else
 In relationships, the person who has the
resources that someone else needs has
the power (remember the game Catan?)_
Over time
Prehistoric time – power balanced – both
men and women had their jobs to do –
they needed each other
 Industrial society – men worked, women
stayed home (their work was less ‘valued’
because it was seen as unskilled) – men
had the ‘power’
Principle of Least Interest
The ability to meet the social and emotional
needs of another is the source of power that
motivates individuals to reciprocate meeting
each other’s needs
The principle of least resistance explains that the
person with the least commitment to the
relationship holds the greatest power, since the
person who is more committed is more likely to
give in to maintain the harmony of the
Recent Study
People who had taken a premarriage course
offered by the Roman Catholic church identified
these problems during the first 5 years of
Balancing job and family
Frequency of sexual relations
Debt brought into marriage
Husband’s employment
Financial situation
Household tasks
How do men/women perceive
Men and women actually perceive conflict
 Symbolic Interactionism: men and women
perceive the problems in a marriage
differently because they express their
emotions differently
Partner Activity
With a partner, discuss the following
statements – do you agree or disagree,
and why?
Is housework a ‘female’ role?
Do you think that women are more willing
to make complaints and raise conflict in a
Do women expect more in a marriage,
and do men feel ‘pressured’ to give?
Women are more likely to define
themselves in terms of their relationships
and how they are love, and consequently
feel more responsibility for dealing with
issues to maintain the marriage
Another perspective
Male communication is competitive and
 Women like to relate to others on a more
common footing – will make ‘soft’
arguments to seek support and view
challenge as a personal attack
 Women complain and expect their partner
to commiserate with them, but men tend
to look for a solution
The bottom line, according to
Symbolic Interactionists
gendered communication patterns can
interfere with solving problems
John Gottman
Based on his own research:
 Most marital conflict can’t be solved, but it
doesn’t necessarily ruin a marriage
 Successful conflict resolution is rarely seen
– couples need to resolve each conflict as
it comes along, but the basic conflict is
still there and will recur
How to deal then, with conflict
Systems theory explains that each partner needs
to be willing to change their own behaviour in
order to maintain stability in the relationship
 Gottman:
 Couples that remain together tackle specific
problems in a positive manner – and allow
themselves to be influenced by their partner,
and giving in to the relationship when necessary
Money, Housework and Power
Read the next section on p. 218 and answer these
1. According to symbolic interactionism, what
affects satisfaction in a relationship?
2. Why do men have greater power?
How is this different in dual-income
3. How has labour-division in the home changed
since 1965?
4.Describe peer marriage
5. Read case study on p. 220-221 and answer
questions #1-3, p. 221