Cognitive and behavioral aspects of marital conflict: A test of a constructivist model



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Texas Tech University


Increased attention is being given to marital conflict. However, much intervention is based on conflict theory and research which does not address the special characteristics of conflict in intimate relationships. This study is a partial test of a new, constructivist theoretical model of marital conflict. Marital partners' uniquely organized sets of cognitive constructs are seen as mediating their present interaction and, through a feedback cycle, becoming reciprocally altered over time. Thirty volunteer married couples completed a two-part conflict history questionnaire and a newly developed dyadic conflict version of the Role Construct Repertory Test, and were observed discussing a current disagreement. Data included measures of spouses' cognitive complexity and organization; observed Interpersonal Negotiation Strategies; self-reported constructive engagement of conflict; and satisfaction with conflict management. Findings failed to support several aspects of the theoretical model. Cognitive complexity and organization and cognitive similarity were not significantly related to either observed negotiating level or similarity of negotiating level, and neither negotiating level nor negotiating similarity was related to constructive engagement. As predicted, however, satisfaction with conflict management was significantly related to constructive engagement. Results differed by sex, with fewer significant findings for wives. Husbands' cognitive organization was positively related to negotiating level, while husbands' cognitive complexity was negatively related to constructive engagement. A significant positive relationship between age and negotiating level was found. Sampling and measurement refinements are proposed for future tests of the theoretical model. Further research is suggested to investigate possible age and gender-role influences on the relationships between cognitions and conflict behavior.



Cognition, Marriage -- Psychological aspects, Conflict management, Interpersonal relations