Conflict and Communication Issues in Marriage and Sex
Communication lies at the root of all our conflict and resolutions. Without communication in all its forms, we as a race would be destined to live solitary and unhappy lives with very little social interaction. When conflicts enter a marriage, two people find themselves trying to engage in forms of communication that in most cases ends up making the situation worse rather than better. "Most people have a "purpose," which aligns itself with the motives behind their conflicts. Second is their "position," which often appears as their stance or strategy for trying to get their own way.
One way to resolve conflict is to identify each person's true purpose rather than argue about positions" (Warrum, 2003). Communication breaks down as a couple try to establish their own points and misinterpret their partner's point, or purpose at the same time. Misread body language cues, coupled with a lack of knowledge in how to read what 'isn't' being said only make the conflict worse, and in the end, resolves nothing.
Only 5 per cent of communication involves the words we use and 38 per cent involves speech as a whole. A staggering 55 per cent is attributed to body language" (Gray, 2003). Body language cues and signs in marriage, and sex can lead to more conflict, and misunderstood cues can lead to embarrassment, as well as a psychological bridge between a couple. "Asserting rights in an intimate relationship has different emotional contexts and consequences than asserting other rights, such as insisting on service in an impersonal setting" (Quina, 2000). Communication is vital if these rights are to be ascertained, and not viewed as a threat to a partner's rights.
A simplest form of building communication is the act of repeating the other person's point, before making your own. "Often the repeating is incorrect, and the person will ask for further explanation and then try again. This can happen over and over again until they can finally repeat accurately" (Warrum) and by that time, an agreement is most likely to be made. Through repetition, the conflict as been disabled and a discussion as formulated between the couple. Beyond making their points heard, they are listening to each other, and in any form of communication, listening is vital for the integrity of any agreement or resolution.
In the case of a married couple, conflict may arise for a variety of reasons, yet the two struggles remain the same; and these are 'power' and 'esteem'.
In any conflict there is the struggle to retain power over the discussion and therefore the resolution, coupled with the struggle to retain a level of esteem - be it self-esteem, or respect from the person you are in conflict with.
Gender roles in a marital conflict can have an influential function in how gender sways a conflict and resolution. This does not only mean male and female roles within the marriage can sway the situation (i.e. "I'm the man, I'm the boss of the house") but also contribute to how communication is perceived and responded to. "Gender-related effects have been reported in perceived intensity of others' anger, interpretation of one's own affective state, expression of anger, conflict engagement strategies with partner, conflict management styles, and evaluation of spouses' messages during discussion of conflictual issues" (El-Sheikh, 2000).
Essentially, once the root of the conflict has been recognized, a resolution shouldn't be that far off. Each party involved should be able to pinpoint their views, and their concerns in the conflict so that they can mediate a resolution, or ask a third party for alternatives.
Conflict resolution is based on internal and external factors within a marriage. Internally, the couple finds a common ground that has equal value between them. This could be the relationship itself, or something that they cherish within it. External factors consist of third party mediators or those with authority to intervene, such as police officers, or a church official. Once the couple have identified what is intrinsically important between them and nourished this as a step towards a resolution, they can develop their resolution through non-verbal and verbal communication, which ironically, could have saved them from getting into a conflict in the first place - if they had known the cues.
Orientation to the Conflict
One of the most common perpetuating cycles in a conflict in marriages is that of verbal tone and cues that are used to try and bring a conflict back into a more positive tone, but fail due in part, to the type of tone they are delivered and the negativity of the message as it is related by a spouse. "One of the greatest challenges for couples locked into negative exchanges is to find an adaptive way of exiting from such cycles. This is usually attempted through responses designed to repair the interaction (e.g. "You're not listening to me") that are typically delivered with negative affect (e.g. irritation, sadness). Distressed couples tend to respond to the negative affect, thereby continuing the cycle" (Fincham, 1999).
Conflict in a marriage is often seen as negative because it draws out the worst in the couple. Problematic areas are highlighted and if the conflict becomes aggressive, it can be an emotionally and physically challenging experience. "Non-verbal communication often takes place without any awareness on the part of the person giving the signals or the one reading them" (Gray). These missed cues, (and misread cues) create a more negative tone to the conflict as it is being discussed, resulting in couples using obvious signals of distress, anger and frustration.
Cliche phrases are used with these emotions; sometimes in an attempt to bring the conflict back into focus, and other times to signal to the other party that there is another issue in the conflict. Phrases like, "you're not listening to me," "You never listen to me," "you're always right" and "it's always what you want" signify conflict within the conflict. The party using these phrases feels a lack of power and low esteem, resulting in defense mechanisms of either removing themselves from the conflict, or extensive use of body language such as folding their arms, or exaggerated gestures.
The gender roles within the marriage play a pivotal role in how a conflict is viewed, and its progress towards a resolution. "Dating, newlywed, and established married couples complain about sources of conflict ranging from verbal and physical abusiveness to personal characteristics and behaviors. Perceived inequity in division of labor is associated with both marital conflict and more male withdrawal in response to conflict" (Fincham).
Ideally a marriage should be based on love, respect, honor and equality, but this is not realistic in consideration of human nature and the primal hierachcy that is inherent in us. While men can be more dominant, perhaps even aggressive in a relationship, women can be not only psychologically more powerful, but intellectually too. "In peaceful couples, the stronger a wife's verbal skills, the more her spouse liked her. But in rockier relationships, well-spoken wives used their talent for "language and psychology to inflict pain," addressing their husbands with especially wounding words" (Druckman, 1999).
Nature of the Conflict
Triggering events in any marital conflict can range from an accumulation of actions (or inactions) to emotional or physical distress regarding a certain area of marriage. In the instance that sexual relations are an issue, this can cause conflict between a couple if one feels that their rights in the relationship are being ignored, or overrun by their spouse's. Inequality in the bedroom can lead to greater riffs between the couple, and even a wandering eye, if not infidelity in the future.
A spouse may feel that their needs are not being met over a course of time, or that their partner is taking advantage of a situation within their relationship. Each have their own perceptions of what the other is feeling, and more times than naught, these perceptions are incorrect, or based on misread non-verbal cues. "Women are far better at reading signals than men" (Gray) and many women may be unable to adapt their body language so it is 'easier to read', or may not realize that their hints and cues are being ignored or misinterpreted.
This in itself can cause conflict in a marriage because women are more sensitive to emotional needs, and would be considering the feelings of their spouses in any event, or events leading up to a conflict. In the end, they would have reached their 'tether' so to speak, and act out or verbally retaliate.
For example, if a woman is unhappy in the intimacy of the relationship, she may try to drop 'gentle hints' about how to make their sex life more intimate, or romantic. She may suggest planning a romantic getaway or leave books on romantic ideas for the bedroom, expecting her spouse to pick up on her cues and signals. Her spouse may in turn pick up on only a selection of these…