With the world increasingly sophisticated in a social sense of things, it has become more challenging for married couples to maintain their relationships. The two main issues concerning marriage today are power and conflict, and many couples struggle to deal with them in order to bring about balance for the sake of longevity in their marriages. Most of these issues, however, are not surprising to many married couples because they anticipate them before they get into the marriage. It is how they decide to deal with marital matters that determines whether the marriages work. Anderson (2010) argues that the balance of power between married partners influences their behavioral tendencies in the event of a conflict. This paper evaluates the power and conflict in marriages in order to create an understanding of the impact of power on the presence and resolution of conflict in a marriage.
The Problems Young Married Couples Anticipate
It is important for people who intend to get into marriage to appreciate that every individual is unique from others. Thus, it is likely that one or both of the partners will often fail to understand the other’s point of view ( Anderson, 2010 ). In some cases, one partner may completely ignore the other’s view. The main cause of this scenario is one wanting to get their point of view heard and understood and in the process, ignoring the other person’s.
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Unresolved Childhood Issues
It is possible that the events and experiences from many years before marriage may influence one’s perception of power and conflict in a marriage. For instance, if a person is brought up in an abusive or violent environment, that person's approach to conflict would be considerable different to another person who grows up in a family that is skilled in conflict resolution. According to Anderson (2010), “like attracts like,” and it is common for individuals who share poor conflict resolution skills to end up together, even when they are not conscious of what they are doing.
Arguably one of the most serious issues in marriages today, intimacy is quite complex. There seems to be a significant difference in the meaning ascribed to intimacy for men and women ( Anderson, 2010 ). One cause of conflict is holding one’s partner responsible for one’s needs, often arising from power issues.
Defining Conflict in Marriage
The term “conflict” in the case of married couples brings about thoughts of hostile disputes and broken relationships. Regardless, Anderson (2010) holds that the mere presence of conflict is not essentially bad. In other words, some conflicts tend to bring about positive results. Conflict is important, in that it enables partners to express their feelings and to develop means to solve marital problems. In this way, conflict can be said to strengthen the bond between the partners.
Conflict varies in scope and intensity among married couples. The mild ones are the most common and receive minimal attention and generate short-term effects. Some of these conflicts, however, represent enduring struggles concerning personally weighty issues that result in major tensions in the relationship ( Anderson, 2010 ) .
Conflict Theory suggests that most couples go through three dilemmas. First, there is individual versus collective interest, where the former pursues the maintenance of one’s face and relies on autonomy-preserving methods, while the latter tends to preserve mutual and the partner’s face and relies on approval-seeking methods. An individualistic partner is often self-centered, direct and competitive, whereas a collectivistic partner tends to be indirect, obliging, and distance themselves from conflict scenarios. Regardless, Anderson (2010) insists that both types of partners appear to like better to use effective conflict-resolving methods before they turn to competitive, destructive methods.
The second dilemma is women’s rights versus male entitlement. This problem arises out of the notion that men are entitled to certain aspects of a relationship yet they may deny women of the same. For instance, many men believe that they are entitled to their partner’s’ bodies. In such a case, women have no right to say “no,” and the male partner makes decisions regarding intimacy ( Anderson, 2010 ) . On the other hand, the past several decades have seen many women all over the world campaigning for what they call “women rights.” Women rights tend to emphasize the idea that women are not obliged to serve the needs of men, whether emotional or physical. Such inconsistencies between ideologies have resulted in conflicts in many marriages in the current world.
The last dilemma is “mine” versus “yours,” where couples fail to agree on the ownership of finances and property. This problem is common among couples who have not been married for a long time. Each partner tends to be cautious about combining their possessions with the other partner. It is also common among unstable marriages ( Anderson, 2010 ). In such cases, one partner may pull out of an existing combined ownership agreement out of fear that the relationship would end at any time.
Defining Power in Marriage
Previous studies on this matter have defined power as, simply, the ability to affect one’s partner. Based on this definition, some researchers argue that husbands tend to have more power than their wives, especially in the decision-making process ( Anderson, 2010 ). However, some researchers are opposed to such a statement and claim that there is no significant difference in perceived power between the two parties.
Existing literature contains various definitions for power, but this discussion contains only two of them that are considered to be relevant in this context. First, the Social Power Theory holds that power is the ability to impact others and considers power to be an individual trait rather than a shared one ( Anderson, 2010 ). It follows that it is impossible for a husband and wife to have similar powers. Both partners have the ability to influence one another in a marriage but in different ways and extent. To determine the more powerful of the two, it is important to consider the cumulative influence one has over the other.
The Resource Theory describes power as the ability to cause behavioral changes in another person in any social system, by virtue of the relative access to resources between them ( Anderson, 2010 ). For the purpose of this paper, resources consist of anything an individual gives to their partner to meet the partner’s needs. Given the fact that male partners tend to have a higher average income and age as compared to their female counterparts, they are considered to have more power. In this setting, however, decision-making is also considered as a resource that is that is counted as a connection to power.
Gender Perceptions of Power in Marriage
Previous studies on power as a function of gender have shown variations in perceived power and power strategies used by male and female partners. Tichenor (2010) found that the husband tends to view himself as more powerful than his wife and most wives appreciate being the less powerful one in the relationship. As a result, male partners approach the process of influencing their partners from a perceived position of authority, while female partners approach this process from a perceived position of powerlessness. Tichenor also found that these roles are inverted in a few marriages where the female partner perceives herself to be more powerful, hence approaching the act of influencing her partner from a position of strength.
Testing the Hypothesis
It can be seen that the subject of conflict between married partners is a topic that is already rich with data. However, there seems to be a significant gap in the literature concerning the relationship between power and conflict in this context. The previous studies barely addressed how the balance of power in a marriage influences the observed behavioral tendencies in the event of a conflict. Anderson (2010) conducted a study to investigate the link between perceived power and behaviors during a conflict. This study further examined the role of gender in projecting how perceived power is linked with behavioral tendencies in the event of conflict. The participants for this research included thirty-seven marriages from three different states including Texas, New York, and Atlanta. This was an observational investigation and required the participants to self-report.
The study by Anderson (2010) is one of the first works aimed at determining how power influences behavioral tendencies in the event of a conflict for a married couple. This research along with other similar ones offer a significant contribution to the body of literature on conflict in marriage by showing that relationship power is an important determinant of a partner’s behavior during conflict.
Anderson (2010) found that participants who were considered to be having relatively higher perceived power as compared to their partners caused undesirable outcomes during conflict. Such individuals mostly showed signs of hostility if their partner failed to concede to their opinion. The less powerful partners, on the other hand, showed a willingness to let go of their position in matters of conflict and allow their partners to win. A suitable explanation for this trend would come from the earlier stated definitions of power. Thus, those people who are more reliant on their partners, and therefore powerless, easily accept the unequal exchanges in their marriages. On the other hand, those who are more powerful often have more favorable alternatives, making them more likely to compromise their marriages unless their partners yield to their will. In such cases, the relationship can only work if one party is submissive enough to appreciate the other party’s power.
The study also showed that women who openly insisted on power equality during conflicts caused negative outcomes. Their partners displayed such behavior as criticism and withdrawal during conflicts. This implies that these men were frustrated by their wives’ perceived power equality ( Anderson, 2010 ) . These findings may be attributed to the age-old stereotype of the male partner as being more powerful and dominant, and therefore in control in the event of a conflict. However, it is important to note that these power displayed by men is direct and competitive. Women, on the other hand, tend to influence men in other indirect means, especially through emotional support. They can effectively use their emotions to negotiate during conflicts and bring about agreements that are beneficial to both parties. This is just another form of power.
This paper describes the issues of power and conflict in marriage and demonstrates how the former influences the latter in such a setting. The most common problems in marriage involve poor communication between partners and intimacy and unresolved childhood issues. Most married couples go to conflict with each other, and these conflicts may bring either positive or negative outcomes. These outcomes, according to the discussion, are influenced by perceptions of power in the marriage, where one partner is considered to have more power. Considering gender, it is the men who are stereotypically more powerful and therefore deemed to be in control during marital conflicts. However, female partners are also capable of influencing men in other ways and, as a result, bring about outcomes that are desirable to both parties.
Anderson, K. L. (2010). Conflict, power, and violence in families. Journal of Marriage and Family , 72 (3), 726-742.
Tichenor, V. J. (2010). Thinking about gender and power in marriage. The kaleidoscope of gender: Prisms, patterns, and possibilities , 415-424.