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Prior to beginning work on this assignment, read Chapter 8 and 9 of Making Connections: Understanding Interpersonal Communication (specifically Section 9.2), complete the Week 4 Paper Training (Links to an external site.) and the Week 4 Paper Training quiz, review the Sample Week 4 Paper Download Sample Week 4 Paper, and watch an episode of a television program or film from the lists below.

Television options (each show has no charge and has closed captioning):

· Black-ish (Links to an external site.)

· Modern Family (Links to an external site.)

· This Is Us (Links to an external site.)

Film options:

· Frozen

· Erin Brockovich

If you have problems accessing any of this content, contact your instructor immediately.

In this assignment, you will write a two- to three-page (500 to 750 word) paper in which you apply some of the communication-based conflict resolution strategies outlined in your textbook to a conflict in a fictional television program or film.

In your paper,

1. Define conflict, utilizing Bevan.

2. Describe one interpersonal conflict that was not handled effectively in the television episode or film.

3. Explain how this situation meets the criteria for interpersonal conflict, utilizing Bevan, Section 9.2.

· Note: Focus on one exchange that illustrates one conflict and not the entire plot of the episode. If possible, provide some dialogue so the reader can clearly see how the characters handled the situation.

4. Explain why the conflict was not handled effectively, utilizing Bevan (Chapters 8 and 9).

5. Describe two strategies outlined in Bevan that the characters used to address the conflict, utilizing Bevan.

6. Describe two strategies outlined in Bevan that the characters could have used to resolve this conflict more effectively, utilizing Bevan.

The Interpersonal Conflict in Television or Film paper

Must be two to three double-spaced pages in length, which is 500 to 750 words (not including title and references pages) and formatted according to APA Style as outlined in the Writing Center’s APA Style (Links to an external site.) resource.

Must include a separate title page with the following:

Title of paper

Student’s name

Course name and number

Instructor’s name

Date submitted

For further assistance with the formatting and the title page, refer to APA Formatting for Word 2013 (Links to an external site.).

Must utilize an academic voice. See the Academic Voice (Links to an external site.) resource for additional guidance.

Must include an introduction and conclusion paragraph. Your introduction paragraph needs to end with a clear thesis statement that indicates the purpose of your paper.

For assistance on writing Introductions & Conclusions (Links to an external site.) as well as Writing a Thesis Statement (Links to an external site.), refer to the Writing Center resources.

Must use at Bevan multiple times, including to define conflict and explore ways the characters can overcome it.

Must document use of Bevan following APA Style as outlined in the Writing Center’s APA: Citing Within Your Paper (Links to an external site.) guide.

Must include a separate references page that is formatted according to APA Style as outlined in the Writing Center. See the APA: Formatting Your References List (Links to an external site.) resource in the Writing Center for specifications.


9Challenges of Interpersonal Relationships


Learning Outcomes

After reading this chapter, you should be able to

ሁ Explain the “dark side” of communication and communication’s role in both helping and hindering relationships.

ሁ Understand interpersonal conflict, conflict avoidance, and how conflict is resolved and managed. ሁ Compare and contrast the different types of jealousy, deception, and abuse most frequently encoun-

tered in interpersonal relationships. ሁ Apply strategies for competent communication during relationship challenges.

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The “Dark Side” of Interpersonal Communication 9.1

Introduction Suppose you have been assigned a class project that requires you to perform some compli- cated statistical calculations and write a paper. You are confident in your ability to write the paper; however, your statistical skills are poor. You ask your sister for help with the statistics part of the project during the coming week. In return, you offer to let her borrow your car for the week. Your sister agrees to the arrangement, so you give her your car keys. During the week, you ask your sister to help you two times; each time she tells you she is too busy at the moment. Tomorrow is the deadline for the project, and your sister says she does not have time today to help you with it. The two of you begin to argue, and you accuse her of tak- ing advantage of you by using your car all week and not helping you as she promised. You ask that she return your keys immediately. Your sister becomes upset, claiming that she wanted to help you but that you just kept asking for help at inconvenient times.

Every relationship faces difficulties in the form of conflict, jealousy, deception, or even aggres- sion or abuse. But how the relational partners communicate in the face of these challenges can be what ultimately makes or breaks the relationship. If the partners can talk through the experience and understand each other’s perspective, they can likely manage the challenge successfully and return to relationship maintenance, as we discussed in Chapter 8. However, if the partners ignore the issue or only deal with it by yelling and being angry at each other, it may be an issue that the relationship cannot overcome.

Being able to understand and navigate relationship difficulties is instrumental for the suc- cessful continuation of any close relationship, and it is thus the focus of this chapter. In par- ticular, in this chapter we explore challenges and discord that can arise in different types of interpersonal relationships. The discussions address the “dark side” of interpersonal com- munication and how communication can both contribute to and assist in tackling the chal- lenges that relational partners face. We discuss the challenges of conflict, jealousy, lying, and deception, as well as verbal and online abuse, and we conclude the chapter with strategies for competent communication that can be of use when challenges arise in relationships.

9.1 The “Dark Side” of Interpersonal Communication The phrase “dark side” was in large part popularized when the original Star Wars movie was released in 1977. In the film, Darth Vader tries to entice Luke Skywalker to join the “dark side”—to let his evil side take over. The phrase now has an iconic role in American popular culture, and it generally refers to an evil, malevolent component of something.

The phrase “dark side” is also used in reference to how we behave in our interpersonal rela- tionships. In The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication (1994), interpersonal communi- cation researchers William Cupach and Brian Spitzberg focused on the malevolent forces that influence interactions and relationships. They initially defined the dark side of interper- sonal communication as interactions that are challenging, difficult, distressing, and prob- lematic (Cupach & Spitzberg, 1994). Some years later, they refined the definition of dark side messages to those that involve “dysfunctional, distorted, distressing, and destructive aspects of human action” (Spitzberg & Cupach, 1998, p. xiv).

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Section 9.1The “Dark Side” of Interpersonal Communication

Cupach and Spitzberg (1994) decided to study the dark side of communication to bal- ance the scholarly understanding of how we positively relate to each other—through self- disclosure and by showing love, cooperation, and empathy—with the negative, destructive aspects of relationships. Such a balance between bright and dark allows for a more compre- hensive consideration of how relationships—and the communication that sustains them— truly function. Research on conflict, jealousy, deception, stalking, hurt, anger, infidelity, and verbal and physical abuse grew exponentially after Spitzberg and Cupach’s initial studies, and with this research, our understanding of the dark side of communication developed as well.

Before we explore common challenges faced by relational partners, it is impor- tant to point out that no message is purely dark, just as no message is entirely bright. There can be negative aspects to messages that we generally view as positive and vice versa. For example, being entirely hon- est and open with your partner could hurt his or her feelings. In addition, relying on humor and jokes, especially ones that are sarcastic or pointed, can prevent your part- ner from truly knowing who you are. Like- wise, extending social support to another can make things worse if the person in need does not view it as being helpful.

In the same way, dark messages can some- times be useful or valuable. Being jealous and expressing that jealousy is often viewed as a sign of weakness, but it can also be a signal to your partner that you care or find him or her appealing and attractive. A relationship in which interpersonal conflict is entirely absent may seem calm on the surface, but troublesome issues that are not being addressed likely lie beneath the surface. Expressing anger, if done in a manner that does not hurt anyone psycho- logically or physically, can help partners realize that the issue is an important one and that frustration has risen to a level that is no longer sustainable. Although communication can be dark, it can also be an essential way to confront relationship difficulties and challenges. The context, situation, and nature of the relationship determine whether messages are viewed as helpful or harmful.

But what is the impact of the dark side of interpersonal communication? Research has shown, time and again, that the more often romantic couples interpersonally grapple with dark issues such as conflict, jealousy, infidelity, and abuse, the lower their satisfaction with the relation- ship. In fact, engaging in negative marital interactions was a stronger predictor of relationship dissatisfaction than being positive toward each other (Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). Based on this and other findings, psychologist and relationship researcher John Gottman (1994b) pro- posed that the ratio of positive to negative interactions in a romantic relationship should be 5 to 1 for that relationship to succeed. This 5 to 1 positive to negative message ratio is evidence of how important dark side messages can be in close relationships.

Hemera Technologies/ ሁ Some dark messages are not wholly

destructive and can sometimes be useful or valuable. Anger, if expressed in a manner that isn’t harmful, can help partners confront and work through relationship challenges.

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

9.2 Relationship Challenges When you first form a relationship with another person, whether it is romantic or nonroman- tic, the relationship tends to be harmonious. When a relationship is in its infancy, both people are usually cautious about what they tell each other and how they say things, and they make a conscious effort to present positive information about themselves and to avoid conflict. Researchers have found that one of the reasons new relationships are usually so pleasant is that, at this stage, people emphasize the similarities they have and downplay their differences (Brown & Rogers, 1991).

However, as a relationship progresses, differences between people emerge. We learn about and further explore these differences—both big and small—through our interpersonal com- munication. We might handle a small difference, such as squeezing the toothpaste from the middle or the bottom of the tube, by making a lighthearted joke in a way that informs our partner that this is an issue, but one that is easily resolvable. In contrast, a larger difference, such as how we handle money or how to depict our relationship to others on social media, might be harder to communicate interpersonally. These larger differences may result in com- municative challenges such as interpersonal conflict, expressing jealousy, being deceptive, or engaging in verbal or online abuse. The following sections focus on four of the most prevalent and frequently problematic relationship challenges that individuals encounter: (1) interper- sonal conflict and conflict avoidance, (2) jealousy, (3) deception, and (4) verbal and online abuse.

Interpersonal Conflict and Conflict Avoidance Probably the most frequent relationship challenges that people face are conflicts in their per- sonal and professional life. Interpersonal communication conflict researchers William Wilmot and Joyce Hocker (2013) note that the following must be present for a conflict to exist:

1. There is an expressed struggle, meaning that one or both parties must communicate about the conflict in some verbal or nonverbal manner.

2. There are at least two interdependent parties; the individuals involved need one another in some way, and their choices affect one another.

3. The perception of these parties is that (a) they have incompatible goals, where they both want different things or even want the same thing, such as a promotion, but cannot both have it; (b) they have scarce resources, such that there is not enough of something—money, time, or even love—to go around; and (c) they have interfer- ence—often involving communication—from others in achieving their goals, which means that the other party is perceived to get in the way of how an individual wants to act or what that individual seeks to have.

Let’s look at the separate components of this definition in relation to the situation presented at the beginning of the chapter:

• You and your sister openly and directly communicate your feelings and frustrations to each other about this conflict.

• You and your sister depend on and need something from each other. • You and your sister possess different goals (you want your sister’s help in exchange

for lending her your car, but she has been unwilling or unable to assist you). • There is not enough time or access to the car that can be divided up between you

and your sister.

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

• You each view the other as getting in the way of what you each ultimately want.

Conflicts such as this can worsen over time, potentially even permanently damaging a rela- tionship if they are not successfully managed or resolved. Interpersonal conflict can end mar- riages, separate friends, break up families, and increase job dissatisfaction and turnover. It can also be painful and damaging to other people who are not directly involved in the conflict. If the conflict occurs in a family, for example, it can negatively affect children and other family members as well as the partners involved in the conflict. In fact, children can also learn their parents’ conflict patterns and go on to use them in their own romantic relationships later in life (Koerner, 2014). Your ability to competently manage and resolve conflict can thus help you face this relationship challenge and preserve your important relationships.

Conflict Styles One important thing to understand about conflict is the communication style individuals use in conflicts. Management professor M. Afzalur Rahim (1983) identified five basic conflict styles—or patterned behavioral responses—that individuals tend to use across different conflicts and with different people. Though Rahim developed his conflict style typology for the organizational context, it is now also used by scholars interested in conflicts in close rela- tionships. These five styles are composed of various combinations of two related dimensions: (1) how concerned you are about yourself and what you seek to get out of the conflict and (2) how concerned you are about the other person and assisting the other in getting what he or she wants. Figure 9.1 describes how these two dimensions combine to create each conflict style. Let’s look at each of these styles a bit more closely.

Figure 9.1: Conflict styles organized by dimension ሁ Each of the five conflict styles considers the individual’s degree of concern for self versus his or her degree of concern for the other person.

Source: Adapted from Rahim, M. A. (1983). A measure of styles of handling interpersonal conflict. Academy of Management Journal, 26(2), 368–376.

Low concern for others

Low concern for self

High concern for self

HIgh concern for others

Avoidance Accommodation




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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

The avoidance conflict style occurs when there is a low concern for yourself and a low con- cern for the other person. When our style is to avoid conflict, we believe that if we just ignore an issue, it will go away. If your sister prefers the avoidance style during the conflict example we introduced at the beginning of the chapter, she would likely communicate by being eva- sive, denying that the conflict exists, changing the topic, using humor to deflect the conflict, or physically or emotionally withdrawing from interacting with you (e.g., avoiding eye contact). Withdrawal, by itself, is not always negative; sometimes it is good to get away from the other person to get your emotions under control or to think about the issue before you discuss it. However, researchers found that in failing marriages, negative emotions overwhelm the spouses’ interactions, and the spouses each withdraw as a result (Zautra, 2003). The goal should not be to always avoid conflict, but to strategically use the avoidance style to manage conflict in a useful way.

In the accommodation conflict style, there is a low concern for yourself but a high concern for the other person. In other words, you are more interested in giving in to what the other person wants than you are about accomplishing your own goals. An accommodating person tends to give in to the demands of other people and accepts being “put upon” by others. If you used this conflict style with your sister, you might communicate by speaking softly with a low volume and soft pitch and be reluctant to express your opinion. You may also look down and avoid eye contact. Those with an accommodating conflict style have a body posture that is often closed, with their arms drawn inward, and they rarely use gestures to punctuate their speech (Hartley, 1999).

The competition conflict style involves a high concern for yourself and a low concern for the other person. This style is evident when an individual engages in aggressive or competitive behavior by being critical, having a win–lose orientation, or engaging in direct confrontation. Imagine both you and your sister are competitive in your conflict. You may communicate by speaking at a high or low pitch and in a demanding tone of voice. Your sister may be forceful in her communication and may try to intimidate you (Arredondo, 2000). The goal is winning, and you each may interrupt, use a loud volume when talking, stare down one another, or even be abusive in your communication. Those who use the competition conflict style run the risk of inviting an even more aggressive response to their statements, which can result in escalat- ing conflicts (Hartley, 1999).

In the compromise conflict style, there is a moderate concern both for yourself and for the other person. The individuals in the conflict work together to create a fair solution that is acceptable for both of them, but that also means that no one gets entirely what he or she wants. After you and your sister both cool down, you might try to compromise by negotiating back and forth, suggesting trade-offs, and prioritizing what one wants the most versus what is more easily given up. This may mean that your sister drops everything to help you complete your assignment on time and that you will not ask her to wash your car or refill it with gas. In formal conflict mediation situations, many agreements are compromises—both parties for- mally agree to give up something in exchange for something else. These are often finalized with formal handshakes.

When you have a high concern for yourself and a high concern for the other person, you will most likely use the collaboration conflict style. People using this style attempt to create a win–win situation for both people—one where both feel satisfied and support the decision or solution they have reached. As opposed to the compromise strategy, where both parties

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

have some gains and some losses, collaboration involves both parties achieving all that they originally sought and being satisfied with the outcome. Because both parties must be satis- fied in this conflict style, it is the most challenging and demanding style. Collaborative people will be supportive about what the other person says and may nonverbally communicate their openness by nodding, making eye contact, facing the other person, and shifting their body posture so that it is open (e.g., not sitting with their arms crossed). To collaborate in our conflict example, you and your sister might make statements that disclose and describe your thoughts and feelings and seek information from each other to get the “full picture” of what the other feels and thinks in order to move forward.

Your dominant culture can influence the conflict style you are most comfortable using. Much of this research has focused on Hofstede’s individualism–collectivism cultural membership dimension in relation to conflict style usage of American versus non-American cultures (Orbe, Everett, & Putman, 2014). Based on the broad characterization that European American indi- viduals tend to be individualistic, whereas members of Latino, Asian, and African American cultures tend to be more collectivistic, European Americans tend to prefer direct, solution- oriented cultural conflict styles such as compromise and collaboration (Orbe et al., 2014). Asian cultural members tend to prefer both accommodation and avoidance, while Latino indi- viduals tend to rely more on the avoidance style; however, both are likely to show consider- ation of their partners’ feelings and to be tactful. African American individuals tend to prefer emotional expressiveness and involvement in conflict (Orbe et al., 2014).

Biological sex can be an informative cultural element here as well: African American females tend to prefer direct conflict approaches in an organizational context, whereas European American females tend to be more avoidant and anxious about direct confrontation (Shuter & Turner, 1997). As is always the case with communication patterns, one’s individual approaches and preferences interact with cultural norms to determine one’s conflict style. Also note that these cultural difference findings should not be generalized as stereotypes; approach all con- flicts with an open mind.

Overall, these conflict styles are fairly enduring patterns that individuals tend to prefer using in conflicts. However, interacting with a particular person, topic, or situation could mean that you use a different style. Because conflict involves two individuals interacting, the other party in the conflict can affect which conflict style you use. For example, if you usually prefer to compromise or collaborate, but your sister is always extremely competitive, you may choose to use the avoidance style with her because her style preference offers little opportunity to accomplish anything productive when you are in conflict with her. The Self-Test feature will allow you to determine your preferred conflict style or styles.

Self-Test: Ident if y Your Conf lic t St yles This self-assessment is designed to help you identify your preferred conf lict management style. Read each of the statements below and circle the response that you believe best ref lects your position regarding each statement. Then use the scoring key to calculate your results for each conf lict management style.

(continued on next page)

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

Self-Test: Ident if y Your Conf lic t St yles (cont inued) This self-assessment is designed to help you identify your preferred conf lict management style. Read each of the statements below and circle the response that you believe best ref lects your position regarding each statement. Then use the scoring key to calculate your results for each conf lict management style.

When I have a conflict, I do the following:

Not at all

Very much

1. I give in to the wishes of the other party. 1 2 3 4 5

2. I try to realize a middle-of-the-road solution.

1 2 3 4 5

3. I push my own point of view. 1 2 3 4 5

4. I examine issues until I find a solution that really satisfies me and the other party.

1 2 3 4 5

5. I avoid confrontation about our differences.

1 2 3 4 5

6. I concur with the other party. 1 2 3 4 5

7. I emphasize that we have to find a com- promise solution.

1 2 3 4 5

8. I search for gains. 1 2 3 4 5

9. I stand for my own and others’ goals and interests.

1 2 3 4 5

10. I avoid differences of opinion as much as possible.

1 2 3 4 5

11. I try to accommodate the other party. 1 2 3 4 5

12. I insist we both give in a little. 1 2 3 4 5

13. I fight for a good outcome for myself. 1 2 3 4 5

14. I examine ideas from both sides to find a mutually optimal solution.

1 2 3 4 5

15. I try to make differences less severe. 1 2 3 4 5

16. I adapt to the other party’s goals and interests.

1 2 3 4 5

17. I strive whenever possible towards 50-50 compromise.

1 2 3 4 5

18. I do everything to win. 1 2 3 4 5

19. I work out a solution that serves my own as well as others’ interests as much as possible.

1 2 3 4 5

20. I try to avoid a confrontation with the other.

1 2 3 4 5

(continued on next page)

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

Resolution Versus Management of Conflict We often focus on what the outcome of a conflict will (or should) be, rather than on the pro- cess of engaging in the conflict from beginning to end. This focus on conflict outcomes also

Self-Test: Ident if y Your Conf lic t St yles (cont inued) Scoring

Write the number circled for each item on the appropriate line below (statement number is under the line), and add up each subscale.

Dimension Calculation Your score

Accommodating (yielding) ____________ + ____________ + ____ + ____________ = Item 1 Item 6 Item 11 Item 16

Compromising ____________ + ____________ + ____ + ____________ = Item 2 Item 7 Item 12 Item 17

Competing (forcing) ____________ + ____________ + ____ + ____________ = Item 3 Item 8 Item 13 Item 18

Collaborating (problem solving)

____________ + ____________ + ____ + ____________ = Item 4 Item 9 Item 14 Item 19

Avoiding ____________ + ____________ + ____ + ____________ = Item 5 Item 10 Item 15 Item 20

Source: Self-test from de Dreu, C. K. W., Evers, A., Beersma, B., Kluwer, E. S., & Nauta, A. (2001). A theory-based measure of conflict management strategies in the workplace. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22, 645–668. Copyright © 2001 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Consider Your Results

The higher your score, the more likely you are to use that particular conf lict style. You might have scored highest on more than one style. If so, this means that you tend to use both styles when in conf lict. Ask your close relationship partners to take this self-test and then compare your responses. Seeing how your conf lict styles mesh with or are different from your relationship partner’s can give you both insight into how you can more compe- tently face the relationship challenge of conf lict. Now consider the following questions.

1. Compare your conf lict style with the conf lict style of your closest friend or relation- ship partner. Do you tend to avoid conf lict while the other person is more competi- tive? Are you, for example, an accommodator and the other person a compromiser?

2. Now compare and contrast your role in these different relationships. Do you tend to use different conf lict styles with your friend than you do with your relationship part- ner? What about with a coworker?

3. Were you surprised by your dominant conf lict style (or styles)? What information from this chapter could assist you in engaging in conf lict more competently?

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Section 9.2Relationship Challenges

means that we emphasize the importance of conflict resolution. Three conditions must exist for a conflict to be resolved:

• The parties in the conflict decide to end the conflict. • The parties are both satisfied with the outcome of the conflict. • The parties do not engage in or deal with the conflict again.

How many conflicts can you think of where all three conditions were met? It is unlikely that you have had many conflicts that have truly been resolved. Resolution is especially hard to accomplish when the conflict is about an important or complicated issue, such as where a couple will move, or when the issue is sensitive, such as when adult siblings are deciding where their elderly parents should live. Although resolution is a worthy goal, it may not be the most common outcome.

Instead of resolution, most conflicts are dealt with via conflict management, which means that the parties have dealt with the conflict for the time being, but one or both individuals remains dissatisfied. Samuel Vuchinich (1990) found that 66% of family conflicts that occurred at the dinner table ended when the parties agreed to disagree, and 2% ended when one party left the table or refused to continue the conflic

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