Personality and marital conflict type: Who we are and how we fight
Table of Contents page Dedication. „ iv Acknowledgements v List of Tables , x I. INTRODUCTION 1 II. BACKGROUND 3 Marital Conflict and Conflict Types 3 Correlates of Marital Conflict. , ..3 Gottman's Couple Conflict Types 4 The "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" .7 Phases of Marital Conflict ..8 Personality and Marital Conflict 9 What is Personality? ...9 The Big Five Dimensions of Personality 9 Personality as a Set of Psychological Needs. 11 Personality and Marital Conflict 12 The Five-Factor Model 12 Psychological Needs. 15 Attachment, Autonomy, Commitment and Marital Conflict 16 Cognition and Affect 16 Developing the Research Questions , 18 The Relationship between Psychological Needs and the Five-Factor Model.. 18 vi
Gottman's Couple Conflict Types and the Big Five Personality Factors..... .31 Psychological Needs and Gottman's Couple Conflict Types 33 III. METHODS 40 Participants 40 Measures 40 Adjective Check List (ACL) 40 Couple Conflict Type Questionnaire (CCT) 41 Personality and Marital Conflict Survey (PMC). 41 Demographic Questionnaire 41 Procedure 42 Data Analysis. , 42 IV. RESULTS 44 Description of the Sample 44 Couple Conflict Type Questionnaire (CCT) „ 47 Hypothesis Tests: Psychological Need Clusters and Conflict Types 50 Hypothesis One 50 Hypothesis Two 51 Hypothesis Three 51 Hypothesis Four 52 Hypothesis Five 52 Hypothesis Six 53 Hypothesis Seven , 53 Individual Psychological Needs and Conflict Types 54 vii
Research Question One 54 Correlations between Needs and Conflict Types 54 Research Question Two , 56 Supplementary Personality Scales and Conflict Types 56 Personality and Marital Conflict Survey (PMC) 59 IV. DISCUSSION , .....60 Psychological Need Clusters, ACL Scales, and Conflict Types ..60 Validating Conflict Type. . 60 Hypothesis Test 60 Correlations with Supplemental Personality Trait Scales 61 Conflict-A voiding Conflict Type. 62 Hypothesis Tests 62 The Agreeable Avoidance Cluster , 62 The Necessitated Engagement Cluster .64 Correlations with Supplemental Personality Trait Scales. 65 Volatile Conflict Type ...66 Hypothesis Tests 66 Correlations with Supplemental Personality Trait Scales 69 Hostile Conflict Type. 71 Hypothesis Tests. 71 Correlations with Supplemental Personality Trait Scales. 72 Demographic Characteristics and Conflict Types.. , 73 Limitations of This Study , 75 viii
Directions of Future Research , 76 Clinical Implications , 77 REFERENCES.... 83 APPENDIX A: Couple-Conflict Type Questionnaire (CCT) 90 APPENDIX B: Personality and Marital Conflict Survey (PMC) 92 APPENDIX C: Demographic Questionnaire ...94 IX
List of Tables page Table 1: Description of Murray's Needs 19 Table 2: Classification of Murray's Needs into the Five Factors. 24 Table 3: Description of the ACL Need Scales ..26 Table 4: Frequencies and Percentages of Demographic Variables for Participants.. .45 Table 5: Correlations between Psychological Needs and Conflict Types 55 Table 6: Correlation Matrix between Supplementary Scales and Conflict Types.......58 x
1 INTRODUCTION For several decades, researchers have been studying marital conflict, its correlates, and its consequences (Gottman & Notarius, 2002). Gottman, one of the leading marital researchers, has categorized marital conflict into four types, and the existence of these couple-conflict types has been supported by subsequent research (Gottman, 1994; Holman & Jarvis, 2003). Personality has shown a strong and consistent relationship to aspects of marital conflict (South, 2006; Antonioni, 1998; Bouchard, 2003; Lee-Baggley, Preece, & DeLongis, 2005; Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995; Hooker, Frazier & Monahan, 1994; McCrae & Costa, 1986; O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997; Galezewski, 1999; Rogge, Bradbury & Hahlweg, 2006). A plethora of approaches have been advanced to describe and measure key components of personality. Two popular approaches are the Big Five personality factors and the view of personality as a set of psychological needs (Goldberg, 1981; Goldberg, 1990; Peabody & Goldberg, 1989; Antonioni, 1998; Murray, 1938). The Big Five personality factors describe personality in terms of five bipolar dimensions, where Murray's (1938) theory describes personality as a set of psychological needs that can be regarded as traits, and as dimensions of individual difference (Craig, 2005). The Big Five personality factors have been extensively studied in relation to patterns of conflict, both within and beyond the marriage (Antonioni, 1998; Bouchard, 2003; Lee-Baggley, Preece, & DeLongis, 2005; Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995; Hooker et al.. 1994; McCrae & Costa, 1986; O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997;
2 Galezewski, 1999: Rogge et al., 2006). Although this body of research is useful in formulating a conceptual understanding of the relationships between personality and aspects of married life, the Big Five dimensions are defined in an abstract way that may be difficult to recognize in a clinical setting. In contrast, psychological needs may be much easier to recognize; for example, a clinician may more readily see the need for dominance or the need for deference in an individual therapy client, than the level of conscientiousness or openness to experience. Because personality as a hierarchy of psychological needs may be more recognizable in therapy, clinical observation and intervention with couples in conflict may be more effective when personality is conceptualized in this way. The proposed study will explore the relationship between psychological (personality) needs of couple partners and Gottman's couple-conflict types. It is an aspiration of this study that the results can directly inform the work of clinicians conducting couples' therapy.
3 BACKGROUND Marital Conflict and Conflict Types After twenty five years of studying married couples, Gottman (1999) created the Sound Marital House theory, in which he identifies two staples of marriage: overall positive affect during everyday life and the ability to reduce and manage negative affect during resolution of conflicts. Correlates of Marital Conflict Behaviors during marital conflict differentiate distressed marriages from nondistressed ones. Dissatisfied couples show less humor, agreement, and compliance and more criticism, contempt, defensiveness, general disagreement (Schaap, 1982), belligerence, stonewalling, and domineering behaviors (Babcock et al., 2000; Gottman & Levenson, 2002). Similarly, Ting-Toomey (1983) found that interaction in couples with high marital satisfaction included patterns of coaxing, confirming, and emotional questioning, whereas couples with low marital satisfaction communicated with patterns of complaining, attacking, and defending. Defensiveness and stonewalling predicted a decline in marital satisfaction, in a three year longitudinal study (Gottman and Krokoff, 1989). In addition to negative verbal communication, lack of nonverbal communication and the employment of negative nonverbal tactics such as disgusted facial expressions are also reliably evident during marital conflict of distressed couples (Gottman & Porterfield, 1981; Vincent et al., 1979; Kahn, 1970). These negative behaviors can make communication difficult, especially during conflict.
4 The extent to which a married couple engages in negative behavior during conflict is correlated with their expectation of understanding from their partner, expectation of how negative their partner's communications might be, and negative attributions for their partner's behavior (Sanford, 2006). A person who does not feel that their partner will understand is more likely to engage in self-protective, attacking, and defensive behaviors. Negative spouse attributions have been associated with criticism, while positive spouse attributions have been associated with self-disclosure, proposal of positive solutions, acceptance of and agreement with the spouse (Bradbury et al., 1996). Eldridge et al. (2007) found a positive correlation between distress level and the extent to which couples engage in the demand-withdraw pattern of conflict, in which "one member (the demander) criticizes, nags, and makes demands of the other, while the partner (the withdrawer) avoids confrontation, withdraws, and becomes silent" (Eldridge et al., 2007, p. 218). They found that severely distressed couples who had been married for a long time tended to be rigidly locked in a wife-demand/husband-withdraw pattern. Gottman 's Couple Conflict Types Gottman, through several studies using varied methodologies, has identified four couple conflict types: Conflict-Avoiding, Volatile, Validating, and Hostile. These types vary in how they balance positivity and negativity (Gottman, 1994). The first three types are associated with "regulated" or stable marriages. Hostile, the only "non-regulated" conflict type, tends to have low marital satisfaction and a high risk of divorce. However, there are risks involved with all four conflict types and although the first three conflict types tend to have longer lasting and more satisfying marriages,
5 Gottman stresses that being one of the first three doesn't necessarily mean that the marriage is protected from dissolution. Conflict Avoiding couples are those who avoid confrontation or withdraw from it. These couples state that they tend to agree about most things and are mostly harmonious. There is a lack of emotional connection; the marital relationship is described in bland terms; and the partners seem to be out of touch with their feelings (Gottman, 1994). Rausch et al. (1974) found that these couples avoided conflict either by defensiveness from the husband or an unspoken contract between spouses to avoid disagreements. Conflict avoidance is not necessarily good for a relationship; conflict engagement has predicted short term dissatisfaction but marital improvement in the long run (Gottman and Krokoff, 1989), although conflict engagement that involves defensiveness, stubbornness, and withdrawal is dysfunctional both in the short and long run. These couples balance the positivity and negativity in their marriages by having low levels of both. Volatile couples have intensely emotional marriages characterized by a high level of negative affect during conflict and a high level of positive affect when not in conflict. These couples fight in a distinct manner which includes early attempts to persuade the other to agree with one's point of view, attempts to question the validity of the other's feelings, and intense negative affect including anger, belligerence, and dominance. Volatile couples balance positivity and negativity by having high levels of both in their marriages. Validating couples have a sense of calm during conflict during which they tend to validate each other's feelings and descriptions of the issue, using non-verbal
6 and verbal cues. They sometimes provide empathy and support to their spouse regardless of whether they agree with them. These interactions aren't void of confrontation, but they include a sense of togetherness in solving the problem. These couples balance positivity and negativity by maintaining a moderate amount of both in their marriages. The final type is the non-regulated Hostile conflict type. Hostile couples engage in a great deal of conflict colored by high defensiveness on the part of both people, as well as accusatory mindreading, contempt, disgust, anger, whining, and stonewalling. They are considered non-regulated because there is no balance of positive and negative affect. Gottman's typology is similar to Fitzpatrick's (1988) typology of happily married couples. She found three types of happily married couples: traditionals, independents, and separates. Traditionals are couples who "tend to avoid conflict but they will argue about the most important issues in their marriage," and who "emphasize we-ness over individual goals and values" (Gottman, 1993, p. 13). Independents are couples who value individuality, androgyny, and egalitarianism. They "engage in conflict, bargaining, and negotiation" and share with each other both positive and negative feelings (Gottman, 1993, pp. 13-14). Separates are couples who avoid marital conflict and value "separateness and interpersonal distance" (Gottman, 1993, p. 14). Gottman (1993) found similarities between these types and his three types of regulated couples such that traditional couples are similar to validating couples, volatile couples to independents, and conflict-avoiding couples to separates.
7 Both Gottman and Fitzpatrick came to similar conclusions about the characteristics and risks of each of these three types of couples. The "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse " The term "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" refers to four interactive behaviors which Gottman and others have found to be highly correlated with the deterioration of marital satisfaction: contempt, defensiveness, stonewalling, and criticism. Contempt is similar to a feeling of disgust with one's spouse or the marriage (Gottman, 1994). Gottman identifies three ways to manifest contempt: hostile humor, mockery, and sarcasm. In his observations of couples, he finds that cold put-downs, derogatory or judgmental statements, and statements of exasperation or disdain are all indicative of contempt. The second problematic behavior, defensiveness, is characterized by "denial of responsibility for the problem, a counterblame, or a whine" (Gottman, 1994, p.25) when the defender feels unfairly judged or attacked. Gottman found that defensiveness can often be a response to a phenomenon he terms negative mindreading, which is the use of "You always" or "You never" statements, accompanied by negative affect. These statements are perceived as accusatory attacks and usually evoke defensiveness in the receiver. The third behavior, stonewalling, refers to the listener withdrawing from the conflictual situation or tuning out, and showing no verbal or non-verbal signs of listening or interest in what is being said. This behavior "often is perceived by the speaker as detachment, disapproval, smugness, hostility, negative judgment, disinterest, and coldness." (p. 141). The withdrawing response has been studied as
8 part of the demand-withdraw pattern of marital conflict, which has been consistently predictive of marital dissatisfaction (see Eldridge & Christensen, 2002, for review). The last of the four horsemen is criticism, which refers to unfavorable judgment or disapproval, usually expressed in an unempathic and accusatory way. Gottman (1994) claims that these four behaviors are extremely corrosive to the health of a marriage. In his research on marital conflict, he has found that these behaviors consistently distinguish satisfied from unsatisfied couples. Holman and Jarvis's (2003) study of couples supports the existence of Gottman's four couple- conflict types as well as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Phases of Marital Conflict Gottman (1994) has identified three phases of marital conflict, the agenda- building phase, the arguing phase, and the negotiation phase. The agenda-building phase consists of naming the problems or complaints; the arguing phase includes hot emotional attempts to persuade one another, to argue one's point and to find common ground; and the negotiation phase includes coming to a mutually satisfying resolution. Gottman (1994) found several behaviors during each phase which distinguished satisfied marriages from unsatisfied ones. During the agenda-building phase, he found that satisfied couples used both verbal and non-verbal means to communicate their understanding of their spouse's feelings about the problem, regardless of whether they agreed. Each spouse was more communicative, through head nods or verbal cues, of their understanding of how their spouse came to feel the way they do. In contrast, dissatisfied couples tended to continue to disagree, or
9 complain about each other's points of view, and were unable to understand each other's feelings about the problem. In the arguing phase, Gottman (1994) found that both satisfied and dissatisfied couples used similar processes, but differed in the affect accompanying them. Both satisfied and dissatisfied couples tried to probe each other for feelings about the issue, but dissatisfied couples tended to do so with negative affect, which was received as an accusation and elicited a defensive response. In contrast, satisfied couples would probe for feelings with neutral affect, which seemed more empathic and increased emotional closeness. In the negotiation phase, satisfied couples were more likely to give a little and take a little, whereas unsatisfied couples were engaged in asserting their counter proposals. Personality and Marital Conflict In this section, two models of personality -- the Big Five personality factor model and the model of personality as psychological needs -- are presented. Research relating the big five factors to conflict (marital and non-marital) will be discussed. Correlations between marital conflict and aspects of personality ~ such as psychological need fulfillment, cognitive appraisals, sociotropy, autonomy, empathic accuracy, attachment, commitment, and affect dimensions — will be described. What is Personality? The Big Five dimensions of personality. One popular description of personality, the Big Five personality dimensions, has found substantial empirical support and has become one of the leading frameworks to conceptualize, articulate.
10 and measure personality (Goldberg, 1981; Goldberg, 1990; Peabody & Goldberg, 1989; Antonioni, 1998). The Big Five model of personality consists of five bipolar dimensions: extraversion-introversion, agreeableness-antagonism, conscientious- undisciplined, openness-closedness, and neuroticism-emotional stability. After a thorough review of the literature, Antonioni (1998) described the five dimensions as follows: Extraversion concerns the extent to which individuals are gregarious, assertive, and sociable versus introversion, which is associated with being reserved, timid, and quiet. Agreeableness concerns the degree to which individuals are cooperative, warm, understanding, and sympathetic versus antagonism, which is related to being rude, harsh, insincere, and unsympathetic. Conscientiousness measures the extent to which individuals are hardworking, organized, dependable, and firm, versus undisciplined, which is related to being lazy, disorganized, unreliable and indecisive. Openness to experience defines individuals who are reflective, creative, and comfortable with theory, versus closedness to experience, which is associated with being conservative in opinions, set in one's ways, and practical. Emotional stability describes individuals who are calm, self-confident, and patient versus neuroticism which is related to being tense, insecure, and irritable. (The Big Five Personality Factors section, para 2) Differing slightly from these five bipolar dimensions, five factors have emerged: Neuroticism, Extraversion, Openness to experience, Agreeableness, and Conscientiousness. Neuroticism is the tendency of individuals to experience negative
11 emotions such as depression, anger, and anxiety and consequently be more likely to become self-conscious and impulsive. Extraversion is the tendency of individuals to be warm, friendly, sociable, energetic, and to experience positive emotions. Openness to experience is the tendency to be creative, imaginative, curious, psychologically minded, and flexible in thinking. Agreeableness is a tendency to be altruistic and acquiescent, trusting and helpful. Conscientiousness is the tendency to be reliable, hard working, self-disciplined, organized, and determined (McCrae & Costa, 1987; McCrae & John, 1992; Lee-Baggley et al., 2005). Personality as a set of psychological needs. During his development of the Thematic Apperception Test, Murray (1938) created a list of 20 psychological needs which have become the basis for several objective and projective personality assessment measures, including the popular Adjective Check List (ACL; Gough & Heilbrun, 1983). From this perspective, an individual's personality can be described by a set of basic psychological needs and the salience of each of the needs for that individual. Determining which needs are most and least salient for a specific individual is sufficient to describe their unique personality (Craig, 2005). The psychological needs measured by the ACL are: Achievement, Dominance, Endurance, Orderliness, Intraception, Nurturance, Affiliation, Heterosexuality, Exhibition, Autonomy, Aggression, Change, Succorance, Abasement, and Deference (Gough & Heilbrun, 1983). In addition to serving as a basis for the development of the Big Five theory of personality (Craig et al.. 1998; Costa & McCrae. 1988), psychological needs as measured by the ACL have also been correlated to scales on the Minnesota
12 Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI: Hathaway & McKinley, 1943; Butcher et al., 1989). The Depression scale of the MMPI-2 correlated negatively with the needs for dominance, achievement, and affiliation and positively with the needs for abasement and succorance. The scale for Psychasthenia showed similar correlations as the Depression scale. The Schizophrenia scale correlated negatively with the need for affiliation and positively with the need for abasement. The Social Introversion scale correlated negatively with the needs for achievement, dominance, heterosexuality, affiliation, and exhibition, and positively with the needs for deference, succorance, and abasement (Craig & Bivens, 2000). Personality and Marital Conflict The five factor model. Several researchers have investigated correlations between the big five personality factors and aspects of marital conflict. Antonioni (1998) examined the relationships between the five factors and five interpersonal conflict styles: integrating, obliging, dominating, avoiding, and compromising. These five styles were derived by crossing two dimensions: assertiveness (or the concern for self) and cooperation (or the concern for others) (Thomas, 1976; Rahim & Bonoma, 1979; Rahim, 1983). In his descriptions of these conflict styles, Rahim (1992) described the integrating style as a collaborative style of handling conflict in which both parties assertively exchange perspectives and examine discrepancies to try to come to a mutually acceptable solution. The obliging conflict style refers to neglecting one's own needs to satisfy the needs of the other. The dominating style refers to sometimes aggressive attempts to ensure that only one person's needs are met. The avoiding style refers to both parties avoiding a
13 discussion, or any sort of engagement, regarding the conflict; use of this style results in no one's needs being met. Finally, the compromising conflict style refers to both parties compromising, coming to an agreement that does not entirely fulfill the needs of either side (Rahim, 1992). Antonioni (1998) found that being high in openness to experience, conscientiousness and extraversion increased the likelihood of using an integrating style and decreased the likelihood of using an avoiding style. The dominating style was associated with high extraversion. Individuals high in agreeableness and those high in neuroticism tended to use avoiding styles more and dominating styles less. Bouchard (2003) studied the relationship of neuroticism and coping strategies when faced with marital conflict. Two coping strategies were studied: a problem- focused coping strategy which entailed attempts to plan and problem-solve through the conflict, and an emotion-focused coping strategy which entailed a more distancing and avoidant response to the conflict. Bouchard found that neuroticism was positively related to the use of distancing and avoidance during marital conflict by both men and women. These findings can be explained by the recognition that individuals with high neuroticism tend to experience high emotional distress in stressful situations like marital conflict; avoiding the conflict serves as an immediate relief of emotional distress. Even though problem-solving has long term gains, it fails to provide the immediate emotional relief that people high in neuroticism may need. Openness was positively related to the use of problem-solving by both men and women. This is not surprising because creativity and flexibility, which are characteristics of high openness, are required to problem-solve during marital
14 conflict. Bouchard also found that, when marital problems are appraised as threatening, people are more likely to use distancing and avoidant coping strategies. This relationship was significant for both men and women, but stronger in women. Lee-Baggley et al. (2005) replicated and extended Bouchard's results in their examination of the relationship between the five factors of personality and coping strategies during marital conflict. They found that those high in neuroticism were more likely to avoid conflict, interpersonally withdraw, and blame themselves during marital conflict (Bolger & Zuckerman, 1995; Hooker et al., 1994; McCrae & Costa, 1986; O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997). Extraversion was positively associated with confronting, compromising, withdrawing, and blaming oneself during marital conflict. Openness to experience includes being comfortable with experiencing a wide range of emotions (O'Brien & DeLongis, 1997; Costa & McCrae, 1989) and people high on this trait are less likely to use distancing and avoidance during marital conflict and more likely to engage in relationship-focused coping, i.e. attempts to preserve the relationship integrity during conflict. Those high in agreeableness tend to feel uncomfortable with the dominant role and were therefore found to be more likely to use relationship-focused coping in order to avoid confrontation (Lee-Baggley et al., 2005). Personality factors are also related to the amount of marital distress experienced by a couple. High marital distress is related to high neuroticism, low agreeableness, and low conscientiousness. Low marital distress is related to average neuroticism, low openness to experience, and average agreeableness and conscientiousness (Galezewski, 1999).
15 Psychological needs. Patrick et al. (2007) studied the extent to which people felt their partners supported their needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness and relationship functioning. Autonomy is defined as "the need to feel volitional in one's actions, to fully and authentically endorse one's behaviors, and to act as the originator of one's own behavior" (Patrick et al., 2007, p. 434). Competence is defined as "the need to feel effective in one's efforts and capable of achieving desired outcomes" (Patrick et al., 2007, p. 434). Relatedness reflects "the need to feel connected to and understood by others" (Patrick et al., 2007, p. 434). In the first of three studies, Patrick et al. (2007) found that fulfillment of each need individually was related to better relationship quality, more secure attachment (as measured by less avoidant and less anxious attachment style), higher relationship satisfaction and commitment, and less defensive and more understanding responses to conflict A second study examined how each partner's need fulfillment contributed to the overall quality of the relationship. Results revealed that when both partners' needs were fulfilled, especially the need for relatedness, they both experienced higher relationship satisfaction, perceived a lesser amount of conflict, and felt less defensive during conflict. The third study examined the relationship between need fulfillment and changes in relationship satisfaction and commitment after conflict. Results showed a positive relationship between need fulfillment and increased relationship satisfaction and commitment after conflict. Data showed that individuals with higher need fulfillment had more intrinsic or autonomous reasons for being in their relationships, which in turn was associated to postconflict relationship satisfaction and commitment. In all three studies, fulfillment of the need for relatedness was the
16 strongest predictor of relationship well-being and satisfaction, post-conflict commitment, and responses to conflict (Patrick et al, 2007). Attachment, autonomy, commitment and marital conflict. In addition to the five factors and the hierarchy of needs, several other aspects of personality have strong relationships to marital satisfaction and quality. Commitment has been associated with fewer marital problems and more expression of love, moral support, and marital satisfaction (Clements & Swensen, 2000; Rosenblatt, 1977; Condie, 1989; Broderick & Oleary, 1986). A secure attachment style has been found to be associated with the higher levels of communication expressiveness and lower levels of dominance and withdrawal (Bouthillier et al., 2002). Sibley (2007), also studying attachment, found a positive correlation between autonomy and attachment avoidance in romantic relationships, defined as the tendency to be "uncomfortable with closeness, self- disclosure, feelings and expressions of vulnerability, and dependency" (Shaver & Mikulincer, 2002, pp. 135-136). Sibley (2007) defined autonomy as a trait seen in individuals who "focus on achievement considerations ... and [are] attentive to cues about others' tendencies to control and intrude on them" (Bieling & Alden, 1998). Cognition and affect. Cognitive and affect also play a role in communication behavior during marital conflict. Bradbury and Fincham (1991) hypothesized that appraisals can have a direct impact on the type of communication employed during conflict. Similarly, Lazarus (2001) suggested that the choice to use specific behaviors during marital conflict can be directly guided by a partner's appraisals. Sanford (2006) provided support for these hypotheses in his finding that an individual's