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Conflict Theory & Divorce

by S. Grey

Conflict theory encompasses the idea that people struggle to reconcile conflicting ideals -- such a theory is readily apparent in the process of divorce. Core themes of conflict theory reflect divorce proceedings. Couples negotiate and bargain how to split possessions, but can also show aggression and appeasement to coerce each other. Divorce can also follow the stages of conflict in conflict theory. Understanding this theory can lead to increased awareness of the divorce process and how to go about it with less chaos.

Conflict Stages

Conflict theory proposes stages that manifest themselves during divorce. First, the Prior Conditions Stage reflects events that lead up to the divorce. These conditions can include financial issues, marital discord or infidelity. Next, in the Frustration/Awareness Stage, one or both people in the couple become upset by the prior conditions. The third stage, Active Conflict, moves the couple from dissatisfaction and frustration to the attempt of both parties to "win." Couples may be able to show conflict amicably, or they may be aggressive. The couple begins to resolve their issues in the Accommodation/Solution Stage. The final stage, the Follow-up/Aftermath Stage, may see a rehashing of the conflict or the existence of grudges, and facilitates new rules for the couple in divorce.

Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution simply concludes a conflict and ends in consensus -- in divorce it signals an agreement between a couple as to how their affairs will be handled. Consensus is either a simple knowledge of extant issues or being on the same page, according to David D. Witt, Professor of Family Development. The latter form of consensus is more conducive to successful conflict resolution. For couples going through a divorce, agreement happens through deliberation and communication, allowing both parties to see things the same way. If the couple decides to forego winning as the ultimate goal, they are better able to reach real conflict resolution.

Negotiation and Bargaining

Negotiation and bargaining represent another method leading to resolution and plays a significant role in divorce. This form of problem solving relies on a couple's structure and dynamic. David D. Witt states that the power and influence of the two people plays a role and can change how a divorce proceeds. For instance, the partner who makes more money may have more sway over the proceedings, but the caregiving partner, especially if children are involved, may use his or her status to influence how money is divided.

Aggression and Appeasement

Aggression and appeasement is a form of interaction between two people going through divorce and has the capacity to be positive or negative. Starting arguments or intending to harm the other partner is considered aggression. Any aggression that happens is followed by appeasement, in which the other partner plays out the couple's power dynamic or admits guilt. For example, in divorce, this process can manifest as one partner threatening to take the kids and not grant custody if the other partner does not give up enough money.

About the Author

S. Grey has a Master of Science in counseling psychology from the University of Central Arkansas. He is also pursuing a PhD and has a love for psychology, comic books and social justice. He has been published in a text on social psychology and regularly presents research at regional psychology conferences.

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