Understanding what happens when things do
go wrong offers a couple clues to patterns of
behavior that lead to negative behavior
cycles. Use Slide 3 to review how men and
women react differently in conflict
situations. We need to recognize that men
and women do not operate in the same way
when dealing with conflict. Men have a
tendency to withdraw. They often find it
uncomfortable to talk about their emotions.
Their natural reaction is to withdraw and not
engage in discussion about the conflict issue.
Women on the other hand want to talk about
the issue. Women have learned, through
their growing up years, to talk about issues
and through dialogue resolve the problem at
hand. They are also more comfortable in
talking about their feelings and relationships.
Behavioral Negativity Cascade
Source: Adler -Baeder, F., (2004). Smart Steps, Stepfamily Association of America.
4.Use Slide 4 to talk about the pattern of handling
conflict that has the most negative outcome. It is
represented here in the cascade of negative
behaviors. It begins with a complaint that is
made most often by the woman. As complaints
are not acknowledged or dealt with in a
satisfactory manner, the complaint becomes
criticism. The criticism becomes more and more
personal in its attack. Ask participants for
examples. One is: “You need to fix this door.”
(complaint) to “You are just no good, you never
fix anything around this house.” (criticism). The
complaints and criticisms are most typically met
with the man’s defensive behavior. Contempt
begins to be communicated in interactions.
Examples are sarcasm, belittling and verbal
abuse. Contempt is highly destructive in a
relationship. Lastly, stonewalling occurs.
Stonewalling is when individuals are not
expressing any emotional caring, not supporting
each other in day-to-day situations, and outright
ignoring each other. Introduce and conduct It’s
Your Fault Fred activity to illustrate the
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Mastering the Challenges of Conflict, Session 2 19 2004
It’s Your Fault Fred Activity
Ask group members to form teams of two. Distribute It’s Your Fault Fred activity slips,
Session Materials 1. Ask the teams of two to role play the situation. After the role play,
as a total group identify the stages of conflict and where they think it could be stopped or
derailed. The best intervening point is to not increase the hostility and belittling.
Summarize by asking the group to describe what they observed as the two individuals got
into the conflict cycle. Most typically even in role playing the situation, individuals get
caught up in trying to win by putting the other person down. Ask the group members to
take a few minutes to reflect on a personal relationship and how conflict is handled in it.
Cognitive Distancing Cascade
to the Negative
Source : Adler-Baeder, F., (2004). Smart Steps, Stepfamily Association of America.
5. Use Slide 5 to introduce John Gottman’s
research about divorce. John Gottman is a
well known researcher in the field of
marriage and divorce. His work provides
some clues as to how relationships end in
divorce. Most relationships begin in bliss.
The two individuals are happy when they
are together and talk about the positives,
“good” qualities the other has.
Understanding what happens when things do
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