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Connecting Families: A Relationship Enhancement Program

goes to bed. She frequently tells her friends that Doug is dull and uninterested in
her and their relationship. What are her and his assumptions?
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Mastering the Challenges of Conflict, Session 2 16 2004
SESSION PREPARATION: To prepare to teach the session, make copies of Emotional
Bank Account, Handout 1. Prepare the It’s Fred’s Fault, Session Materials 1, and
Constructive Griping, Session Materials 2. Review “I” Statement Summary, Background
Information 1, the PowerPoint slides, and session outline.
Participants will:
1 Recognize that conflict is a natural aspect
of interpersonal relationships.
1 Identify behaviors that reinforce and
accelerate the cycle of conflict.
1 Develop strategies to break the cycle of
conflict and increase the quality of
1 Conflict often occurs when individual’s
values, expectations or assumptions clash.
1 Conflict is inevitable and does not predict
relationship break-up.
1 Individuals in close relationships develop
patterns of behavior to handle conflict.
1 Strategies can be learned to strengthen
one’s relationship and prevent the negative
outcomes of poorly handled conflict.
Connecting Families:
Mastering the
Challenges of Conflict
Session 2
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Mastering the Challenges of Conflict, Session 2 17 2004
Mastering the Challenge of Conflict
Connecting Families
Session 2
1. Welcome group participants and introduce
the session. Mastering the challenge of
conflict in a relationship begins by
recognizing that conflict is an inevitable
aspect of all relationships. Ask group
members to introduce themselves and
guess what the most frequent trigger of
conflict in marriage is. After everyone has
spoken, summarize the suggested triggers.
Research tells us that money and children
are the issues about which couples most
frequently disagree. But no matter what a
couple disagrees about, the key is to have
the skills and strategies to resolve conflict
which contributes to building a
Conflict Boils Over When:
¡ Unaware of each other’s values,
expectations and assumptions
¡ Unreasonable expectations exist
¡ Issues of concern are not verbalized
or ignored
2. Use Slide 2 to describe how conflict
operates in relationships. When two
individuals see life differently and expect
different things for their life and their
relationship, a conflict situation is set up.
Much like a pot of boiling soup, when the
fire gets too hot, it boils over. So do
relationships when too many unresolved
issues are ignored or tolerated. The pot
begins to simmer and eventually boils. In
marriage, the relationship pot boils over
when the two individuals are not aware of
their own and their partner’s values,
expectations, and assumptions. Conflict
occurs when one of the individuals is being
unreasonable in their expectations and is
not willing to openly talk about what they
Connecting Families Penn State Cooperative Extension
Mastering the Challenges of Conflict, Session 2 18 2004
Men vs. Women in Conflict Situations
¡ Withdraw
¡ Become nonverbal
¡ Uncomfortable
expressing feelings
¡ Push to have their
issues voiced
¡ Highly verbal
¡ Openly express
their feelings
3. 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
Recasting the
Marital History
Emotional Distancing
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. However,
when the relationship is having trouble
one or both individuals experience
feelings of being overwhelmed by the
negative aspects of the relationship.
The flooding stage sets the relationship up for the couple to begin to focus on the
negative aspects of the relationship. No longer is there bliss, but everything that is wrong
with the other individual and the relationship move into the spot light. In the third stage,
the couple so focuses upon the negative that they cannot remember the “good times” and
what was positive even begins to be cast in a negative perspective. “He was always
…….” Lastly, emotional distancing occurs in which the individual is non responsive to
the others emotional and psychological needs. The relationship is dead because one of
the partners has “checked out” and is no longer engaged. Often


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