The Importance of Couple-Coping in Decreasing Relationship Conflict

It has long been known that people under stress are prone to angry outbursts and, consequently, increased conflict in their relationships. It is not surprising, therefore, that individual coping skills are critical to managing stress and maintaining healthy relationships. However, new research in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships points out how dyadic coping, when both partners respond to stressors together in a cooperative way, can lead to less intense relationship conflict.

Dyadic coping is when partners respond supportively to one another when under stress. People with good dyadic coping skills tend to delegate tasks in a healthy way when under duress and tend to work together in dealing with external stress. The study looked at the impact of individual and dyadic coping as they relate to stress, anger, and verbal aggression. Results indicated that, while individual coping skills were relevant, they were less relevant than dyadic coping skills.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Guy Bodenmann of the University of Zurich, says that clinicians “should be more aware of the deleterious impact of stress on couples’ interaction and daily life and consider this aspect in working with couples in prevention work as well as in therapy. The findings that stress increases the likelihood of verbal aggression is important as it shows that often couples (even those who are usually able to communicate adequately with each other) may lose this competence when under stress.” He says that because dyadic coping is so important to healthy expressions of anger, it is important to recognize that “strengthening couples’ coping may be a promising and important focus in improving the couples’ functioning.”

Dr. Bodenmann says that the primary message of this study is that “understanding stress, in one partner or the other, might provide important information for making relationship improvements. People enter relationships hoping for compassion and understanding and those relationships suffer a great deal when one or both partners engage in anger and aggression. Containing and eliminating angry outbursts, especially when they become physical, is one of the first steps that a person can take to improve a relationship.”

By Ryan C. Martin

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