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Case Study: Marital Relationship and Communication

The case study presents an interesting situation of a husband and wife indulged in a heated argument of which career and compromise are the main drivers of the conflict. The husband puts pressure on the wife for her to understand the importance of his choice to accept a new job offer that involves relocating; the wife does not want the husband to belittle her career and avoid relocating which would otherwise translate into her quitting the job. Analyzing the situation and the way the couple seems to be handling the conflict centered on work, expectations and comprise, several issues of their marital relationship draw one’s attention and their use or misuse of communication to address them. The essay highlights these issues in the light of relevant theory related to family, martial relationships and communication, stresses on the importance of communication to resolve the issue and presents possible alternatives to resolve the issue in question. 

First of all, it is key to identify the type of relationship the couple apparently posses, judging from their communication. There is marital stability as neither of the spouses is considering divorce and has the intentions to divorce, as implied through the discussion relating to future plans (Fincham and Beach, 1999, p.69). Because of the conflict, the level of marital satisfaction is at threat and seems to be decreasing as neither of them is appreciating the needs of each other at this point and expects to be understood rather than to understand. There is clear lack of empathy, as neither of them is ready to put themselves in each other’s shoes. Thus, there is a clear ‘gap’ in the roles in the marriage. 

The husband has made the final decision to relocate, despite the previous opposition of his wife about the job offer. This means that while the husband has previously allowed the wife to work, he demands the wife to give preference to ‘wife work’ which refers to her role physically and emotionally support and nurture the husband (Heavy, et al., 1993, p.20). This has not been expressed much too often and has been implied only as the wife refuses to be closed in a box with her wifely duties and pursue a career of her own. She expects equality from her husband. Therefore, they have assigned different roles to each other than the ones that are expected by one another. According to Christensen and Heavy (1990) as new roles emerge in a marriage, the potential for new conflicts increases.

With the increase in the level of compromise expected from each other, each of the spouses feels a lack of freedom to make decisions (Bradbury and Fincham, 1992, p.620). The wife in this scenario feels that she has the lesser freedom to decide and expect compared to the husband as he has announced his final decision and has clearly stated that he assumes his wife’s profession to be less important than his and thus, implies that her argument against his decision is irrelevant. However, the husband’s decision is based on the fact that he sees himself fulfilling the role of the breadwinner of the household and is responsible for bringing in ‘more’ money and the wife’s occupation brings in the secondary income to the household, bringing back the idea of the wife having a primarily ’wife work’ role (Heavy, et al., 1993, p.19).

They have succeeded to identity that there exists a conflict between them as neither of them is satisfied with the decision and choice of the other. But the type of communication they have chosen paves way for the conflict to be further stimulated rather than resolved (Brant et al., 1997, p.884). Their communication is ‘judgmental’ and ‘punitive’ which is giving rise to coercion in the situation (Cutrona, 1996, p.201). The wife shows lack of trust in the decision and intentions of the husband, which shows that while the wife is listening she does not really trust the husband to offer valid arguments and in doing so she is refusing to accept anything the husband is saying unless it is what she wants. Both of them, however, are being honest and truthful and there is no sign of manipulation (Fincham and Beach, 1999, p.70). But when attention is paid to their use of words, they are respectful of each other. There is no use of ‘foul’ language and verbal display of emotions. Also, there is no violence and intense aggression. They are being emotional and practical at the same time. The wife, sensing the “I” attitude of the husband, executes the similar strategy in communication to clarify her role in the marriage as she wants it and not how the husband is implying her to have. Both of them are making use of ‘self-disclosure’ to clarify their positions in the situation and are attempting to resolve the conflict (Burleson and Denton, 1997, p.885) However, the self-disclosure technique is producing a detrimental impact as negative feedback is being obtained.

The strategy of ‘self-disclosure’ is ideal for resolving this type of conflict in a marriage, which is actually being currently used by them (Strong et al., 2010). However, right execution of the strategy in order to obtain positive outcomes calls for making use of these elements in the conversation: empathetic support, motivational support, esteem support, instrumental support and information support (Heavy, et al., 1993, p.20). Each of them needs to be empathetic at this point, whereby show how caring they are of each other’s position and value the compromise each of them has to make to move forward in their marriage (Fincham, et al., 2002, p.30). Esteem support is necessary which shows that each of them values the contribution of the other in terms of the roles being performed in the marriage (Bienvenu, 1970, p.134). For example, the husband needs to express that his wife’s work is valuable to him as well just as valuable as the husband’s work is to the wife. If the husband feels that the new job is the right choice for their family, then the use of instrumental and information support is necessary which provides complete background and concrete framework of his decision and its possible aftermath for each of them so as to leave no room for argument. And finally, motivational support is to be used to encourage the spouse to come on board with the decision rather than to force and order the other to follow suit.

Communication, as most commonly discussed and stressed upon in the theory of family, marriage and relationships, is the key to happiness and peace, as it allows resolving conflicts and reducing them to a great extent (Heavy, et al., 1993, p.20; Strong et al., 2010). Analysis of the case presents a key finding that the source of conflict between the couple is the gap that exists in the roles in marriage each of them has assigned to each other and this is mainly due to the lack of effective communication. The spouses have implied but not fully and properly expressed what they expected from each other and now everything that has been bottled up is coming out in the form of a major conflict. The use of self-disclosure, making use of empathetic, motivational, esteem, instrumental and information support would allow the conflict to be effectively resolved, and in turn, assist in improving their relationship for the long run. 

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