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Gender And Conflcit Essay, Research Paper

The Gender Differences in Conflict

The purpose of my research is to examine the differences between men and women when it comes to conflict in their relationships. I am defining a relationship as a friendship, romantic, or unromantic association. Conflict is something that is generally present at one time or another during a relationship. If a conflict is not resolved, this could lead to the dissolution of the relationship. By examining the differences in the way each gender handles conflict, conflict should be easier to overcome. Not only how each gender handles conflict, but how each perceives it as well. If there is a significant difference in the way men handle x conflict and women handle x conflict, this can be used as a tool by knowing how each other will react. Research on this topic is important because most people are involved in relationships that will go through conflict at some point in the association. No matter how educated one is, conflict is going to be an obstacle to overcome. Knowing the gender differences when it comes to conflict will helps us explore methods and techniques that can be used to resolve conflicts. Conflict is a natural part of a relationship. Conflicts can occur in even the healthiest relationships. Unfortunately, conflict always seems to have such a negative connotation to it. Understanding conflict can make you a better communicator in your personal relationships.

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Present studies suggest that women are more likely than men to assert themselves when attempting to resolve a relationship conflict (Hojjat, 2000). Men, however, tend to avoid direct conflict and engage in conflict management behaviors that range from

conciliatory to avoidant (Hojjat, 2000). My belief is that this can come down to the biological innate differences within men and women. It has been suggested (Hojjat, 2000) that women can cope with conflict within the context of strong negative affects much more competently than can men. Men recover more slowly from autonomic nervous system reactivity than do women (Hojjat, 2000). Therefore, men might be more inclined to avoid exposure to negative affectivity and, therefore, to autonomic nervous system activation than women. Hessink, Kluwer, & Van De Vliert, also supports the research done by Hojjat (2000) that gender differences in conflict can be based in physiological arousal.

Both men and women perceive men as more avoidant of emotional discussion and are more willing to smooth things over. Women, however, perceive themselves, compared to men as more expressive of their negative emotions. In addition, men saw themselves as more willing to compromise than women did (Hojjat, 2000). The belief that if in fact men are more apt to compromise in the conflict, this just goes back to the fact that men do not want to be in the conflict in the first place. Compromising will generally be the quickest way to work through the conflict.

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Demand/withdraw is a pattern that appeared up in every journal reviewed. One spouse/partner attempts to engage in a discussion, resorting to pressure and demands, while the other attempts to avoid conflict and withdraws from the discussion The social

structure perspective of the demand/withdraw communication posits the power differences between men and women, which is area of major determinant of the demand/withdraw pattern (Hessick, 2000). It is typically males who withdraw (Ridley, Wilhelm, & Surra , 2001). Although, this could depend on whether or not the couple in the conflict is married or dating. Mixed results are found when it comes to married couples during demand/withdraw pattern. Some results (Ridley et al., 2001) show that both husbands and wives may take on the role of the person who withdraws. Hessink et al., (2000) found that women tend to demand and men tend to withdraw in marital conflict. Why do women demand and why do men withdraw in close relationships? Hojjat (2000) claims that men have developed a self-differentiate from others, whereas women have developed a self-relation to others. This gender difference permeates social interactions and it predicts women to be pursuing in their search for connectedness, whereas it predicts men to withdraw in the pursuit of autonomy. I believe that when it comes to getting into conflict men avoid and withdraw more than women but, once in the conflict men compromise more than women.

Unfortunately there were no clear-cut reasons as to why one chooses to withdraw from the conflict. Ridley et al., (2001) suggest that partners may withdraw in order to

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calm themselves, to maintain control, or because they have emotionally turned away from the relationship. Another explanation (Ridley et al., 2001) is that one partner attempts to

calm another or accommodate to his or her aggressive behavior. Romantic partners tend to distract the other from unexpressed thoughts and feelings under relationship stress.

Hessick et al., (2000) shows that relationship experiences such as conflict avoidance are related to the individuals attachment to the relationship. Whether or not a couple is married or not affects their response to the conflict. Based on the assumptions that partners in an on going relationship have reciprocal influence on each other, it is

argued that conflict responses are endorsed by partners with the goal of reducing individual emotional arousal, relational incompatibility, and distress within the

marriage (Hojjat,2000). One gender differences that is present in marital conflict is that (Ridely et al., 2000) women read the emotionally reactivity of their husbands in order to keep their conflict from escalating. Yet, depending on how one is satisfied in the marriage, is also going to affect how conflict is looked and acted upon. Partners with self-reports of less positive conflict response were also partners who assessed their marriage less satisfactory. Postive conflict responces, compared with negative responses, will reduce conflict arousal and incompatibility and contribute to a happier less distressed marriage (Hessick et al., 2000).

The way in which a person views conflict will directly link to how they respond to it. Men view conflict more negatively, due to their physiological response, so they have the need to withdraw and avoid the conflict, yet once they have to respond to it they are more compromising than women. I believe that women have a better view of conflict

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because they are the ones who feel the need to maintain the relationship. Thus, believing that conflict is just a natural part of the relationship. I believe that if men were to see

conflict as a more positive thing they would not feel the need to withdraw or avoid it. Although, Ridley et al.,(2000) states that males might avoid talking to their partner about

a potentially threatening or destabilizing issue, but they still think about it constantly.

Yet, overall what I found in my research was the main gender difference between genders is the physiological response. Women generally have a considerable tolerance for physiological arousal and, thus, can maintain high levels of engagement

(Ridley et al., 2000). Men on the other hand (Hojjat, 2000) experience this arousal as being aversive and act dissipate it by withdrawing from the conflict.

In my opinion, I feel that in order to fully answer the question what are the gender differences in conflict, more focus should in fact be placed not on the reaction after the fact, but in the innate biological differences between men and women. I believe that the different reactions between men and women are secondary reactions. I think that what is most intriguing about this research is the primary reactions men and women have towards conflict. Why is it that men go through more intense physiological reactions than women? Is there really anything that can be done to change the way men and women act and react during conflict? The role gender plays in every aspect of our life is without question. Gender transcends through many of our communication processes. Conflict is something that at times cannot be avoided. Learning a little more about how each gender handles conflict will help to make the conflict a constructive process, rather than deconstructive.


Heeskink, A. M., Kluwer, E. & Van De Vliert, E. (2000). The division of labor in close relationships: An asymmetrical conflict issue. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18, 263-282.

Hojjat, M. (2000). Sex differences and perceptions of conflict in romantic issues. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 17, 598-617.

Ridley, C., Surra, C., & Wilhelm, M. (2001). Married couples conflict responses and marital quality. The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 18, 517-534.


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