Study Finds Two Reasons Why Couples Fight

July 26th, 2010

An article recently published in the journal Psychological Assessment describes a series of studies I conducted to identify couples’ underlying concerns during conflicts. As described in the Couple Conflict Consultant resource bank, there are two basic types of underlying concern that appear to drive the majority of conflicts between partners. During a conflict, your underlying concern is your fundamental reason for feeling upset. It is the fuel that gives the conflict heat.

This recently published research was based on several thousand married participants, and in this research, I used a statistical procedure called factor analysis to study the words people use when they describe a conflict with a spouse. By analyzing how different types of words tend to be used together, I discovered that most conflicts boil down to just two basic underlying concerns: perceived threat and perceived neglect. Your underlying concern is a perceived threat when you believe you are being unfairly blamed, controlled, attacked, or criticized. Your underlying concern is a perceived neglect when you believe your partner is failing to make a desired contribution to the relationship.

To resolve conflict, it is important for each partner to recognize his or her underlying concerns. One way to do this is to complete a free assessment using the Couple Conflict Consultant. The assessment results will include scores for both perceived threat and perceived neglect and they are based on the same scales that were used in the recently published research article. I recommend that couples complete an assessment after every relationship conflict. By getting repeated feedback on your underlying concerns, you will eventually develop an ability to quickly and accurately recognize these concerns whenever they occur.

The reference for the above study is:

Sanford, K. (2010). Perceived threat and perceived neglect: Couples’ underlying concerns during conflict. Psychological Assessment, 22, 288-297.

The study was also summarized at the following websites:

Science Daily

Web MD

3 Responses to “Study Finds Two Reasons Why Couples Fight”

  1. Shannon says:

    No! “Perceived threat” is when a wife feels threatened by another woman and that ties in with “perceived neglect.” That is, because the wife feels and/or is NEGLECTED by her husband, then she feels and/or is THREATENED by another woman! Voila! DUH.
    In addition, “perceived” is not a good word. So much of the time threats and neglect are actually present, and not simply only “perceived” by the partner. That is, what the partner “perceives” is reality, not “just his/her imagination” or “perception.”
    Besides all that, how many couples are really honest during the studies/research?

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