Stereotypes are means of cognitive economy, forms of explanation or collective tools of representation and action. Often people are identified as members of a category, a group, based on gender, origin, culture, religion, color, hairstyle or clothing. The more exaggerated the images or the harder they correspond to individual realities, the easier they are called stereotypes.

In addressing the conflict in heterosexual couples and the stereotypes or stable impressions that partners form about how they expect their romantic partner to address conflict, its worth mentioning that of course these expectations influence the interaction and shape patterns of future disagreements.

Conflict resolution styles are known to play a critical role in shaping relationship maintenance behaviors and ultimately relationship satisfaction (Gottman, 2014). How each partner engages in conflict resolution (compromise and negotiation (positive) and confrontation/withdrawal or compliance (negative)) has been shown to be a stronger predictor of relationship outcomes than the overall type or frequency of conflict (Noller & Feeney, 1998 ) and has been linked to both physical and psychological well-being (Whitson). Longitudinal studies incorporating behavioral observation techniques have identified distinct behavioral response patterns (e.g, demand-withdrawal) that are strongly associated with relationship dissatisfaction and dissolution in the first decade of marriage (Gottman & Levenson, 2000, Heavy et al., 1995). Furthermore, a compelling body of work has emerged examining how individuals’ perceptions of the conflict styles used by their romantic partner are associated with satisfaction or dissatisfaction/relationship dissolution (Kurdek, 1994, Kurdek, 1995).                In this sense, one can identify stereotypes around the conflict style, but also stereotypes and expectations around what the partner’s conflict style should be:

• stereotypes such as “women are irrational” or “women have impossible demands”, “woman is like a hawk/dragon”, “men retreat into the cave”, “men run away or hide”, “whatever you do is going to be wrong in her eyes’’ tend to establish the woman in a position of ”demand/confrontation” and the man in a position of ”withdrawer/retreat”.

And although there is a vast majority of couples in which women pursue their male partners, seeking greater emotional connection and intimacy, and men become polarized through distancing, these patterns have not been validated as applying exclusively to the entire and each category.

• in addition to the “pursuer – woman/withdrawer – man” stereotype, there are also stereotypical expectations such as “women must be kind and understanding”, “women must accommodating”, “women take care of the family”, indicating expectations related to “how a woman should be” during the conflict, submissive, conformed for the greater good; while reductionist stereotypes about men can sound something like “men are like big children”, “men are immature”, “men don’t cry”, “men have to be men”, correlating with expectations of compromise and negotiation; of course these perceptions alter the conflict dynamic through different positioning of the partners and increasing the conflict intensity.

In a study carried out by “Accuracy and bias in perceptions of conflict style among same-sex and heterosexual couples” regarding the accuracy and bias of perceptions, it was shown that although the members of same-sex and heterosexual couples show some similarity regarding the accuracy and bias of perceptions, a number of compelling differences suggest that a couple’s gender and sexual orientation shape perceptions of their partner’s conflict style. In addition, women have a positive bias about their conflictual style compared to the male target.

Other identified stereotypes that affect conflict dynamics may be related to:

Personality traits – for example, women are often expected to be emotional but accommodating, while men are usually expected to be aggressive but self-confident.

Domestic behaviors — for example, some people expect women to take care of the children, cook and clean the house, while men take care of the finances, work on the car and do the home repairs.

Occupations – Some people are quick to assume that teachers and nurses are women and that pilots, doctors, engineers and leaders are men; in dyads where both partners work and/or in leadership positions, there are aggressive power conflicts and decision games that damage the couple; financial independence of both partners can be seen as a threat to individual status.

Physical appearance – For example, women are expected to be slim and graceful, while men are expected to be tall and muscular. Men and women are also expected to dress and groom themselves in ways that are stereotypical of their gender (men wearing pants and short hairstyles, women wearing dresses and makeup).Hyperfemininity, as an exaggeration of stereotypical behavior believed to be feminine, can include passivity, compensation, compromise, silence, susceptibility to suffering physically or emotionally abusive treatment from partners.

Hypermasculinity, as an exaggeration of stereotypical behavior believed to be masculine, can include dominating women through aggression, imposition, high demands, even physical violence.

As effects, these gender stereotypes make it difficult to approach positive conflict strategies through compromise and negotiation, not allowing partners to fully express their emotions.

To identify ways to combat, reduce or manage, we can first look in the direction of explanations or potential sources of where the stereotypes first arose.

One explanation may be that ancestrally, men are more physiologically reactive to stressful stimuli, so when there is conflict in the relationship, they may use withdrawal as a way to calm down. It is also true that women are more affiliation-oriented and have a greater predisposition to “pursue” and men are more oriented to be independent and autonomous and more likely to “withdraw”.

The alternative explanation is that these gender roles in heterosexual relationships are more attributable to the social structure of a traditional marriage. Women seek change in their marriages more than men. Since men are the main beneficiaries of the inequitable distribution of power in a traditional marriage, they are less likely to seek change in their relationships and to see their wives’ demands for change as threatening to the preservation of this status quo.

Regardless of the explanation, it is clear that this is a model that is not sustainable, it presents increasing social risks, escalating conflicts, causing significant disturbances in the relationship and especially resulting in the increased rate of divorces and the number of single-parent families.In managing these stereotypes, women can interrupt this growing pattern by reducing their hopes and expectations from their partner, filtering the demands that are priority, realizing the needs/requirements early enough and anchoring the man in the context, finding the right moments, engaging in a dialogue assertive rather than aggressive. At the same time, the woman can more often use techniques of active listening, asking open questions, curiosity and centering to understand and validate the partner’s situation, positive strokes and elements of appreciation for the support opportunities offered by the man.

 In parallel, men can more often notice the emotional distance and look for connection, trying mental closeness, responding to the requests addressed by the woman by openly sharing his available resources, as well as emotions/needs.

All these can create a calm environment, conducive to dialogue, understanding perspectives and with greater orientation towards positive conflict strategies, respectively compromise and negotiation, extending support, communicating stress and taking intentional time for sharing (positive dyadic coping). Alternatively, couples can also go to therapy, to identify reactive patterns of the couple, increase their awareness of the needs of the other and find healthier ways of emotional expression, needs and finding solutions that respond to the couple.

Bibliography:

United Nations Human Rights, (2014), Office of the high Commisioner – Women’s Rights and Gender Section, OHCHR Research and Right to Development Division Rule of Law, Equality and Non-Discrimination Branch, Gender stereotypes and Stereotyping and women’s rights

https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Issues/Women/WRGS/OnePagers/Gender_stereotyping.pdf

Smoreda Z., (1995), British Journal of Social Psychology: Power, gender stereotypes and perceptions of heterosexual couples, Britsh Psychological Society; https://bpspsychub.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.2044-8309.1995.tb01075.x

Weiss, A.G, (2019),Why Men Withdraw in Relationships When Women Pursue. The Pursuer-Distancer Relationship

https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/why-men-withdraw-in-relationships-when-women-pursue-wcz/

Wickham R.E., Beard C.L., (2016), Journal of Research in Personality: Accuracy and bias in perceptions of conflict style among same-sex and heterosexual couples; https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0092656616301702



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Camelia Krupp

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Building future globally! I am fascinated by human beings and their psychology and dedicate my life to bettering their capabilities and those of the organizations they are in. The first step starts with you and if I can support and empower you to take one step further in your growth, then my mission as a coach is fulfilled. Building self every day is the single meaning of life!

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