Perceived Regard, Expressive Suppression During Conflict, and Conflict Resolution

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Abstract

The way emotions are expressed during relationship conflict should play an important role in facilitating conflict resolution, but the risk of rejection that conflict poses may promote expressive suppression, which could impede conflict resolution. In the current research, the authors applied a risk regulation perspective to understand when expressive suppression will occur during conflict. They predicted that (a) perceiving lower regard from the partner during conflict would predict greater expressive suppression, and (b) greater expressive suppression would undermine conflict resolution. In Study 1, individuals engaged in a conflict discussion with their romantic partner (N = 180 couples) and then reported the degree to which they felt regarded by their partner and generated a solution to the conflict during the discussion. Independent coders rated how much individuals attempted to suppress their emotional expressions during the conflict. In Study 2, individuals reported on their relationship conflict, perceived regard, expressive suppression, and conflict resolution every day across a 3-week period (N = 73 couples). In both studies, perceiving lower positive regard during conflict was associated with greater expressive suppression. Greater expressive suppression was, in turn, associated with lower conflict resolution. These associations were not due to greater stress/upset or negative emotions, greater withdrawal, greater attachment insecurity, or lower positive regard for the partner. These within-situation associations suggest that expressive suppression may often arise to bypass the risk of rejection that occurs when people feel less positively regarded by their partner, but expressive suppression may also put relationships at further risk by undermining conflict resolution.

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