We develop relationships with others to serve basic human functions and to meet our needs. We create perceptions of the other person and attempt to get them to perceive us in certain ways through various levels of self-disclosure, using different kinds of talk (e.g. CONNECT, D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E.). To sustain a relationship, a supportive climate (the Humanistic model) must be enacted by both parties in order to encourage on-going disclosure and the movement towards deeper emotional ties, while keeping the use of defenses and game playing (from TA) to a minimum.
Climate is particularly important when we need to deal with the various levels of disagreement or conflict that inevitably emerge in our relationships. In building and maintaining relationships, how people fight is just as important as how they love. Their “fighting style” depends on their quality of their emotional self-management and conflict management skills (e.g. light or heavy CO.N.T.RO.L. vs. D.I.A.L.O.G.U.E.).
Finally, all continuing romantic relationships go through a variety of developmental phases that involve different types or levels of intimacy and love. How we respond to this cycle is shaped, in part, by the beliefs about love and romance (see additional readings on web site) we have adopted from our families and the mass media.
Stages the Relationship has gone through
Sam and Alex’s relationship started as a casual interaction in the university after a class. From the dialogue, the two seem to have noticed each other but have never taken the step of having a direct interaction. They both seem to know each other’s names, meaning they could have been admiring each other secretly. The causal dialogue is initiated by Alex and Sam seems grand that despite being so famous for the first time she has been approached by a person she also likes. This demonstrates hope for the development of a strong friendship or a romantic relationship. In their first direct interaction, Alex and Sam discuss the course they seem to share in common, and which they both seem to hate. The two manage to discuss a few things about the course. The conversation seems to be inclined more into knowing about each other in terms of academic goals. This first casual interaction ends in a lunch together event, which is a sign that the two are willing to build a friendship bond.
The causal interaction advanced into deep friendship. Sam and Alex could manage to share their free time. This started with the first lunch and having a friendlier and welcoming conversation during this time, and having a movie together at night. The two demonstrated happiness and satisfaction being together. They both loved staying together and were willing to make sacrifices to share more time and to hang out with each other. The first successful interaction must have welcomed more such events in the next six months. The two shared their time and learned to do most of the social things together. They easily managed to discuss any topic and different events freely. During their friendship, the two shared personal information, feeling, and emotions that made them understand each other much better. This nurtured the seed of love between them. By the end of six months, their relationship had grown deeper into love. The two had grown to like each other, and even to consider advancing their friendship into a romantic relationship (David, n.d.).
Six months after their first encounter, Alex was ready to propose to Sam. Sam accepted Alex proposal and the two started living together. Their relationship had advanced into a romantic stage. This is where the two feel emotionally attached and highly compatible with each other in terms of likes and dislikes, and shared life goals. There is so much love and trust between them. They also managed to confess their love for each other. Sam seems to have fantasized getting engaged to Alex. Alex seemed to have made Sam’s fantasy into reality. They both seem so happy, eager, and ready to take their relationship to the next level. The two moved in together and started living as married couples.
The experience in marriage is considerably different from the courtship experience. Sam and Alex are now living together. They need to make sacrifices and compromises to accommodate each other. Their main strength is the love the share with each other. This is what is going to determine how long their marriage can last. At this stage, they also get to learn more about their likes and dislikes and to use them to send a message about their feeling for each other at different times. The two are anticipated to love each other and hence, each one of them is required to be cautious of what they do or say to avoid conflicts or fallout. The marriage has already lasted for two years. However, it has not been easy. Alex has found Sam cheating and Sam accepted and owned his mistakes. However, the act had broken Sam’s trust and killed her love toward him. To Sam, this was an act of disrespect and betrayal. She is willing to neither forgive nor forget it.
Alex infidelity pushes their relationship into chaos. Sam is so hurt that she no longer cares about Alex’s feelings. She now does things for herself and not for them. Alex is remorseful about his misdeed and he has tried to apologize. However, the trust has been broken and once broken it is hard to rebuild it. The relationship is breaking. Sam cannot share her life with Alex. The betrayal killed all the love feelings she hard for Alex. Nothing Alex can do will rebuild her trust. However, she is scared to be alone. The fear of being without him is the only thing keeping them together. Love does not exist anymore. Their happy moments are replaced by constant arguments and disagreement. While Alex has trying to rebuild what is lost for the last six months, but Sam is not interested. This results in a separation as the first step to a breakup. Currently, Sam and Alex seem to be going in separate ways, marking the end of their two years of marriage.
Cultural Beliefs about Love and Romance May have Contributed to Problems Faced by this Couple
According to Cingoz-Ulu and Lalonde (2007), culture refers to an influential factor in the conceptualization of relationships and in how people opt to handle conflict in their relationship. Culture offers the social rules and norms that guide and regulate interpersonal behaviors, and it can additionally influence vital values, relational and self-construal orientation of people. Culture can thus, influence perceptions of suitable conflict management strategies, face maintenance concerns, and modes of communication. According to Sam, the value of their relationship is long gone, however, she opts to withdraw rather than confront the problem. It is culturally believed that romantic relations must be supplemented by sexual interaction. This makes it easy to resolve most of the romantic relation conflicts. However, when sexual interaction is withdrawn in a conflicting situation, it becomes considerably hard for the couple to resolve their issues. Sam opts to withdraw her sexual interaction with Alex after learning about Alex’s infidelity. This does not go very well with Alex, although he also opts to give Sam time with the hope that she shall one day forgive him and live as a perfect couple again. When Alex realizes that the sexual withdrawal is related to the end of Sam’s love feelings for him, he gives up the fight. Gender is another cultural aspect influencing their conflict. According to Cingoz-Ulu and Lalonde (2007), men are more confrontational than women. This makes Sam consider using other measures to send the message such as cooking what Alex does not like, withdrawing sex, and not caring other than confronting the main cause of their conflict directly. On the contrary, Alex is highly confrontational. Despite being the main cause of discord between them, he cannot take it that Sam cooked what he does not like. Instead of letting it slide, he confronts Sam and brings in their sexual life into this confrontation. The confrontation ends up with a breakup.
Gender also contributed to the conflict in that women are always negatively viewed when they walk out of a relationship. On the contrary, men’s mistakes are ignored and are always expected to be forgiven and accepted back. In some cultures, a woman is also expected to accept polygamy if the man decides. This makes Alex consider his infidelity to act as a trivial matter that ought to be forgiven and forgotten. However, Sam holds her dignity much higher, above cultural expectations. This makes it hard for her to forgive. However, the possibility of prejudice for separating with her partner increases the fear of being left alone and she decides to stay in a broken relationship than walk out. This overstaying in a place one is not happy makes Sam do intentional things against Alex just to annoy him and stir conflict.
Hamburger Fight as an Indication of the Couple Inability to Deal with Conflict
Hamburger fight is a clear indication of the couple’s inability to deal with conflict. The main conflict issue between the couple is infidelity. Alex is engaged with another partner and Sam ended finding out about them. This broke Sam’s trust and killed her romantic feelings from Alex. Alex, on the other hand, owned his mistakes, apologized and decided to change. However, the trust is broken and love is gone on Sam’s side. The main challenge is Sam not open about her real feeling or stand regarding this matter. Instead of speaking openly and giving the couple a chance to discuss the main problem, Sam withdraws and stops caring. On the contrary, Alex still believes in their relationship and still hopes that Sam will get over the incident and rebuild their relationship. The couple has been in this state for the last six months. The spark of love is long gone, now the couple speaks to each other with anger, contempt, and sarcasm. The inability to discuss and resolve the underlying issue makes Sam to develop negative feelings, full of bitterness. Sam becomes more resentful and withdrawn, not ready to leave and not ready to abide by the norms or values that hold a romantic relationship. She seems shuttled but unable to make any decision or move that will satisfy her. Although she remains with Alex, she does it out of the fear of staying alone and not because she intends to rebuild their relationship.
The current relationship situation gives Sam a negative attitude towards Alex. She seems revengeful, but without the power to exact a satisfactory revenge. Consequently, she results in doing things to annoy him. The cooking of hamburger was a deliberate move to annoy Alex, in a quest to satisfy her emotions. She wants Alex to go hungry and she is happy when she makes him suffer for one reason or another. This is what results in the conflict. The conflict is not about cooking hamburgers, but not arranging alternative food for Alex who hates hamburgers. Her deliberate move can be easily detected in her tone and response. Alex is to eat the hamburger that she hates or go hungry. The hamburger conflict is deep-rooted. However, Alex seems unaware of it. Sam does all this to hurt Alex and to hit back for what he did six months ago. Alex, on the other hand, judges it as a normal independent act and that is why he is confrontational and angry about it. Once he realizes that the act is connected with his infidelity, he realizes that what he has been hoping may never happen. He decides to address the tough topic that Sam has been avoiding.
The hamburger fight happened six months after its main cause. This clearly shows that although the couple has been living together, it has never been able to thoroughly solve the event that took place six months ago. Since the incident, the couple has drifted apart and none of them was ready to address the main cause of this. Alex considered remaining silent as he is the main cause for the drift. He hoped that giving Sam time will help her heal and the two get the chance to rebuild their relationship. However, Sam has never intended to rebuild their relationship. On the contrary, she seems to have lost purpose in life and live just for the sake of it. Her anger and bitterness had taken control of her, making her selfish. She no longer cares about “us” but “me”. She cannot move out due to personal fears and she cannot forgive Alex due to her ego. This makes the conflict to remain unresolved for so long and only erupts when Sam clearly shows her lack of care or consideration to Alex (Visseman, Righetti, Kumashiro & Lange, 2016).
How the Fight Could Have Been Done Differently and Maybe Lead the Saga to a Different Ending
The fight could have been done differently by resolving the conflict underlying condition comprehensively. Sam and Alex should have addressed the infidelity issues comprehensively to their satisfaction. For instance, Sam should have expressed her magnitude of hurt when that event happened. Other than being quiet and withdrawing, she should have expressed her anger in all possible means. Alex and Sam could have had an intense dialogue where they would open up on their actual feeling about each other based on the event. A mediator could have been involved if need be. Comprehensive addressing of this issue could have eliminated the bitterness that Sam felts and still feels due to Alex betrayal. Alex could also have understood the magnitude of destruction caused by his action. This could have made it possible for him to show remorsefulness in the same magnitude, even if it meant punishment to satisfy Sam’s emotion (Sailor, 2013). This comprehensive addressing of the infidelity act could have reduced Sam’s bitterness and the time of holding it. By the end of the day, Sam and Alex could have managed to go through the experience conclusively, even if it involved some unpleasant extremes. Once they were able to address it, this issue could have ended completely and a new beginning takes off. As a result, Sam could not have felt necessary to continue punishing Alex for the infidelity act six months after. She could have gotten over it and moved on with life. Probably, they could have not parted ways. The anger and bitterness could have been intensely expressed in another way to the level of satisfaction. Sam could have forgiven Alex and the couple could have moved on with life without any resentfulness. This means the hamburger issue could not have taken place. The couple could have been much happier and connected than they demonstrated in the hamburger fight. The main issue is, it is easier to address a conflict effectively when it happens than postponing it or covering it up and permitting it to control an individual’s emotion over the other party.
Cingoz-Ulu, B., & Lalonde, R. N. (2011). The role of culture and relational context in interpersonal conflict: Do Turks and Canadians use different conflict management strategies? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 31, 443-458.
David, P. (n.d.). Stages of development in intimate relationships. Retrieved from http://pauldavidphd.com/wp-content/uploads/Stages-of-Intimacy.pdf
Sailor, J. L. (2013). A phenomenological study of falling out of romantic love. The Qualitative Report, 18(37), 1-22.
Visseman, M. L., Righetti, F., KUmashiro, M., & Lange, P. A. M. V. (2016). Me or us? Self-control promotes a healthy balance between personal and relationship concerns. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 8(1), 55-65.