Carnegie Mellon University

The Role of Power in Conflict Resolution in Romantic Relationships


Project led by:
Jaclyn Ross

Project Adviser:
John Modell

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Project Description

Last semester, I took Dr. Brooke Feeney's psychology course on “Relationships.” It was my favorite course of all that I have taken at Carnegie Mellon. This course taught me so much about human behavior, how intensely our emotions depend on the status of our relationships, as well as how significantly our relationships depend on the status of our emotions.

As I learned more in Dr. Feeney's course about romantic relationships, I found that the area that interested me most was conflict, and how our emotional states are affected by our sense of happiness, comfort,  and security in our romantic relationships. I am realizing that, as a therapist, I would like to help individuals and/or couples who are struggling with negative emotional states due to conflict in their romantic relationships.

The topic of conflict resolution is an area of great significance in the social psychology of relationships. Studying conflict in relationships is particularly important because it can help inform experts in the field as to how to help couples effectively deal with conflict. The topic of conflict approaches in romantic relationships is an area of research that is already rich with data. However, there is a major gap in the current literature that my research aims to fill.

Past research does not demonstrate how individual differences in feelings of power and security in relationships affects people's behavior during conflict. My research posits that couple members who feel insecure and less powerful in their relationships will behave more negatively by demanding, criticizing, stonewalling and showing negative affect (contempt) during conflict discussions. They will engage in less positive conflict resolution strategies such as compromise and cooperative negotiation. The research question for this study considers whether or not there are differences in people's approach to conflict resolution if they feel insecure or less powerful in relationships or secure and powerful in their romantic relationship? I will also examine how these factors affect relationship satisfaction. Gaining further understanding into how feelings of power affect behavior within a relationship would not only be useful for professionals working in a clinical setting, but would also make lay people more aware of how their feelings about their relationship affects their behavior.

Student Bio

Honors Department: Psychology

Hometown: Skillman, New Jersey

Major(s): Psychology

Future Plans: I did not always know that I wanted to be psychologist. I began pursuing a psychology degree at Carnegie Mellon mostly because I was unsure of exactly what I wanted to do. The more time I spent in my various psychology courses, the more certain I became that this was the field I wanted to enter. It was my Introduction to Clinical Psychology course in the first semester of my sophomore year that solidified my passion and dedication to psychology. This class showed me the significance of therapeutic treatment. I felt moved to be a part of the treatment process. I realized after taking that course that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology in order to become a therapist. I hope to one day open my own practice.

Hobbies: Singing, acting.

Fun / Interesting Fact: I am President of “CMU Soundbytes,” an award-winning and student-run a cappella group.