Conflict, Communication and Improving Close Relationships

shutterstock_141473581Poor communication during relationship conflict is the most prevalent and difficult to treat problem couples can experience in their relationships. Our research examines the consequences of the different ways couples try to improve their relationship problems, such as whether expressing anger and hostility versus communicating affection and optimism during conflict helps or harms relationships. Our work shows that ‘negative’ communication behaviours, such as anger and hostility, can sometimes produce increases in relationship wellbeing because they directly target problems and motivate partner change.

In contrast, a warm affectionate approach to conflict can maintain positivity in the short term, but it can produce serious costs if couples continue to face growing problems over time. The impact of different conflict strategies, however, depends on a range of contextual variables, including the self-esteem and attachment insecurity of each partner, and how the responses of each partner jointly influence each other. Our research suggests that, although conflict can be tough and difficult to manage, conflict can also offer the opportunity for relationships to grow and become more secure.

< go back to research

Recent Publications:

Sasaki, E., Overall, N.C., Chang, V.T., & Low, R.S. T. (online advance). A dyadic perspective of emotional suppression: Own or partner suppression weakens relationships. Emotion.

Overall, N.C., Chang, V.T., Pietromonaco, P.R., Low, S.T. & Henderson, A.M.E. (2022). Partners’ attachment insecurity and stress predict poorer relationship functioning during COVID-19 quarantines. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 13, 285-298.

Overall, N.C., Pietromonaco, P.R. & Simpson, J.A. (2022). Buffering and spillover of adult attachment insecurity in couple and family relationships. Nature Reviews Psychology, 1, 101-111. doi.10.1038/s44159-021-00011-1

Pietromonaco, P.R., Overall, N.C. & Power, S.I. (2022). Depressive symptoms, external stress, and marital adjustment: The buffering effect of partner’s responsive behavior. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 13(1), 220-232.

McRae, C. S., Overall, N. C., Henderson, A. M. E., Low, R. S. T., & Cross, E.J. (2021). Conflict-Coparenting Spillover: The role of actors’ and partners’ attachment insecurity and gender. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(7), 972-982.

Pietromonaco, P.R., Overall, N.C., Beck, L.A., & Powers, S.I. (2021). Is low power associated with submission during marital conflict? Moderating roles of gender and traditional gender role beliefs. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 12, 165-175.

Sasaki, E., & Overall, N.C. (2021). Partners’ withdrawal when actors behave destructively: Implications for perceptions of partners’ responsiveness and relationship satisfaction. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 47, 307-323.

Overall, N.C. (2020). Behavioral variability reduces the harmful longitudinal effects of partners’ negative-direct behavior on relationship problems. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Low, R.S.T., Overall, N.C., Cross, E.J., & Henderson, A.M.E. (2019). Emotion regulation, conflict resolution, and spillover on subsequent family functioning. Emotion, 19, 1162-1182.

Overall, N.C. (2018). Does partners’ negative-direct communication during conflict help sustain perceived commitment and relationship quality across time? Social Psychological and Personality Science, 9,

Thompson, R.A., Overall, N.C., Cameron, L.D., & Low, R.S.T. (2018). Emotional suppression during relationship conflict: Regulating the risk of rejection via emotional suppression impedes conflict resolution. Journal of Family Psychology, 32, 722-732.

Overall, N.C., & McNulty, J.K. (2017). What type of communication during conflict is beneficial for intimate relationships? Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, 1-5.

Overall, N.C., Hammond, M.D., McNulty, J.K., & Finkel, E.J. (2016). Power in context: Relationship and situational power interact to predict men’s aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111, 195-217.

Overall, N.C., Girme, Y.U., & Simpson, J.A. (2016). The Power of Diagnostic Situations: How support and conflict can foster growth and security. In C.R. Knee and H.T. Reis (Eds.), Positive Approaches to Optimal Relationship Development. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sillars, A., & Overall, N.C. (2016). Coding observed interaction. In D. Canary & A. VanLear (Eds.), Researching Communication Interaction Behavior: A Sourcebook of Methods and Measures. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jayamaha, S.D., Antonellis, C., & Overall, N.C. (2016). Attachment insecurity and inducing guilt to regulate romantic partners. Personal

Jayamaha, S.D., & Overall, N.C. (2015). The Moderating effect of agents’ self-esteem on the success of negative-direct partner regulation strategies. Personal Relationships, 22, 738–761.

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G.J.O., Simpson, J.A., & Filo, J. (2015). Attachment insecurity, biased perceptions of romantic partners’ negative emotions, and hostile relationship behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 108(5):730-749. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., Girme, Y.U., Lemay, E.P. Jr., & Hammond, M.D. (2014). Attachment anxiety and reactions to relationship threat: The benefits and costs of inducing guilt in romantic partners. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 235-256. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., Simpson, J.A., & Struthers, H. (2013). Buffering attachment avoidance: Softening emotional and behavioral defenses during conflict discussions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 854-871.  Download PDF

Overall, N.C., & Simpson, J.A. (2013). Regulation processes in close relationships. In J.A. Simpson & L. Campbell (Eds.), Oxford Handbook of Close Relationships (pp. 427-451). New York: Oxford University Press.

Overall, N.C. (2012). The costs and benefits of trying to change intimate partners. In P. Noller & G. Karantzas (Eds.), Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of Couple and Family Relationships (pp. 234-247). Wiley-Blackwell.

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G.J.O., & Tan, R. (2012). Feedback processes in intimate relationships: The costs and benefits of Partner Regulation Strategies. In R. M. Sutton, M. M. Hornsey, & K. M. Douglas (Eds.), Feedback: The Handbook of Praise, Criticism, and Advice (pp. 169-184). New York: Peter Lang.

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G. J. O., Simpson, J. A., & Sibley, C.G. (2009). Regulating partners in intimate relationships: The costs and benefits of different communication strategies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 620-639. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., Fletcher, G. J. O., & Simpson, J.A. (2006). Regulation processes in intimate relationships: The role of ideal standards. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 91, 662-685. Download PDF

Other Relevant Publications:

Dixon, H.C., & Overall, N.C. (2018). Regulating fears of rejection: Dispositional mindfulness attenuates the links between daily conflict, rejection fears and destructive relationship behaviors. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35, 159-179.

Russell, V.M., Baker, L.R., McNulty, J.K., & Overall, N.C. (2018). “You’re Forgiven, but Don’t Do It Again!” Direct Partner Regulation Buffers the Costs of Forgiveness. Journal of Family Psychology, 32, 435-444.

Baker, L.T., McNulty, J.K., & Overall, N.C. (2014). When negative emotions benefit relationships. In W.G. Parrott (Ed.), The Positive Side of Negative Emotions (pp. 101-125). New York: Guilford.

Baker, L.T., McNulty, J., Overall, N.C., Lambert, N., & Fincham, F. (2013). How do relationship maintenance behaviors affect individual well-Being? A contextual perspective. Social and Personality Psychological Science, 4, 282-289. Download PDF

Campbell, L., Overall, N.C., Rubin, H., & Lackenbauer, S.D. (2013). Inferring a partner’s ideal discrepancies: Accuracy, projection, and the communicative role of interpersonal behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 105, 217-233. Download PDF

Hira, S.N., & Overall, N.C. (2011). Improving intimate relationships: Targeting the partner versus changing the self. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28, 610-633. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., Sibley, C.G., & Tan, R. (2011). The costs and benefits of sexism: Resistance to influence during relationship conflict interactions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 101, 271–290. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., & Fletcher, G.J.O. (2010). Perceiving regulation from intimate partners: Reflected appraisal and self-regulation processes in close relationships. Personal Relationships, 17, 433-456. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., & Sibley, C.G. (2010). Convergent and Discriminant Validity of the Accommodation Scale: Evidence from Three Diary Studies. Personality and Individual Differences, 48, 299-304. Download PDF

Overall, N.C., & Sibley, C.G. (2008). When accommodation matters: Situational dependency within daily interactions with romantic partners. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 95-104. Download PDF

Friesen, M.D., Fletcher, G.J.O., & Overall, N.C. (2005). A dyadic assessment of forgiveness in intimate relationships. Personal Relationships, 21, 61-77. Download PDF