‘Bouncing back’ from conflict: The role of relationship resilience and hope for reconciliation in romantic couples following interpersonal transgressions

Author: Reneshree Govender

Govender, Reneshree, 2022 ‘Bouncing back’ from conflict: The role of relationship resilience and hope for reconciliation in romantic couples following interpersonal transgressions, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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All couples face hardship, and wrongdoings, yet some relationships are able to persevere, bounce back, and even evolve, while others crumble and break down. Research has sought to identify the aspects within the individual as well as the processes shared between partners that strengthen couples to cope, withstand and overcome relational conflicts (e.g., infidelity, betrayal or lies). These resources and processes can cultivate relationship resilience. We define relationship resilience as the dyadic processes exchanged between interactive and interdependent partners for coping, adapting, bending, flexibly maneuvering and overcoming conflict.

Much of psychological research has conceptualized resilience as an independent process within individuals for coping and overcoming hardship (Rutter, 2012), yet resilience in relationships is not simply an intra-psychic process, but one that is dynamic and interactive between partners. To date, resilience has predominantly been studied using individual approaches for overcoming external stressors arising outside the relationship (e.g., a partner’s medical illness; Ong et al., 2006), yet is inadequate in capturing resilience within relationships for internal stressors (e.g., conflict). Research eludes dyadic processes are exchanged between partners for coping (Bodenmann et al., 2018; Gottman et al., 2018; Rutter, 2012) and partners are interactive when responding, reciprocating efforts to reconcile as well as when accommodating relationship changes to restore the relationship (Thompson & Ravlin, 2017; Woodyatt et al., 2022). I propose relationship resilience will reflect dyadic resources (relationship commitment and mutual trust) and interdependent processes (relationship flexibility and dyadic coping) for reaching reconciliation and repair. Furthermore, hopefulness is argued to be resistant and resilient to hardship as well as a resource for partners to reach forgiveness, particularly when the chances of repair are slim (Merolla, 2014). I propose hope may support relationship resilience and in turn these patterns of resilience may sustain conciliatory efforts including forgiveness and self-forgiveness.

Across all studies utilising hypothetical and real-life transgressions within experimental, cross-sectional and prospective paradigms, I primarily aim to provide a theoretical model of relationship resilience for overcoming relationship resilience. Secondly, I aim to validate the dyadic resources and interdependent processes by developing a relationship resilience measurement tool for reaching repair. Thirdly, I aim to empirically test the capacity of hope to support relationship resilience under conditions of small possibility and high personal investments to reach conciliatory processes.

Overall, the research provides preliminary support for the conceptualisation of relationship resilience and its factors for reaching repair. Further, the research suggested hope may support relationship resilience and in turn sustain partners’ efforts to reach forgiveness and self-forgiveness processes. Yet, hope may play a more pronounced role for offenders in reaching repair, than victims when the possibility of repair is small and there are greater investments. This thesis presents important considerations for understanding how dyads engage, interact, exchange, and reciprocate resources and processes of resilience for reconciling as well as preventing relationship termination. The findings provide a novel pathway for research to explore the resiliences within dyads (i.e., teammates, friends, colleagues) that is dynamic between partners for building hardier relationships and even transforming dyads beyond conflict.

Keywords: romantic couples, dyads, relationships, resilience, dyadic processes, interdependent processes, interpersonal transgressions, relationship conflict, hope, relational repair, forgiveness, self-forgiveness, reconciliation

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2022
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Lydia Woodyatt