Within romantic heterosexual relationships, “traditional masculinity” is the strong adherance to tradtional gender roles and behaviors. Within this type of relationship, the male figure must maintain an authoritative, assertive, and non-emotional role, while the female figure must remain submissive and flexible to the will of her partner. Intriguingly, it is teenagers who often hold these values of “traditional masculinity” and use such views to guide their early romantic relationships.
Typically within their relationships, teens use one or a combination of three different conflict resolution styles in order to smooth out conflicts within their relationships: Conflict negotiation, coercion, and avoidance. Conflict negotiation is a healthy approach to conflict resolution that encourages those involved to reach agreement through compromise by actively listening to one another and being open to other viewpoints on the issue. In contrast, coercion strategies emphasize manipulation and personal attacks to end the conflict and can be detrimental to the short-term outcome of the conflict and the long-term health of the relationship. Further, the avoidance of conflict resolution, such as stonewalling or disengaging from any potential resolution, is another unhealthy method utilized by adolescents to move through conflict situations.
Because of the presence of “traditional masculinity” as well as a variety of common conflict-resolution methods within teen relationships, the question becomes: what is the relationship between adhering to “traditional masculinity” views and the conflict-resolution styles of teen couples? A recent study by Rogers et. al (2020) aimed to understand this link, hoping to improve the way we understand traditional masculinity’s grip on the relationships of young populations.
Within this study, Rogers, et. al (2020) wanted to understand how “traditional masculinity” within heterosexual teen relationships is related to the type of conflict-resolution style – conflict negotiation, coercion, and avoidance – that the couple predominantly uses. To examine this, they recruited 99 couples to discuss several topics, such as a common point of conflict and the role of jealousy within their relationship. The researchers also measured the couples’ “traditional masculinity” views and practices. After these discussions, members of the research team viewed recordings of the discussions and rated the couple on measures of conflict negotiation, coercion and avoidance. Their findings suggest that couples who maintain strong views of traditionally masculine gender roles were less likely to employ the healthy conflict negotiation strategies and more likely to use unhealthy coercion approaches to resolve their differences than the couples that did not hold these strong views, while avoidance strategies did not differ between the two groups.
The implications of these results can be far reaching when it comes to teen populations. The authors suggest that because adolescent relationships often set the stage for future relationships, it is during these relationships that individuals begin to establish patterns and gain tools for addressing conflict within romantic partnerships in the long-term. Thus, these research findings raise the potential concern that teens with a strong “traditional masculinity” viewpoint may establish a pattern of unhealthy conflict-resolution practices within their adult romantic partnerships.
As recognizing and discussing “traditional masculinity” becomes more prevalent within today’s society, it is critical to examine its role and impact within teen relationships in the short-term and in the long-term.
Laursen, B., Finkelstein, B. D., & Betts, N. T. (2001). A Developmental Meta-Analysis of Peer Conflict Resolution. Developmental Review, 21(4), 423-449. doi:10.1006/drev.2000.0531
Rogers, A. A., Ha, T., Byon, J., & Thomas, C. (2020). Masculine gender-role adherence indicates conflict resolution patterns in heterosexual adolescent couples: A dyadic, observational study. Journal of Adolescence, 79, 112-121.