Containment versus escalation: The trajectory of couples’ conversational complaints

Janet Alberts, Gillian Driscoll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


This study was designed to analyze couples’ complaint episodes. Rather than focusing on single act‐to‐act sequences, this analysis focused on lengthier interactions of four to approximately 70 turns. This microanalysis revealed that during conflict couples typically enact one of six complaint episodes: passed (ignoring the complaint), refocused (changing the focus of the complaint), mitigated (downgrading the severity of the complaint), responsive (validating the partner's complaint), unresponsive (denying the validity of the partner's complaint), or escalated (expanding the topic and hostility level of the complaint interaction). It was also determined that satisfied couples were three times more likely to engage in passed, refocused, mitigated and responsive episodes while dissatisfied and mixed couples were twice as likely to engage in unresponsive or escalated episodes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)394-412
Number of pages19
JournalWestern Journal of Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1992

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication


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