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Role Disputes

Role Dispute is chosen as the IPT focus area when psychological distress is associated with conflict in one or more of your relationships (i.e., spouse, parent, children, friends, co-workers). Goals in therapy include staging the dispute, improving communication, and choosing an action plan. Staging the dispute involves helping you figure out if there are ongoing attempts to bring out changes in the relationship, or if those attempts are at an impasse or if the relationship is beyond repair. IPT helps you to improve your communication, negotiate your role expectations, or transition towards a termination of the relationship.

Your therapist will help you evaluate important aspects of your relationship including: How was your relationship prior to the difficulties? What changed in the relationship? What are the issues in the dispute? What are your expectations about the relationship? What are the other person’s expectations about the relationship? What do you wish would change in the relationship? What stops you from resolving the issues?

John Gottman has been conducting marital therapy research for 25 years and is a well- respected leader in the field. Although the clients role dispute may include a different type of relationship (i.e., with a parent, child, coworker), the principles of the theory can still be applied. In studying couples communication patterns, Gottman has identified markers of conflict that result in disruptions in the relationship.

  • Harsh Startups – Starting a discussion in a way that does not make the environment conducive to talking about tactful ways to approach a problem. These might include one or more of the following behaviour:

    • Criticism
    • Contempt
    • Defensiveness
    • Stonewalling
  • High physiological arousal
  • Not accepting personal influence
  • No repair attempts
  • Escalation

There are many different types of disputes including overly hostile conflicts, inhibited conflict, betrayals, unmet expectations, separation-individuation issues, and denial of intimacy. There are also different stages of role disputes, including renegotiation, impasse and dissolution.

If the relationship is at the renegotiation stage, you and the other person are aware of the differences between you and are actively trying to bring about changes, even if it has not been successful thus far. If the relationship is at the impasse stage, the discussions between you and the other person have stopped and you are both feeling a lot of resentment. If at the dissolution stage, the relationship is disrupted such that the relationship is beyond repair.

You and your therapist will work to discover the type of dispute you are having and what stage the dispute is in. Your therapist will then help you resolve the dispute or move towards a successful dissolution of the relationship. IPT therapists use a number of strategies, including communication analysis, role play, examining expectations and values, and problem-solving. It can take some time to learn new and effective ways of communicating and relating to one another. However, once disputes have been resolved, the expectation is that you will notice marked improvement in the quality of your relationships and your overall wellbeing.

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