The connections between communication technologies and relational conflict: A multiple goals and communication interdependence perspective

John P. Caughlin, Erin D. Basinger, Liesel L. Sharabi

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There is a long history of scholarly interest in relational conflict, and the literature on the topic has become enormous (for reviews, see Caughlin et al, 2013; Sillars & Canary, 2013). For most of the time that scholars have studied relational conflict, the main focus has been on individuals’ verbal and nonverbal behaviors during face-to-face (FtF) conflict episodes. Despite the recent rise of research on technologically mediated communication (TMC) and especially computer-mediated communication (CMC) within personal relationships (Barnes, 2003; Baym, 2010; Konjin et al, 2008), extremely little research on relational conflict has considered the role that new communication technologies may play in relational conflict. Indeed, many of the common methods for studying relational conflict effectively preclude learning about the potential functions of TMC; for example, typical observational methods direct participants to have a FtF discussion about conflict topics in a laboratory setting that would discourage the use of TMC (e.g., see Caughlin & Scott, 2010). Although conflict scholars (including the lead author of this chapter) have been slow to consider the role of TMC in relational conflict, there are good reasons to suspect that understanding contemporary relational conflict will require an understanding of TMC in such conflicts. Young adults often use social networking throughout the day (Duggan & Brenner, 2013), and with the rise in smartphones, the potential for using technologies in their communication is nearly constant (Birnholtz et al, 2012). Although CMC can play a role in establishing and maintaining weak tie relationships, young adults now commonly use TMC in established relationships with friends, family, and romantic partners (Ellison et al, 2007; Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008). Given that conflict is common in such relationships, and individuals are using technologies to communicate in those relationships, it seems likely that people use TMC in at least some relational conflicts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCommunicating Interpersonal Conflict in Close Relationships
Subtitle of host publicationContexts, Challenges, and Opportunities
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9781317683810
ISBN (Print)9781138774896
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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