Relying on God to Resolve Conflict: Theistic Mediation and Triangulation in Relationships between College Students and Mothers by ProQuest


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									Journal of Psychology and Christianity                                    Copyright 2009 Christian Association for Psychological Studies
2009, Vol. 28, No. 4, 291-301                                                                                          ISSN 0733-4273

Relying on God to Resolve Conflict: Theistic
Mediation and Triangulation in Relationships
  between College Students and Mothers
                                  Gina M. Brelsford                       Annette Mahoney
                                Penn State Harrisburg               Bowling Green State University

          This study examines reliance on God to resolve conflict within mother-adult child relationships in a
       Christian sample. College students and their mothers (N = 116) reported on each party’s reliance on theis-
       tic mediation (God/faith invoked constructively to mediate conflict) and theistic triangulation (God/faith
       positioned as an ally against other party). Both parties’ reports of theistic mediation by college students
       positively related to students’ self-reported relationship satisfaction and use of collaboration. According to
       both parties, theistic triangulation by mothers positively correlated with stonewalling and verbal aggres-
       sion by both parties. College students’ use of theistic triangulation correlated with their use of verbal
       aggression and stonewalling, although these links varied based on reporter. Global religiousness and
       demographics were controlled in all analyses.

   Although sociologists have clearly demonstrat-                collaborative conflict resolution methods (e.g., lis-
ed that higher general religiousness on the part                 tening openly, sharing ideas calmly) facilitate rela-
of a given family member (e.g., religious affilia-               tionship functioning (Easterbrooks, Cummings, &
tion and attendance, private prayer) is linked to                Emde, 1994). However, maladaptive methods,
better marital and parent-offspring relationships                such as verbal aggression (e.g., yelling, insulting)
(Mahoney et al., 2001), relatively little is known               or stonewalling (e.g., refusal to discuss conflict),
about how religion or spirituality may operate                   tend to undermine relationship quality (Grotevant
within family relationships. A few recent psy-                   & Cooper, 1986). In addition to these types of
chological studies show that family relationships                well-studied conflict resolution communication
often do possess a spiritual dimension. For                      strategies, individuals can draw God and faith into
example, individuals often view their marriage                   dyadic conflict to try to resolve differences
and parenting as having divine significance and                  (Mahoney, 2005). Further, as Butler and col-
meaning (Mahoney, Pargament, & DeMaris,                          leagues (Butler & Harper, 1994; Gardner, Butler, &
2009; Murray-Swank, Mahoney, & Pargament,                        Seedall, 2008) point out, turning a human dyad
2006), and family members routinely engage in                    into a divine triad (God-self-other) can be done in
religious rituals together (Fiese & Tomcho, 2001;                ways that either hinder or help peoples’ relation-
Smith, 2005) or talk about their faith journeys                  ships. In this study, we examine both types of
(Brelsford & Mahoney, 2008). These types of                      spiritually-based conflict resolution strategies.
integration of religion and spirituality into family                In the former case, God and religion/spirituali-
dynamics correlate with better relationship func-                ty may be overtly called upon by one or both
tioning. We take this line of research further by                parties to back up their own position and coerce
examining how mother-adult child dyads can                       the partner to change, a process we label here as
draw God/faith into their conflicts in potentially               “theistic triangulation.” Based on clinical obser-
harmful and helpful ways.                                        vations of distressed couples, Butler and Harper
Conflict Resolution via Theistic Triangulation                   (1994) referred to this as a “coalition triangle”
and Mediation                                                    because each party attempts to draw God into
  When conflicts emerge between two individu-                    an alliance against the other partner. Individuals
als, each party faces choices in how to resolve                  engaged in a theistic coalition triangle would
their differences (Kerig, 1996). Ample research                  suggest God is on their side of the conflict, God
with marital and parent-child pairs indicates that               will punish the other person, or they could
                                                                 imply that their own position is correct because
Correspondence regarding this article should be                  it is what God wants. In this triangle, efforts t
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