The perceived characteristics of irresolvable, resolvable and resolved intimate conflicts: Is there evidence of intractability?

Courtney Waite Miller, Michael E. Roloff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Purpose - The paper seeks to investigate the characteristics of irresolvable interpersonal conflicts by comparing irresolvable conflicts to resolvable and resolved conflicts on each of Coleman's common social psychological factors associated with intractable conflicts. Design/methodology/approach - Undergraduate students were randomly assigned to complete questionnaires about an irresolvable conflict, a resolvable conflict, or a resolved conflict. Participants reported on conflicts in romantic or parental relationships. Findings - Three of Coleman's factors distinguished irresolvable interpersonal conflicts: length of conflict; hopelessness; and resistance to resolution. Three factors did not: issue centrality; conflict pervasiveness; and motivation to harm. Research limitations/implications - The participants in this study were college undergraduates. Because we asked participants to report on conflicts in romantic or parental relationships, this study does not include irresolvable conflicts that might occur in other relationships. The measures employed in this study were self-created and tested for the first time in this investigation. Future research should replicate this study with a more representative sample, focus on the role of communication or individual sense-making processes, and investigate how, if ever, these conflicts end or are resolved. Practical implications - This study indicates that similarities exist between intractable and irresolvable interpersonal conflicts. However, irresolvable interpersonal conflicts in ongoing relationships have unique identifying processes associated relational maintenance despite conflict. Originality/value - To the authors' knowledge, no other research has thoroughly investigated irresolvable interpersonal conflicts. Research on intractable conflicts provides some insight into these conflicts, but our preliminary results indicate that irresolvable interpersonal conflicts likely should not be categorized with other types of intractable conflicts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-315
Number of pages25
JournalInternational Journal of Conflict Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2006


  • Conflict
  • Conflict management
  • Conflict resolution
  • Interpersonal relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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