Conflict, according to Wilmot & Hocker (2011), is defined as an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from others in achieving their goals.
At the core of all conflict analysis is perception (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011). In interpersonal conflicts, people react as though there are genuinely different goals, there is not enough of some resource, and the other person actually is getting in the way of something prized by the perceiver (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011).
This analysis gives attention to the elements that make up conflict between parties in the movie, Family Stone. While it focuses on the communicative exchanges that make up the conflict episodes in the movie, it also attempts to help one understand that people involved in conflicts have perceptions about their own thoughts and feelings and perceptions about the other’s thoughts and feelings; conflict is present when there are joint communicative representations of it (Wilmot & Hocker, 2011). In this analysis of the movie, joint communicative representations of the parties’ thoughts and feelings are identified in “expressions of struggle” between Everett and his family; between Meredith and Everett’s family; and between Everett and Meredith, and finally examining the emotions set off within the parties as a result of unresolved conflict.
Incompatible goals are one of the “expressions of struggle” between Everett and his family. Everett wants to marry Meredith and give her his grandmother’s wedding ring that his mother promised to give him for his bride when he married. Everett wants his family to see him as successful as he engages in all the so-called trappings: Meredith, the BMW, and the neckties. His family does not want him to marry Meredith because she is perceived by them as superficial. For this reason his mother refuses to give him his grandmother’s wedding ring. The family wants Everett to remain true to the lifestyle of his upbringing.
Another “expression of struggle” between Everett and his family is scarce resources. These are love, power, attention, and self-esteem. Wilmot & Hocker (2011) cites these as intangible commodities. Sybil Stone’s parental position gives her power over Everett, and she uses it in refusal to relinquish her mother’s wedding ring to him. In order to save face, he purchases one twice as large and expensive to give to Meredith in retaliation. His mother feels that his love will be lost on someone not good enough for him.
Interference is yet another of the “expression of struggle” between Everett and his family. According to Wilmot & Hocker (2011), if the presence of another person interferes with desired actions, conflict intensifies. In addition to the family clan attempting to block his plans, Everett eventually meets Meredith’s sister, Julie, who is down to earth and adventurous. They have much in common and he finds himself in her hopes and desires. This leads to intensified conflict between Meredith and himself (The Family Stone, Bezucha, 2006). Incompatible goals exist between Meredith and Everett’s family. Meredith wants to be accepted for who and how she is.
She tries too hard to “fit in,” often bungling things up. She wants the family to see her as competent and “worthy” of the Stone name as she perceives herself to be “just as good as they are.” Meredith takes herself too seriously and doesn’t know how to lighten up and relax. The family wants Everett to be involved with someone more like the family – informal and laid-back, not someone who looks upon them as weird and uncouth. Meredith is seen by them as judgmental, especially when communicating her views on the gay lifestyle, and snobbish (too good to sleep on the sofa that she would put someone out of their room) (The Family Stone, Bezucha, 2006).
The scarce resource in this case is the supply of affection that is tied to Everett. Meredith wants to hold on to the guy who “validates” her and reinforces her self-esteem with attention and adherence to her lifestyle (BMW, tie-wearing, Manhattan city life). The family sees themselves losing the attention and affection of a beloved family member to someone who is attempting to make him like her (The Family Stone, Bezucha, 2006).
Meredith feels that all of the family members interfere by ganging up on her to render her relationship with Everett as null and void. The family perceives Meredith’s presence as an interference to the purpose of the family gathering; especially the mother, who wanted to utilize the occasion to talk to the family about her terminal illness. However, Ben, sympathizing with Meredith after she gives out Christmas gifts to the family members, gets her to relax and hang loose by getting her drunk at a town pub. She finds herself in his ability to be sensitive and non-judgmental toward her (The Family Stone, Bezucha, 2006).
Everett and Meredith, too, are caught up in “expressions of struggle.” Incompatible goals manifest themselves in the fact that they both want the same things – she wants the comfort, camaraderie, and adventure with someone who loves her, and he wants the comfort, camaraderie, and adventure with someone who loves him. They thought they had that in their current lifestyle, however, they discover it was all very shallow with no love involved.
The scarce resource was definitely love, in the relationship. Everett did not give Meredith the attention that Ben showered upon her; Ben was able to break down her walls of resistance to change with his persistence. Everett pretty much let her be. As a matter of fact, Meredith perceived that Everett had begun to look at her as his family did, he, too, wishing she were different. Everett’s self-esteem suffered and led him to physical violence when it was thought that Ben had been sexually intimate with Meredith (The Family Stone, Bezucha, 2006).
Wilmot & Hocker (2011) asserts that conflict is associated with blocking, and the person doing the blocking is perceived as the problem. They further state that being blocked and interfered with is such a disturbing experience that one’s first “take” is usually anger and blame. Everett and Meredith discovered in the end that they were blocking each other from having the kind of life they both desired. They admitted that they could not marry each other because they didn’t really love each other as love is perceived to be in a marriage – they were just going through the motion.
How are the parties in the family interdependent? Members of the family Stone are interdependent because they are connected by family ties. As a family, they are dependent upon one another. Wilmot & Hocker (2011) states that each person’s choices affect the other because conflict is a mutual activity. The family Stone has mutual interests, and in their case, is locked into a position of mutual interdependence due to birth and family ties.