Gross' emotion regulation model, Porges' polyvagal theory, and other existing research suggest that regulation of emotions, tactics used to handle conflict, and certain physiological processes that occur within the autonomic nervous system (ANS) in response to stress are significantly related, especially in relational contexts. However, despite their pervasiveness and negative impacts, there is a noticeable lack of research on predictors of violent, aggressive, or abusive conflict tactics in couples. In the current study, the predictive role of emotion regulation in relation to conflict tactics was examined, in addition to the role of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) and pre-ejection period (PEP) as mediators for these variables. Thirty-eight participants (19 couples) completed self-report measures of emotion regulation and conflict tactics, and RSA and PEP were measured during a three-minute baseline and 20-minute conflict discussion. Results showed no significant relationships between emotion regulation and conflict tactics, and no significant relationships between these variables and RSA or PEP were found. These findings may suggest that other variables aside from measures of ANS activity better explain the relationship between emotional and behavioral regulation skills, though additional research is necessary to confirm these findings. Clinical implications of this research point to the exploration of other contributors to violence and aggression aside from poor emotion regulation as it was measured in this study. Future research may benefit from investigating the impact of other variables such as sleep and exercise on ANS reactivity in relation to the use of maladaptive conflict tactics in married couples.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; Marriage and Family Therapy



Date Submitted


Document Type





couples, conflict, emotion regulation, autonomic nervous system, vagal tone, respiratory sinus arrhythmia, pre-ejection period