Sunday, September 18, 2011

Relationship conflict does not change throughout marriage says study

How much do you fight with your spouse? Do you fight like cats and dogs or are your arguments limited to a few small tiffs? Either way, a new study has found that the current level of conflict probably won't change throughout the relationship and heavily impacts on overall happiness.

The US study found that this was good news for the 16 percent of couples who report little conflict or even the 60 percent who have only moderate levels of conflict.

However, the study was not so good for the 22 percent of couples who say they fight and argue with each other a lot.

Lead author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, Claire Kamp Dush said the results showed there wasn't a lot of difference in conflict over time.

"There was a very slight decrease in the amount of conflict reported in the final years of the study, which was slightly larger for the high-conflict couples. Still, the differences over time were small," she said.

Data was collected by surveying almost 1000 married people under 55 years old for more than 20 years between 1980 and 2000.

Throughout the study marital conflict was measured by how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse — never, rarely, sometimes, often or very often — and, based on these results, the couples were placed into high-, middle- and low-conflict marriages categories.

Dush said those in low-conflict marriages were more likely than others to say they shared decision-making with their spouses.

"That's interesting because you might think that making decisions jointly would create more opportunities for conflict, but that's not what we found," she said.

"It may be that if both spouses have a say in decision making, they are more satisfied with their relationship and are less likely to fight."

Those in the low-conflict group were also found to believe in traditional, life-long marriage.

"People who believe marriage should last forever may also believe that fighting is just not worth it. They may be more likely to just let disagreements go," Dush said.

The results of the study were then used to identify how overall conflict was related to overall marital happiness.

The marriages surveyed were set into classifications of volatile, validator, hostile and avoider.

About 54 percent of couples fell into the lower conflict validator category and had lower low levels of divorce, high and middle levels of happiness and no more than middle levels of conflict.

"The validator marriages are often seen as positive because couples are engaged with each other and are happy. We found that in these marriages, each partner shared in decision making and in housework," Dush said.

The other low-conflict couples, around six percent, were in the avoider marriages. These couples had more traditional marriages in which husbands were not involved in housework and the participants believed in life-long marriage.

"These couples believed in traditional gender roles and may have avoided conflict because of their beliefs in life-long marriage. These couples were also unlikely to divorce," Dush said.

On the other hand, about 20 percent of those surveyed were in volatile marriages — high conflict and high or middle levels of happiness. The remaining participants were in hostile marriages, which were the most likely to divorce.

Although couples in both validator and avoider marriages tended to have lower levels of conflict, Dush believes that validator marriages may be the healthiest for couples.

"Avoiding conflict could lead couples to avoid other types of engagement with their spouse," she said.

"A healthy marriage needs to have both spouses engaged and invested in the relationship."

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