Study shows how fight styles affect marriage and can predict divorce
What can predict divorce in newly weds couples? Yelling at each other and calling them names is one "conflict style" that sure is very damaging to the long term prospects of the couple.
Now, a University of Michigan study shows what other conflict patterns also predict divorce.
A particularly toxic pattern is when one spouse deals with conflict constructively, by calmly discussing the situation, listening to their partner's point of view, or trying hard to find out what their partner is feeling, for example---and the other spouse withdraws.
"This pattern seems to have a damaging effect on the longevity of marriage," said U-M researcher Kira Birditt, first author of a study on marital conflict behaviors and implications for divorce published in the current issue (October 2010) of the Journal of Marriage and Family. "Spouses who deal with conflicts constructively may view their partners' habit of withdrawing as a lack of investment in the relationship rather than an attempt to cool down."
Couples in which both spouses used constructive strategies had lower divorce rates, Birditt found.
The data are from the Early Years of Marriage Study, supported by funding from the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. It is one of the largest and longest research projects to look at patterns of marital conflict, with 373 couples interviewed four times over a 16-year period, starting the first year of their marriages. The researchers looked at how both individual behaviors and patterns of behavior between partners affected the likelihood of divorce.
Overall, says the report: "husbands reported using more constructive behaviors and fewer destructive behaviors than wives. But over time, wives were less likely to use destructive strategies or withdraw, while husbands' use of these behaviors stayed the same through the years."
"The problems that cause wives to withdraw or use destructive behaviors early in a marriage may be resolved over time," Birditt said. "Or, relationships and the quality of relationships may be more central to women's lives than they are to men. As a result, over the course of marriage, women may be more likely to recognize that withdrawing from conflict or using destructive strategies is neither effective nor beneficial to the overall well-being and stability of their marriages."
This is very interesting...women finally find ways of compensating for the conflict style differences, learn ways of engaging instead of withdrawing, or stop the yelling and cursing that can be so destructive. Husbands, instead, continue (if they did it at the beginning), with silent treatment, stonewalling and perhaps sarcasm and contempt, up until the marriage's end!
"We hope this study will lead to additional research on the complex dynamics of conflict between husbands and wives, and the potential explanations for changes versus stability in conflict behaviors over time," Birditt said.