Whether you fight a lot or a little with your spouse, chances are things won’t change very much, according to a new study by Ohio State University.
This may be bad news for the 22 percent of couples who report excessive fighting and arguing.
However, the study is more hopeful for the 16 percent of couples who report little conflict and perhaps even the 60 percent who experience moderate levels of conflict.
For the study, researchers followed almost 1,000 couples over 20 years, from 1980 to 2000.
“There wasn’t much change in conflict over time,” said Claire Kamp Dush, lead author of the study and assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University.
“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.”
Kamp Dush conducted the research with Miles Taylor of Florida State University.
The researchers used data from the Marital Instability Over the Life Course survey, conducted by researchers at Penn State University. The telephone surveys began in 1980 with 2,033 married people who were 55 years of age and younger at the time.
Many participants were interviewed five more times through 2000. They were asked questions regarding the quality of their marriage and their relationship with their spouses, as well as demographic questions.
Marital conflict scores were based on how often participants said they disagreed with their spouse: never, rarely, sometimes, often or very often. Respondents were then divided into high-, middle- and low-conflict marriages.
Individuals in low-conflict marriages were more likely than others to report sharing 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,” Kamp Dush 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.”
Participants in the low-conflict group were also more likely to believe in traditional, life-long marriage than those in the high-conflict group.
“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,” Kamp Dush said.
The results show there may be two types of relatively low-conflict groups, said Kamp Dush. These differences were shown to be prominent when researchers observed how conflict was related to overall marital happiness.
A classification system developed by psychologists categorized marriages into four general types: volatile, validator, hostile and avoider.
Lower-conflict couples who had equal decision-making tended to fall into the validator marriage category—high and middle levels of happiness and no more than middle levels of conflict. About 54 percent of couples were in this category, and had low levels of divorce.
“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,” Kamp Dush said.
Other low-conflict couples were in avoider marriages (six percent of participants). These were more traditional marriages in which husbands did no housework and in which 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.”
About 20 percent of participants were in volatile marriages – high conflict and high or mid levels of happiness. The rest of the couples were in hostile marriages, the most likely to divorce.
While couples in both validator and avoider marriages tended to have lower levels of conflict, validator marriages may be the healthiest for couples, Kamp Dush said.
“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.”
The results appear online in the Journal of Family Issues and will be published in a future print edition.
Source: Ohio State University