Disagreements and arguments are quite common among married couples, even among those who are very happy in their relationships. However, conflicts can be approached in different ways, and the style the couples use when they fight may have an impact on their happiness in the long run. In other words, conflict patterns can predict divorce, a University of Michigan study has found.
Commenting on the new findings, Kira Birditt, a researcher at the U-M who appears to be the first to study about the impact of the marital conflict on a divorce, said that the odds of divorce decrease for couples when both a husband and a wife approach conflicts constructively. But if both partners handle their fights in destructive ways, their likelihood of getting divorced significantly increases.
Researchers explained that particularly wrong pattern is when one of the partners deals with the conflict by quietly listening to a spouse's viewpoint, calmly trying to address the situation, or trying to figure out what their spouse is feeling, while the other partner withdraws. According to Birditt, such pattern seems to have a very negative and destructive effect on the longevity of a union because a person who deals with conflicts in a constructive way may view his/her partner's habit of withdrawing as a lack of effort being invested in the relationship rather than an attempt to calm down.
During their investigation, Birditt and her colleagues interviewed nearly 400 married couples four times over a period of sixteen years, starting from the first year of their marriages. The study involved a high enough proportion of African American couples in order to assess racial differences in conflict strategies and their effects. The experts examined how both individual behaviors and patterns of behavior between a husband and a wife were associated with the likelihood of breakup and divorce in the future. In addition, they analyzed whether behavior of spouses changed over time, and whether there were gender or racial differences in behavior patterns and outcomes.
To their surprise, the investigators found that 29 per cent of men and 21 percent of women reported having no serious fights or conflicts during the first year of their marriage. In spite of this, 46 per cent of the marriages broke by year 16 of the study. And whether or not spouses had any conflicts during the first year of their marriage did not affect whether they had divorced by the end of the experiment. Overall, when compared to their wives, husbands reported behaving more constructively and using fewer destructive behaviors. But over time, wives were less likely to use destructive tools or withdraw, whereas the use of these strategies by husbands stayed the same through the years.
The results also revealed that African American spouses were more likely to withdraw during fights when compared to their white counterparts, although African American couples were less likely to withdraw from conflict over time. Researchers concluded that wives are more worried about their relationships and the quality of relationships when compared to their husbands, and that over a period of time, women begin to understand that withdrawing from marital problems or using destructive strategies might not work in the long run.
The findings are published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The research was funded by the National Institute of Aging and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.