The current level of conflict you experience with your partner probably won't change much for the remainder of your marriage, suggests research in the Journal of Family Issues.
Study author, Claire Kamp Dush, says that may be good news for the 16 percent of couples who report little conflict or even the 60 percent who have only moderate levels of conflict. But it's not such happy news for the 22 percent of couples who say they fight and argue with each other a lot.
The study followed nearly 1,000 couples over 20 years, from 1980 to 2000. The subjects were asked a variety of questions about the quality of their marriage and their relationship with their spouses, as well as demographic questions. Marital conflict was measured by how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse: never, rarely, sometimes, often or very often.
Based on these results, the respondents were sorted into high, middle and low conflict marriages. The researchers found that people 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," 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."
These results suggest there may be two types of relatively low-conflict couples. These categories were revealed when the researchers looked at how conflict was related to overall marital happiness. They used a classification system that classifies marriages into four general types: volatile, validator, hostile and avoider.
The lower conflict couples who had equal decision making tended to fall into the validator marriage category, who report 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.
The other low conflict couples were in the avoider marriages, which included 6 percent of those studied. These couples had more traditional marriages in which husbands were not involved in 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 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.
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. A healthy marriage needs to have both spouses engaged and invested in the relationship."
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Source: Ohio State University