With the divorce rate as high as it is, there is no question that marriages are plagued by arguments. But if you think about when you said “I do,” you likely knew that the road ahead was not bound to be perfect. Marriage is about the better and the worse, and a recent study shows that it is not whether a marriage has more of the worse than the better that determines whether the union will last, but it is how a couple works through the worse that predicts their success.
A Michigan professor began a project in 1986 that set out to show how young marriages are affected by fighting behaviors. According to sources, the study followed 373 subjects over an ongoing span. The university has collected survey responses filled out by partners at the first, third, seventh and sixteenth years of their marriages. The surveys ask questions that determine how often couples fight and each person’s fighting strategies, including how those details change over time.
Researchers looked at fighting habits within the marriages and found trends regarding how certain behaviors were more likely to lead to divorce. By the sixteen-year mark, about 46 percent of the surveyed couples had divorced. A predictor of those divorces that the researchers found was that divorce was likelier when the woman improved her fighting strategies but her husband was still fighting ineffectively. Based on the study, the rate of divorce among such couples was about two-thirds higher than average.
In the case of the study, effective fighting describes arguing habits that support or improve a marriage. Some other noteworthy points produced by the study are that men apparently start out in a marriage with more effective fighting strategies than women, meaning that they are more ready and willing to listen to their spouses during an argument. Another key point is that walking away from an argument is not always a destructive behavior. According to the research, walking away often gives spouses time to calm down and think before someone does or says something destructive.
Time: Heading for Divorce? It’s Not if You Fight, It’s How You Fight (9/29/2010)