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According to new research from the University of Michigan, a couple’s fighting style is a greater predictor of the marriage’s success than how often they butt heads as newlyweds. The study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, found that divorce is more common among couples when one spouse deals tries to work out the problem while the other spouse withdraws during fights.
"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," says Kira Birditt, Ph.D., University of Michigan researcher and lead author of the study.
For the study, researchers followed 373 couples for 16 years, beginning in their first year of marriage. They examined participant’s behavior patterns as individuals and as they related to one another, also paying attention to whether behavior changed over time.
Researchers were astonished to find that 29 percent of husbands and 21 percent of wives reported zero conflict during their first year of marriage. By the end of the study, 46 percent of the couples had divorced. Whether or not spouses fought during their first year together had no effect on whether the marriage would last.
As newlyweds, men were more likely than women to handle disagreements in a constructive manner. Over time, women developed more constructive approaches and withdrew less, while men’s behavior remained the same.
“Over the course of a 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," said Birditt in a written statement.
Here’s how me and my new husband fight: He likes to work through problems while I prefer to bury them. That could be one of the things that led us to couples therapy a few years ago. I was ready to call it quits, because that’s what those of us who don’t like to deal with conflict do: Retreat. We somehow think it’s easier to move on than deal with the issues at hand. This week, our couples’ therapist asked Ryan and me if we thought we still need counseling. It was our first therapy session since returning from our honeymoon a week ago. Though we’re still basking in that newly-married glow, we have no illusions that marriage will be easy. But we are hopeful and even confident that all of the work we’ve done to understand each other’s points of view will help us forge an even stronger bond -- so long as I remember to communicate openly, even when I don’t want to. The findings of this study further cements my commitment to do just that.
What’s your fighting style like? Chime in below!