Couples learn to avoid arguments
Published on 02 July 2013 11:30 AM
Long-term married couples adopt conflict avoidance strategies to reduce the likelihood of a bust-up over which TV channel to watch or who does the washing up, new research has revealed.
The number of explosive rows between husbands and wives tends to decline with age, according to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.
While many younger spouses insist on 'arguing it out', older couples are more likely to change the subject or remain silent in a bid to reduce the chance of a blazing quarrel.
Attempting to close down conflict is usually regarded as damaging since it can lead to bottled-up anger and allow petty resentments to fester.
But after decades of bickering, such techniques may offer older couples a route to a more peaceful life, psychologists have argued.
'Conflict avoidance increases as marriage progresses' - US study
The US study examined the conversational behaviour of 127 middle-aged and older couples over the course of 13 years.
The research charted changes in the way couples communicated by filming them partaking in short 15 minute discussions.
Researchers were on the lookout for evidence of so-called 'demand-withdraw' conversation patterns.
These occur when one person in a relationship tries to put blame or pressure on the other person, who responds by withdrawing or trying to avoid the subject.
Both husbands and wives increasingly demonstrated conflict avoidance techniques as their marriage progressed, the study's authors said.
Conflict avoidance can be damaging to long-term health of relationships
This trend is probably attributable to both the age of the couple and the length of time they have been married, researchers said.
'It may not be an either-or question,' said lead author Dr Sarah Holley, from San Francisco State University.
'It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance.'
While conflict avoidance can help cut down on needless bickering, the 'self-perpetuating and polarising nature' of demand-withdraw style communication can be destructive in marriages, Dr Holley said.
For example, while a husband avoiding his wife's demands to help out with the household chores might avoid immediate conflict, it is likely to lead to an escalation in her demands and a more emphathic withdrawal from him in the future.
'This can lead to a polarisation between the two partners which can be very difficult to resolve and can take a major toll on relationship satisfaction,' Dr Holley added.
Copyright Press Association 2013