New research has revealed the secret to arguing healthily in a happy, functional relationship.
As inherently narcissistic beings, we love hearing our own behaviour analysed and explained back to us. It’s why we love star signs, personality tests and even finding out which Harry Potter house we’re in.
But one area of our lives that’s particularly fascinating to pick apart and understand, is our relationships. Especially when experts reveal something we might not have known about ourselves, and that can help us work better with our partner and resolve bad habits in our relationships.
Of course, all couples argue to some degree, but a new study which examines the conversations between two samples of couples who consider themselves ‘happily married’ revealed some patterns in the kind of arguments people in functional relationships have.
The research called, What Are The Marital Problems Of Happy Couples? A Multimethod, Two-Sample Investigation was published in academic journal, Family Process, and followed two samples of heterosexual, mostly white, educated couples. The first group of 57 couples were in their mid-to-late 30s and had been married an average of nine years. The second group was made up of 64 couples, all in their early 70s, who had been married an average of 42 years.
First, the research sought to ascertain which subjects are most likely to make couples argue, and how serious and meaningful these arguments are considered to them. Throughout the experiment a string of topics continued to appear for most couples, with intimacy, leisure, household, communication and money all being considered the most important things to argue about. Although arguments about jealousy, religion and family did occur, these weren’t considered as serious.
Within these arguments, researchers noticed that happier couples tackled their issues with a positive, solutions-focused mentality and avoided dwelling on arguments that couldn’t be resolved.
“Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” said lead author Amy Rauer, associate professor of child and family studies and director of the Relationships and Development Lab in the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences.
Rauer uses an example of chores, saying that she noticed that successful couples took an issue of imbalanced household work and would form a logical solution, such as “one spouse could do more of certain chores to balance the scales.”
Not only does this behaviour feel positive, affirming and collaborative, researchers believe that it’s what keeps couples strong and united because the more issues they successfully tackle together, the bigger their confidence grows in their relationship and themselves as a team.
“If couples feel that they can work together to resolve their issues, it may give them the confidence to move on to tackling the more difficult issues,” Rauer said.
According to Rauer, the bottom line when it comes to a well-functioning relationship is to “differentiate between issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside for now” and essentially avoid conflict unless it’s truly needed. Which although feels like something to learn from, could definitely be easier said than done in some examples.