To love, honour and argue as long as we both shall live

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by a Newsnet reporter

A new survey finds spouses who argue a lot now, continue to argue as they grow old together.  The study carried out by researchers at Penn State University will be published presently in the Journal of Family Issues.

Researchers began the survey in 1980 following more than 1,000 couples aged 55 or younger over a 20 year period, questioning them about the quality of their marriage relationship with their spouse.  Researchers interviewed the couples up to five more times during the study.

The survey gauged conflict levels by the frequency respondents said they disagreed with their spouse: very often, often, sometimes, rarely or never.  The researchers then categorised the marriages as high conflict, middle conflict and low conflict based on the respondents’ answers.

Study researcher Claire Kamp Dush of Ohio State University said: “There wasn’t much change in conflict over time.  There was a very slight decrease in the amount of conflict reported in the final years of the study, which was slightly larger for the high-conflict couples.  Still, the differences over time were small.”

The researchers finally grouped the marriages into four general psychological types: volatile, validator, hostile and avoider.

About 54% of couples fell into the validator marriage category, consisting of lower conflict couples who engaged with each other and who shared equal input in decision-making and in housework.  These couples reported experiencing moderate to high happiness levels and had low rates of divorce.

Approximately 6% of respondents were classified as being in the avoider category.  These low-conflict couples conformed to traditional gender roles, the husbands not doing housework and both partners believing in lifelong marriage.

Ms Dush said: “People who believe marriage should last forever may also believe that fighting is just not worth it. They may be more likely to just let disagreements go.”

Approximately 20% of the couples were in volatile marriages, characterised by high conflict and moderate to high levels of happiness.

The remaining couples were in hostile marriages: high conflict levels, low levels of happiness, and the most likely to divorce.

Ms Dush added: “You might think that making decisions jointly would create more opportunities for conflict, but that’s not what we found.  A healthy marriage needs to have both spouses engaged and invested in the relationship.”

Clearly the message is; happy, conflict-free couples who share decision-making responsibilities are happier and less likely to divorce.  Try kissing instead of hissing.