It is unquestionable that some form of fighting exists in every marriage – so the question becomes why do some marriages survive the fighting and some do not. According to University of Michigan researcher, the answer is not if your fight but how you fight that impacts the longevity of a marriage and possible divorce.
The study, which was published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, was conducted by Kira Birditt, a U-M professor of human development and family studies. Birditt tracked 373 participants for 16 years, which was broken out into four intervals – the first, third, seventh and sixteenth years. During each interval, Birditt has the participants answer questionnaires outlining how they handle marriage disputes.
Conclusions of the Study
Some of the results of the study were not much of a surprise at all – for example many of the participants reported little or no conflict during the first year of marriage, commonly referred to as the “honeymoon period.” Also expected was that divorces increased over time, with 13.9 percent of couples breaking up by year three, 29 percent by year seven and 46.1 percent at year 16.
However, there were some interesting unexpected results as well. For example, during the early years of marriage, it is the husbands who are more likely to use constructive behaviors such as listening and calm discussion to argue effectively. By comparison, during the same period wives were more likely shout or withdraw completely – over time, however, wives tended to improve in this area while the husbands did not.
“The quality of relationships may be more central to women’s lives than they are to men,” Birditt commented in an interview with Time Healthland. “As a result, over the course of marriage, women may be more likely to recognize that withdrawing from conflict or using destructive strategies is neither effective nor beneficial.”
The study further concluded that in order to show any real improvement, both spouses need to participate. In some cases, Birditt discovered that the divorce rate actually rose by about two-thirds among wives who changed their behavior and began listening and speaking calming – this was a result of the husbands choosing not to participate the same way.
Birditt commented, “When you use constructive behaviors and your partner is leaving the room, that’s just not going to work. Both people have to be using the same constructive behaviors together.” This observation outlines the most obvious conclusion: both spouses need to use constructive dispute resolution methods to make marriages last.