In marital relationship, dispute is unavoidable. Even the happiest couples argue. And research programs they tend to argue about the exact same subjects as dissatisfied couples: children, money, in-laws, intimacy.
So, what differentiates happy couples? According to “What are the Marital Problems of Happy Couples? A Multimethod, Two-Sample Investigation,” a research study released this August in Family Process, it is the way happy couples argue that may make a difference.
“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 and 3 associates– Allen Sabey of Northwestern University, Christine Proulx of the University of Missouri, and Brenda Volling of the University of Michigan– observed two samples of heterosexual, mainly white, informed couples who describe themselves as happily married. Fifty-seven of the couples remained in their mid- to late 30s and had been married approximately nine years; 64 of the couples remained in their early 70s and had been married approximately 42 years.
Couples in both samples similarly ranked their most and least major problems. Intimacy, leisure, family, communication, and money were the most major, along with health for the older couples; couples in both samples ranked jealousy, religion, and family as the least serious.
When scientists observed couples discussing marital problems, all couples concentrated on concerns with clearer solutions, such as the circulation of household labor and how to invest leisure time.
“Rebalancing chores may not be easy, but it lends itself to more concrete solutions than other issues,” Rauer said. “One spouse could do more of certain chores to balance the scales.”
The couples hardly ever picked to argue about concerns that are harder to solve. And Rauer recommends that this tactical decision might be among the secrets to their marital success.
“Focusing on the perpetual, more-difficult-to-solve problems may undermine partners’ confidence in the relationship,” Rauer said.
Rather, to the level it is possible, focusing initially on more solvable problems may be an efficient way to build up both partners’ security in the relationship.
“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.
Regarding which problems may be harder to fix, couples avoided going over difficulties concerning their spouse’s health and physical intimacy. These issues may be harder to attend to without challenging their partner’s sense of proficiency or making the partner feel susceptible or ashamed, leading to more dispute.
“Since these issues tend to be more difficult to resolve, they are more likely to lead to less marital happiness or the dissolution of the relationship, especially if couples have not banked up any previous successes solving other marital issues,” Rauer said.
Scientists also found that couples who were wed longer noted less serious problems and argued less total. This is consistent with previous research study suggesting that older partners’ understandings of spending less time with each other might lead them to prioritize their marriage and decide some problems are unworthy the argument.
To put it simply, couples may wish to pick their battles sensibly, according to Rauer.
“Being able to successfully differentiate between issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside for now may be one of the keys to a long-lasting, happy relationship.”