Most people probably assume that married couples who scream at each other and throw things at each others’ heads are among those most likely to divorce. Not so, says a new study from the University of Michigan. The study found that what matters is the style of fighting that couples engage in, and a shouting style was not the one found most damaging to a marriage.
The study examined 373 couples, beginning with their first year of marriage, and followed them for sixteen years. The researchers tried to see if they could predict divorce attorneys in Boca Raton, based on the styles of fighting that the couples engaged in.
The type of conflict that put a marriage at the most risk was not explosive fighting, but withdrawal by one spouse in the face of calm analysis by the other. When one partner attempts to sympathize with the other, and gets a response of withdrawal, it is seen as a lack of interest in the relationship. This perception of lack of interest is toxic to a marriage.
Even though explosive fighting was not the worst way to deal with conflict, it was not the best, either. The lowest divorce rates were among couples where both spouses used constructive methods to deal with conflict.
Men and women fought differently. In most cases, the men used more constructive and less destructive methods than the women. However, the women, even though they were more likely to use destructive methods early in the marriage, were better at recognizing and changing their negative fighting behaviors. Men who used destructive methods tended to continue to use them.
Fighting in the first year of marriage – regardless of type – was not an indicator of likelihood of divorce. Nearly half of the couples who reported no fighting in the first year of marriage were nonetheless divorced by the sixteenth year of the study.