With half of all marriages ending in divorce, everyone wants to know what makes a marriage last. One of the main factors appears to be in how couples handle conflict. While it doesn’t take a scientist to tell you that fighting and yelling will destroy a relationship, research also found that avoiding conflict doesn’t preserve a marriage either. Ladies, the silent treatment will lead you to divorce. And fellas, retreating to your “cave” is not working for you either. Unless, of course, there is a divorce lawyer in your cave.
Researchers followed nearly 400 married couples, checking in on the state of their relationships periodically. They paid particular attention to how the couples handled conflict, categorizing each person’s behavior in three ways: destructive (shouting and name-calling), constructive (listening, discussing peacefully), and withdrawal (saying nothing, retreating). Predictably, the destructive behaviors spelled doom for a marriage. However, withdrawal actions also led to a rocky relationship. Even when one spouse used healthy problem-solving techniques, if the other chose to ignore the issue, this couple was more likely to get divorced.
Factors such as affluence, college education, marrying later and being raised by parents who didn’t divorce also increased the chances of a person’s marriage lasting. Just because you avoid a fight doesn’t mean you’re safeguarding your marriage.
As this study shows, couples that hide from conflict are only likely to build up passive-aggression, which leads to more problems down the road. If a couple wants their marriage to stand the test of time, their best shot is to discuss and compromise on issues of conflict as they arise.
So if you’re a Mr. Nice Guy or a Mrs. Martyr who never speaks your mind, you may be good at a lot of things, but relationships– not so much.
Destructive Behaviors Linked to Higher Divorce Rates
A current study looked into the implications of certain behaviors in marriage over a 16-year period. The findings showed that certain typically “destructive behaviors” like criticizing or yelling are harmful for a marriage. In the first one year of matrimony, these behaviors as well as “withdrawal” into oneself during conflict could raise the risk of divorce. Researchers also noted that over time, “destructive behavior” decreased in women, whereas it stayed the same in men. In general, “husbands reported more constructive and less destructive behaviors than wives, and Black American couples reported more withdrawal than White American couples.”
We all know that about half of marriages end in divorce. Studies conducted earlier have shown that some negative behaviors called “destructive behaviors” can raise the risk of divorce occurring. However, “constructive” behaviors like calm discussion, listening etc. and “withdrawal” behaviors, for example keeping quiet, leaving the scene to calm down have not been studied in detail, with regard to their effect on divorce. It was also not known if these behaviors changed over the years. This study tried to explore the dynamics of these behaviors and their effects on divorce. It also examined the differences in behavior among men and women, as well as any racial differences.
- The study involved a total of 373 married couples (174 couples were White Americans and 199 were Black Americans) over 16 years. The average age of men at the beginning of the study was 27 and of women was 25 years.
- All the participants were first interviewed separately in their homes and then together in their first, third, seventh and sixteenth years of marriage.
- Questions to detect destructive behaviors like shouting, disapproving, name-calling etc. were asked. Similarly, questions related to constructive behaviors, such as listening and trying to understand the spouse, were also asked. For detecting withdrawal behavior, appropriate questions were asked.
- All answers were scored for severity, using a special scoring system.
- By the sixteenth year of marriage, 46% of the participant couples were divorced.
- There were fewer divorces among White Americans than among Black Americans.
- Couples used constructive behaviors most frequently; withdrawal and destructive behaviors came next.
- Men and women with destructive behaviors in the initial one year of being married had higher rates of divorce.
- Individuals who were not raised by both parents and whose children were born out of wedlock used more destructive behavior while those who were richer, better educated, raised by both parents, did not have children out of wedlock and married late used more constructive behavior.
- Interesting effects were seen when the couples’ behaviors were viewed together. Divorce rates rose when constructive behavior increased in one spouse, but the other used more withdrawal behaviors of leaving; divorces decreased when both partners used more constructive behavior; divorce rates went up when women used “quiet” withdrawal, while men used “leaving” withdrawal behaviors.
- In Black Americans, “quiet” withdrawal reduced the divorce rate when practiced by men.
- Over time, “leaving” withdrawal was seen more often in White American men than in Black American men.
- Women used more destructive behaviors than men but this decreased with passage of years. However, their constructive behavior and withdrawal behavior remained the same over the duration of the study.