Keeping silent when your partner is angry to avoid petty arguments may be the secret to a successful partnership new research have unveiled.
A study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, looked at 127 middle-aged and older couple. It found that time and experience made them less willing to risk explosive rows; instead, years of wisdom saw them adopt ‘peacekeeping’ strategies such as changing the subject or staying silent when their partner is upset.
While such passive behaviour is normally viewed as damaging to relationships – for fear of bottled up anger and resentment later exploding – psychologists believe it could be the saving grace for many unions.
For older couples, who have had years to voice their disapproval or disagreement, such avoidance behaviour is a way of keeping the peace.
Researchers studied the couples over a 13-year period, using brief 15 minute video-recordings of the couple’s discussions on ‘sensitive’ topics such as the housework and finances.
They were particularly interested in the form of communication known as the ‘demand-withdraw pattern’. This involves one partner making demands and pressuring their spouse to change, while the other chooses to withdraw from the problem or retreat from interaction.
Though this type of communication can sometimes lead to withdrawal or a further escalation of the argument, the researchers found that there was a tendency for both spouses to demonstrate withdrawal tactics as they grew older.
But it may be the length of the relationship rather than the couple’s age that led to the increase in avoidance, researchers found:
“It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance,” said the study’s lead author Dr Sarah Holley from San Francisco State University
Holley explained that several studies had found that as people age, they place less importance on arguments and seek more positive experiences, in a bid to make the most out of their remaining years.
Interestingly, she also found that ‘demand-withdraw’ communication goes beyond the stereotype of ‘nagging wife, silent husband’, having found a similar pattern in her 2010 study of gay and lesbian relationships.
What do you think? Have you found that sometimes winning an argument means letting it go? What tactics do you employ in your relationships?