Couples who fall in love and commit to each other rarely imagine that their relationship would ever become disharmonious. It is only after the early infatuation subsides and life stresses declare themselves that many pairs become frustrated and disenchanted with each other and resort to verbal discounting, arguments and fighting. This process is not inevitable and can be prevented with a few easy tools.
Research at Ohio State University led by Professor Claire Kamp Dush found that marital conflict is not necessarily evidence of an unhappy union nor is a marriage devoid of conflict necessarily a happy one.
Harold Raush, author of “Communication Conflict and Marriage” identified three types of relational styles of couples: harmonious, conflict avoiding and bickering, of which the last two he labeled as dysfunctional.
Dr. John Gottman identified three relational styles: Avoiders, Validators and Volatiles, all of which could be stable if the ratio of positive to negative interactions during conflict equaled 5-1. Dr. Gottman also reported that “Sixty-nine percent of the time, couples are conflicted about perpetual issues that never get resolved. What matters was not resolving these problems but the affect used as they were discussed.”
In addition to the psychological difficulties conflicted pairs face,researchers Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, Ronald Glaser, and William Malarkey, found that “Husbands and wives who used sarcasm, putdowns, overt nastiness and dismissal during arguments showed a weakened immune system compared to other couples who were more positive in their assertions.” Janice Keicolt-Glaser added, “What happens in a laboratory setting is a toned down version of what probably happens at home.”
Since researchers found that negative exchanges between married couples are both a relational and a health hazard and since pairs are inherently different from each other how can pairs reduce the hostility, anger and frustration and still be heard and validated
One suggestion is for couples to list the topics that are chronically contested and follow Dr. Gottman’s 5-1 method: Utter five supportive messages for one grumpy statement. I suggest that pairs begin each discussion about a contested topic by first stating their understanding of the other’s views, adding a validation followed by a request. For example, “I know how difficult it is for you to be around my mother. I value you for your patience and tolerance of her and I would really appreciate if you would ignore some of her words as you continue to be so helpful to me in caring for her.”
Responding to your mate’s unhappy or challenging words by first expressing an appreciation often deescalates the conflict. To a partner’s comment: “You really don’t care about what I am dealing with all day long” say, “I admire your caring for the kids and managing our lives so well and I regularly tell my co-worker how blessed I am to have you as my partner.”
To create a fight free marriage:
- Always start with a validating statement and use appreciations often.
- Avoid battles. They are hazardous to your relationship and health.