What’s the secret ingredient to a happy relationship? The answer could lie in the way you argue.
Psychologists from the University of Tennessee Knoxville have investigated how long-term couples resolve their relationship problems and bones of contention. Overall, the researchers found that couples who were happily married longer reported fewer serious issues and generally argued less frequently. However, perhaps surprisingly, conflict isn't always a bad thing.
Happy couples, it appears, tend to address the conflicts that can actually be solved, but lay to rest those that are not so solvable. According to the researchers, the strategic decision of picking your battles may be one of the keys to a happy marriage.
"Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” lead author Amy Rauer, associate professor of child and family studies, said in a statement.
“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.”
Reporting in the journal Family Process, the team drew on two separate samples accounting for over 100 “happily married” heterosexual couples. First up, they used a self-reporting questionnaire to assess what subjects couples felt were problematic and which of these issues they actually clashed on. They also observed couples while they were attempting to resolve an issue and noted if and how the problem was solved.
Their findings showed that couples found topics such as intimacy, leisure, household chores, communication, and money as the most problematic issues that were often bickered about. On the other hand, subjects like jealousy, religion, and family were scarcely argued about.
The problematic issues that were often argued about by the happy couples, such as who does the washing up, were often issues that had clear solutions that can be easily acted on. Conversely, disagreements over religion or family are often deep-rooted and thorny, meaning it can be tough to address and difficult to resolve.
“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,” added Rauer.
“Re-balancing chores may not be easy, but it lends itself to more concrete solutions than other issues."