For marital bliss, change the topic
London - The secret to a long-lasting marriage may be as simple as changing the subject to avoid an argument, scientists have found.
While younger couples often tackle a disagreement with a heated row, older ones are more likely to avoid conflict altogether by switching the topic.
The research suggests newlyweds still need to work through their problems to identify mutual goals, such as how to raise the children.
But more mature spouses have already had their fair share of arguments and prefer to focus on more positive experiences rather than reheat old disputes.
Lead researcher Dr Sarah Holley said that over time both husbands and wives “increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict”.
The study found that when faced with a topic on which they disagreed, older spouses were more likely to change the subject or divert attention away from the conflict.
The research team followed 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples for 13 years, monitoring how they communicated about conflicts on a range of topics, from housework to finances.
The researchers also videotaped the couples’ discussions, noting how they communicated when talking about contentious issues.
Avoiding or ignoring disagreement is considered to be unhealthy for a relationship because it prevents the problem from being resolved.
This is particularly true for younger couples, who have to agree on key decisions in their marriage, such as starting a family and how much they spend.
But for older couples, who are already settled on many of the major choices in their relationship, avoidance simply helps move conversation away from “toxic” areas and toward more neutral or pleasant topics, the researchers suggest.
Dr Holley, an assistant professor of psychology at San Francisco State University, suggested the age and maturity of the couple is behind the change in approach to conflict.
But it could also be influenced by the length of the relationship, she said.
“It may not be an either/or question. It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance.”
Previous research has found that as people age they place less importance on arguments and seek more positive experiences, perhaps seeking to make the most out of their remaining years.
The latest study, which is published in the Journal Of Marriage And Family, also suggested there could be problems if one partner consistently tried to avoid discussing an issue with their other half.
For example, if a husband withdraws in response to his wife’s demands to do the dishes, it can lead to an escalation in the wife’s demands, which in turn may fuel the husband’s tendency to withdraw from the argument.
Dr Holley said: “This can lead to a polarisation between the two partners which can be very difficult to resolve and can take a major toll on relationship satisfaction.” - Daily Mail