Marital Conflict Eased When The Wife Calms Down First
November 5, 2013

Ability To Control Emotions Helps Wives Ease Tension In Marital Conflicts

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Marriage is hard work and can become a battlefield at times. A new study from UC Berkeley, however, has found that when it comes to keeping the peace in a marriage, it's more important for wives than husbands to calm down after a heated argument.

During a conflict, both spouses are equally able to cool down. The study findings, however, revealed that the husbands' emotional regulation has little or no bearing on long-term marital satisfaction.

“When it comes to managing negative emotion during conflict, wives really matter,” said psychologist Lian Bloch, lead author of the study published in the journal Emotion, which she conducted during doctoral and postdoctoral studies at Berkeley and Stanford. Bloch is currently an assistant professor at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in a joint doctoral program taught by faculty at Stanford University and Palo Alto University.

The research team from Berkeley and Northwestern University analyzed videotaped interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples. They focused on the couples' recovery from disagreements, finding that time and again, the marriages in which the wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, both in the short and long run.

“Emotions such as anger and contempt can seem very threatening for couples. But our study suggests that if spouses, especially wives, are able to calm themselves, their marriages can continue to thrive,” Bloch said.

Anecdotal evidence holds that women are the caretakers and peacekeepers in relationships. This study, however, is among the first to reveal this dynamic in action over a long period of time. The link between higher marital satisfaction and the wives' ability to control emotions was most evident when "constructive communication" was used by the women to temper disagreements.

“When wives discuss problems and suggest solutions, it helps couples deal with conflicts,” said UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson. “Ironically, this may not work so well for husbands, who wives often criticize for leaping into problem-solving mode too quickly.”

Levenson has led several studies looking into the inner workings of long-term marriages. Participants in these studies, including the current one, are part of a cohort of 156 heterosexual couples that live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Levenson and his colleagues have tracked these couples since 1989.

The couples come to Levenson's lab at Berkeley every five years to report on their marital satisfaction. The couples also discuss areas of conflict in their relationship. The research team code the couples' conversations based on facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and topic of discussion.

In the current study, the research team looked at the emotional forces at play in long-term marriages, researchers pinpointed the most negative peaks in the couple’s conversations and timed how long it took spouses to recover based on their body language, facial expressions, and emotional and physiological responses.

Age may also play a role in how couples interact when conflicts arise, according to Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy at Northwestern.

“The middle-aged and older couples in our study grew up in a world that treated men and women very differently,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how these gender dynamics play out in younger couples.”