Marriage Vows: Level of Conflict in Relationships Stays Constant Through Life

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Kamp Dush argues that the findings are generally valid for marriage as a whole, not just successful marriages, because some of the participants were divorced by the year 2000, and their answers were included in the final analysis. But it will always be unclear as to why so many dropped out.

During the interview, Kamp Dush conceded that while her study suggests conflict remains relatively stable, that may not always be the case. When a life-changing event occurs - sickness, loss of work, drug or alcohol dependence - "conflict can increase dramatically," she said.

"Having a baby, and the transition to parenthood, sends the conflict up," she added. "We know that having a child with a disability can be really hard on a marriage, and losing a child to death can increase the likelihood of divorce."

So conflict remains stable, as long as nothing really serious happens.

But perhaps - and this goes beyond the study's conclusions - married couples who have learned how to deal with the conflicts, even the little problems, are simply better equipped to deal with a life-changing event than couples who ignored their conflicts. Many studies would certainly support that.

So what is to be gleaned from the new study?

The researchers based the level of marital conflict on how often respondents said they disagreed with their spouse - never, rarely, sometimes, often, or very often. That separated the participants into high, middle and low conflict marriages. About 16 percent reported little conflict, and 60 percent had only moderate levels of conflict.

Significantly, persons in low conflict relationships were more likely to say they shared decision-making with their spouses.

"It may be that if both spouses have a say in decision making, they are more satisfied with their relationship and are less likely to fight," Kamp Dush said.

That could come in very handy down the road when disaster strikes. The level of conflict will likely rise, but they have dealt with it in the past, and perhaps now they are better equipped to deal with a "life changing event."

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