Older couples learn to keep the peace

Arguments over the washing up or mowing the lawn are less likely to occur between seasoned spouses who have learned the art of conflict avoidance, research has shown.

 
 
 
  • An older couple arguing
    Jayne Cherrington-Cook
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 20 August 2014, 16:43 BST

    A study of 127 middle-aged and older couples found that over time they grew less willing to risk having explosive rows. Instead, they became more likely to adopt strategies such as changing the subject or keeping silent.

    Such behaviour is normally seen as damaging to relationships because it leads to bottled up anger and resentment. But for older couples, who have had decades to voice their disagreements, it might offer a way to keep the peace, say psychologists.

    Scientists watched the progress of the married couples over 13 years and filmed 15 minute discussions between them, noting how they communicated.

    In particular, the researchers were looking for evidence of "demand-withdraw" conversation patterns. This occurs when one person in a relationship is blamed or pressured by the other and responds by withdrawing or trying to avoid the issue.

    Over the years, both husbands and wives increasingly demonstrated avoidance during conflict, said the researches whose findings are published in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

    Both the age of the partners and the length of time they had been together probably contributed to the trend, said the researchers.

    "It may be that both age and marital duration play a role in increased avoidance," said lead author Dr Sarah Holley, from San Francisco State University.

    Need help resolving your marital disagreements? Follow our four-step plan on the next page!

     
     
     

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  • Young couple arguing on a sofa
    Jayne Cherrington-Cook
    By   | Writer
    Last updated: 20 August 2014, 16:43 BST

    If avoiding the subject isn’t working for you, try these four steps:

    1. Take a time out

    It works for toddlers and is also a great tool for adults! Emotions are heightened when you’re arguing, so as the older couples in this study found, withdrawing from the discussion, even just for a short time, can help bring it to a close.

    2. Listen

    While it’s carthartic to get your grievances in the open, if you want a resolution, you need to listen. You may not agree exactly with what your partner is saying, but showing you are paying attention is the first step to a compromise.

    3. Don’t bring old grievances up

    If you’re arguing about who does the washing up, don’t bring up the fact that your other half forgot your anniversary last month. It is tempting to get everything off your chest, but it won’t solve that particular problem.

    4. Talk about the solution not the problem

    Arguments are often cyclical with both parties talking constantly about the problem – but this won’t get results! Instead, you should both focus on the solution to the problem.

     
     
     

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