Happy couples don’t shy away from arguments, but it’s what they argue about – and how they argue – that differentiates them from unhappy couples, says a study from the University of Tennessee Knoxville.
The researchers studied two samples of 121 couples who said they were happy in their relationship. The first were in their 30s and had been married on average nine years. The second were in their 70s and married on average 42 years.
They were asked to rank the issues that were most and less serious for them. The most serious issues for both age groups were: intimacy, leisure, household, communication, and money. Their least serious issues were: jealousy, religion, and family. Health was also an issue for the older couples.
The researchers noted that when happy couples argue, it will be about an issue they can find a solution to – instead of rowing about an ongoing, difficult-to-solve issue, which can undermine a partner’s confidence in the relationship. So for a happier relationship, the advice is to focus on arguing about solvable problems. This can build up both partners’ sense of security in the relationship – rather than creating an ‘I-win-you-lose’ dynamic that can cause shame and embarrassment, and that gradually erodes a partnership and causes further conflict.
“Happy couples tend to take a solution-oriented approach to conflict, and this is clear even in the topics that they choose to discuss,” said study lead author Amy Rauer. “If couples feel that they can work together to resolve their issues, it may give them the confidence to move on to tackling the more difficult issues.”
The moral of the story, then, is to have rows to clear the air but not to fuel resentments. And pick your battles wisely: row about things you can find a solution to. Don’t use the argument to undermine your partner or to prove a point.