January 31, 2011
Marriage Research You Can Use
Three studies offer practical advice for creating a healthy marriage
1. Constructive Conflict Resolution
The Early Years of Marriage Study, is one of the largest and longest research projects to look at patterns of marital conflict, with 373 couples interviewed four times over a 16-year period, starting the first year of their marriages. The researchers looked at how both individual behaviors and patterns of behavior between partners affected the likelihood of divorce. They also examined whether behavior changed over time, and whether there were racial or gender differences in behavior patterns and outcomes.
Astonishingly, the researchers found that 29 percent of husbands and 21 percent of wives reported having no conflicts at all in the first year of their marriage -- 1986. Nonetheless, 46 percent of the couples had divorced by Year 16 of the study -- 2002. Interestingly, whether or not couples reported any conflict during the first year of marriage did not affect whether they had divorced by the last year studied.
A particularly toxic pattern is when one spouse deals with conflict constructively, by calmly discussing the situation, listening to their partner's point of view, or trying hard to find out what their partner is feeling, for example -- and the other spouse withdraws.
"This pattern seems to have a damaging effect on . . .
the longevity of marriage," said U of Michigan researcher Kira Birditt, first author of a study on marital conflict behaviors and implications for divorce published in the October 2010 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family. "Spouses who deal with conflicts constructively may view their partners' habit of withdrawing as a lack of investment in the relationship rather than an attempt to cool down."
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2. Too Much Of A Good Thing
In a recent study, psychology professor Erika Lawrence and colleagues discovered that receiving more support than desired is a greater risk factor for marital decline than not being there for a spouse.
The study involved 103 husbands and wives who completed surveys five times during their first five years of marriage. The questionnaires looked at how support was provided and measured marital satisfaction.
Four kinds of support were identified in the study: (1) physical comfort and emotional support (listening and empathizing, taking your spouse's hand, giving your spouse a hug), (2) esteem support (expressing confidence in your partner, providing encouragement), (3) informational support (giving advice, gathering information), and (4) tangible support (taking on responsibilities so your spouse can deal with a problem, helping to brainstorm solutions to a problem).
Results showed that too much informational support -- usually in the form of unwanted advice-giving -- is the most detrimental. In contrast, you can never go wrong providing esteem support, assuming it's genuine.
Too little support was more common than too much. Receiving less support than desired was a complaint of about two-thirds of men and at least 80 percent of women. Only about one-third of men and women reported receiving more support than they wanted.
The paper, published in the Journal of Family Psychology, was co-authored by Rebecca L. Brock, a UI graduate student in psychology.
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3. Monogamy Needs Novelty
Using laboratory studies, real-world experiments and even brain-scan data, scientists can now offer long-married couples a simple prescription for rekindling the romantic love that brought them together in the first place. The solution? Reinventing date night.
Rather than visiting the same familiar haunts and dining with the same old friends, couples need to tailor their date nights around new and different activities that they both enjoy, says Arthur Aron, a professor of social psychology at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. The goal is to find ways to keep injecting novelty into the relationship. The activity can be as simple as trying a new restaurant or something a little more unusual or thrilling — like taking an art class or going to an amusement park.
The theory is based on brain science. New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner. (They are also the brain chemicals involved in drug addiction and obsessive-compulsive disorder.)
Most studies of love and marriage show that the decline of romantic love over time is inevitable. The butterflies of early romance quickly flutter away and are replaced by familiar, predictable feelings of long-term attachment. But several experiments show that novelty — simply doing new things together as a couple — may help bring the butterflies back, recreating the chemical surges of early courtship.Posted on January 31, 2011 12:52 PM