Are disagreements and conflicts bad for your marriage?
Researchers at the University of Auckland wanted to find out if the secret to a happy marriage was due to doing what your partner wanted most of the time or doing what you felt was right.
The study, which involved a New Zealand couple, had to be abandoned before the 12 day period because the man fell into a deep depression as a result of the exercise.
The key variable was that even if the man believed his wife was wrong, he still had to fully agree and do what she asked.
The situation had become intolerable by day 12,” said Professor Bruce Arroll, “By then the male participant found the female to be increasingly critical of everything he did.
“He sat on the end of their bed, made her a cup of tea, and said as much. He explained the trial and then contacted the Data Safety Monitoring committee who terminated the trial immediately.”
Before the study, the man had told researchers that being happy was more important to him than being right. The woman was not informed about the study – instead, she was just asked to record her quality of life.
When they examined the results, they found the man’s quality of life dipped from a fairly happy seven out of 10 to a miserable three out of 10 in just 12 days. The woman’s happiness increased by half a point to 8.5, which demonstrates that having a partner who agrees with you all the time isn’t necessarily the greatest either.
Interestingly, they found that the woman became hostile about having to record her quality of life halfway through. She also abandoned her contribution to the project.
So many couples will go to the therapist’s offices every year with one unconscious goal as their actual pursuit: If I could just get him/her to agree with me, the world would be perfect. Usually, front and center on the agenda is some long term divisive issue that both are sure is the problem — but it’s almost never the problem.
In fact, most people can’t even recall the last time they had an intelligent fight about an issue of actual disagreement. The fights, once you finally dig below the surface issues, instead are about something to the effect of: Do you respect me? Do you love me? Am I significant to you? Do you care what I am feeling or that I am hurting? The surface issues just become a theatre for the asking of those questions.
And, now it seems that, if a spouse is allowed to win on all of the surface issues, the paranoia, criticalness and aggression actually goes way up — likely because winning, contrary to the beliefs of somewhere around 100% of spouses on this ball of rock, never answer the core question.
Conversely, answering the core questions usually makes the conflict go away…