Have you ever had a really, really big argument with your partner only to regret what you said in the heat of the moment? Did you dwell on it later and think of the things you SHOULD have said instead?
Research by psychology professor John Gottman, who founded the Gottman Institute (an organisation dedicated to studying and improving relationships) and a University of Califrnia psychologist Robert Levenson, has found that having productive arguments can mean the difference between being a couple that stays together or one that eventually breaks up.
The findings came from a 14 year study of 79 married couples. During the length of the study, 21 couples ended up divorcing. Of those who made the distance, the researchers noticed some key things about their relationships – and that included the ways they fought.
They keep things stable
The vast majority of couples who split took much longer to address a recent argument than the couples who stayed together. By leaving arguments lingering, you give the other partner (and yourself) the opportunity to stew on it for hours and days after a fight. Couples who stayed together generally discuss their arguments after they’ve happened
Allowing each other to be heard
Couples who divorced often cut off discussions about their conflicts prematurely, injecting unhelpful and insensitive comments into the mix. On the other hand the couples that stayed together approached each other with open minds and took responsibility for their actions while listening to what their partners had to say.
Other research backs this up
More recent research has come up with similar findings. A 2015 study of 145 couples published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found couples who are trained to address conflicts immediately with clear communication felt greater levels of relationship satisfaction than those who didn’t participate in the training. Those who didn’t have the training were more likely to see their relationships deteriorate.
A 2010 study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family looked at 373 married couples and found partners who engaged positively during an argument were far less likely to divorce than couples who had no positive engagement or where only one partner engaged positively. Positive engagement meant that they would discuss the topic calmly and make an effort to listen to their partner to understand their partner’s feelings.