New research, published online in the National Communication Association’s journal Communication Monographs, evaluated relationship satisfaction during conflicts and found women were more likely to blame their significant others for the flaws in their relationship. Furthermore, argumentative mannerisms can reflect the shape of a relationship – if it is happy or not.
Anita Vangelisti, PhD, a professor of communication at the University of Texas in Austin led the investigation – studying 71 young unmarried heterosexual couples in Texas, together for at least three years.
Individual participants were screened as they engaged in a computer chat program – fielding a topic of conflict with their partner covered in a pre-test questionnaire. The chat program showed the person’s typed messages in one section and the partner’s replies and messages in another section, but did not display the person’s vocalized thoughts, which were tape recorded.
Topics included the amount of time spent together, finances, past relationships, alcohol use, and the disapproval of loved ones on the relationship. Couples were permitted 10 minutes to discuss the matter and come to a resolution. Researchers encouraged participants, who were physically separated while communicating via the chat, to verbalize his/her thoughts about the interaction aloud.
The team found that when people were unhappy in their romantic relationship, they spent more time during disagreements thinking about how angry and frustrated they were, being inflexible and frequently changing the subject of discussion – conflict avoidance.
When both partners felt dissatisfied they were often preoccupied with the power struggle they felt going on in the relationship and complained about how repetitive the discussion was. These behaviors are not considered beneficial. Happy couples, in contrast, tended to coordinate their thoughts in a more productive manner, reports Science Daily.
Vangelisti said, “Among happy couples, when one partner is thinking a lot about disagreement or anger, the other instead may be thinking about how to understand his or her partner or how to resolve the conflict.”
The current study found a statistically significant sex-based difference in thoughts as women were more likely than men to lay blame – citing money, exes, and alcohol as the most common causes of conflict.
The investigators of the article, “Couples’ Online Cognitions During Conflict: Links Between What Partners Think and Their Relational Satisfaction,” did caution that computer-aided interactions are not the same as face-to-face conversations because they do not give participants access to each other’s expressions or tone of voice. Thoughts may therefore differ from those they might have during a face-to-face conflict.
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