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A study has found that it is not if, but rather how couples fight that determines whether couples will divorce.
A research team lead by Baylor University’s Dr. Keith Sanford, clinical psychologist and associate professor of neuroscience and psychology, examined how hundreds of couples interacted and communicated during their fights to determine what causes negative or positive communication during arguments, and eventually, divorce.
Sanford found that negative emotion could actually be a good thing because it was conducive to communication, but he made sure to distinguish between the two types of negative emotion, which he termed “hard” and “soft.”
Hard emotion accompanies actions that assert power, while soft emotion accompanies expressions of vulnerability.
The Role of Emotion
While hard emotions seemed to escalate fights, the researchers found, soft emotion seemed to increase motivation to address the issue causing the conflict. This often led to productive discussions and conflict resolutions.
“There is a notion that all negative emotion is bad and we found that simply isn’t the case,” said Sanford. “As humans, we are very sensitive to ‘is this person going to fight against me or cooperate with me.’ If you say more things that signal that you [are] willing to cooperate, that can make all the difference.”
Differences between the Sexes
Sanford also found that women and men tend to argue differently. His research found that couples appear to often be motivated to behave a certain way based on how they expect their spouse to behave.
Stanford found that the wives’ acted on expectations that are based more on what is currently going on with the relationship, while men’s expectations depended more on their feelings toward the relationship in general.
“It’s a tendency that women are more event-dependent and men are more schematic,” said Sanford. “The simple take-home message is be aware of your thoughts and how you are interpreting things because it could have a negative bias and that could lead to further escalation.”
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