A new study from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley looked at the interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples, focusing on how they recovered from disagreements. Those in marriages in which the wives calmed down quickly during an argument were found to be the happiest. What’s more, those same marriages were shown to be happiest in the long run too.
According to Lian Bloch, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology-Stanford Psy.D. Consortium at Palo Alto University, even when both men and women were good at calming down during a disagreement, the emotional outcome of the fight was determined by how the wife was feeling, which, in part, might stem from long-held gender beliefs “Cultural stereotypes of women as the emotional center of marriage — and men as emotional dummies — led couples in this study to be more attuned to the wife’s emotional regulation, and that, in turn, is what is feeding both spouses' perceptions of marital quality,” Bloch tells Yahoo Shine. Translation: If the wife is happy, so is her husband, and as a result, so is the marriage. But, explains Bloch, this outcome may be generational. “It’s an interesting nuance to see what would happen if we did this study with younger couples,” she says. “As our cultural stereotypes about gender and emotion evolve, we might move away from this model that women are the emotional center of the marriage."
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Regardless of a couple’s age, Bloch says that an important part of resolving conflict is being able to step back and take stock during a disagreement. “You don’t have to have an anger-free marriage to have a happy marriage,” she says. “By calming down emotionally instead of being caught up in the negative hot spots, couples are able to think and communicate solutions more clearly and this drives marital satisfaction.”
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And, of course, communication is key for happy couples, says Teri Orbuch, PhD., professor of sociology at Oakland University, research professor at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan, and a certified family and marriage and family therapist. “Wives are more bothered by conflict than husbands are, and it causes more distress to them and has ramifications for their long-term marital happiness,” Orbuch tells Yahoo Shine. Her advice? Go to bed mad. “We have all heard the opposite. But the reality is that nighttime, when we're tired and stressed out, is a terrible time to fight,” she says. “Wait until the light of day when you both have had some sleep. That way, you won't end up saying things you'll regret.”