Ever argue with your spouse over money or how to handle the children or even what movie you should watch on Saturday night? As you age, you may find yourself dealing with these types of disagreements simply by changing the subject, according to a new San Francisco State University study.
Sarah Holley, an assistant professor of psychology, kept tabs on 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples over the course of 13 years. She checked in with them at least three times to determine how they handled conflicts over everything from housework to finances. Researchers also videotaped the couples as they talked, studying the types of communication they used when confronted with problematic topics.
The goal was to determine whether the couples changed in the way they addressed conflict with their partners as they grew older. They found that -- while couples continued to pressure each other and play the "blame game" as they aged -- they also increased their tendency to change the subject or to find ways to divert attention away from conflicts.
According to researchers, avoidance is generally thought to be detrimental to relationships as it stops couples from getting at the root of a problem. This, they said, is particularly true for younger couples who are still getting used to each other.
But for older couples, avoidance may be a way to shift the conversation away from stressful areas and towards more neutral territory.
"This is in line with age-related shifts in socioemotional goals wherein individuals tend toward less conflict and greater goal disengagement in later life stages," said Holley in a press release. Several studies have shown, Holley explained, that as people age they seek to avoid arguing in favor of a more peaceful environment, perhaps as a way to make the most out of their remaining years.
As an example of avoidance behavior, the researchers wrote that an older spouse might suggest "We've discussed this a million times; let's just agree to disagree. Now what do you want to do for dinner?"
As an aside, another recent study found that how much you're willing to sacrifice in your close relationships may actually be linked to your own level of self-control. Contrary to popular belief, the study found that people who are more impulsive tend to put others first.
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