WOMEN
07/11/2013 11:24 am ET

Relationship Problems: Arguments Are About Power, Not Apologies, Study Find

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What do you really want when you argue with the person you're in a relationship with? For the other person to relinquish power, a new study out of Baylor University claims.

Researchers led by Keith Sanford, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor, asked members of couples to explain how their partners could change behaviors to resolve a given conflict. The researchers used previous studies to identify two main underlying concerns that couples have during conflict: (a) perceived neglect, where one partner feels as though the other is being inattentive or disloyal, and (b) perceived threat, where one partner feels as though the other is being too critical or demanding, thus threatening their status. The data showed that "perceived threat" bothers couples more.

In the first experiment, researchers asked 455 married participants to make a list of the resolutions they hoped for in a current or ongoing disagreement with their spouses. The participant pool included both pairs of 50 couples, and 355 individuals who took part in the study without their spouses.

Participants were asked to think about "a single, specific episode of conflict in your relationship," and then complete the Couples Underlying Concern Inventory, where they indicated what words could be used to describe themselves and their partner during said conflict. The men and women were then asked to list 1-3 things their partner could do to resolve this issue. A team of three research assistants coded these open-ended responses into one of 28 different categories, such as "stop blaming," "communicate more with me" and "be more willing to compromise." These categories were then sorted into six basic desires: stop adversarial behavior, relinquish power, show investment, communicate more, give affection and apologize.

For the second experiment, researchers created a Desired Resolutions Questionnaire using the 28 categories identified in the first experiment. A pool of 498 participants in committed, heterosexual relationships each identified a current conflict with his or her partner and completed the Couples Underlying Concern Inventory, as well as the Desired Resolutions Questionnaire.

Results from both experiments showed that it was most important to participants that their partners relinquish power and stop any "adversarial" behavior.

"It's common for partners to be sensitive to how to share power and control when making decisions in their relationship," said researcher Keith Sanford in a press release.

Though very few people enjoy arguing with their spouse, recent findings suggest that it's actually bad for your health. Research from Brigham Young University, released earlier this month, found that couples who do not argue live longer. Head researcher Rick Miller told the Daily Telegraph: "The implication is that marital conflict is a risk factor for poor health. Couples that fight or argue frequently should get professional help to reduce their conflict because it is affecting their health."

Arguments are more or less inevitable in a relationship -- even when you know that such conflict is bad for you in the long-term. But understanding what an argument is really about and what each party can do to appease the other might help resolve the issues.

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