A new study from the University of Michigan has found that spouses who withdraw from conflict create a damaging effect on the longevity of a marriage, thereby increasing the risk for divorce.
The Early Years of Marriage Project is an ongoing study of 373 married couples interviewed four times a year from 1986 until 2002, beginning during the first year of marriage. At the end of the study, 46 percent of the couples had divorced.
Researchers found that whether or not couples reported conflict during the first year of marriage had no affect on if they remained married by year 16. However, they did find that those couples that used constructive strategies to deal with conflict had lower divorce rates.
The study found that the risk of divorce is higher when one spouse fights fairly and the other spouse withdraws. Researchers said that this is because the spouse who deals with conflicts in a constructive way – listening to the other spouse’s point of view and calmly discussing the problem – may see a partner’s withdrawal as a lack of investment in the relationship.
Overall, the husbands who were part of the study reported using more constructive behaviors and fewer destructive behaviors than wives during the first years of marriage. However, over time, wives became less likely to engage in destructive behaviors – yelling and withdrawing – while the husbands’ behaviors stayed the same.