How often do you and your partner argue? Does it seem like you argue more now than when you were first married? Do you think you fought more after the kids came along? You may be shocked — like I was — to learn that new research shows that a couple's level of fighting stays surprisingly consistent throughout the course of a marriage.
The common perception about marriage spats was that they operated on a bell curve. They were fairly non-existent in the blissful "newlywed" stage of marriage, ramped up after the kids came a long, and settled back down once the kids moved out and the couple was back on their own. But a new study by Ohio State University researchers blows that theory out of the water, showing that a couple's level of conflict stays relatively stable throughout the duration of the marriage.
The researchers used data collected from 2,000 married people from 1980 to 2000, to determine how often each couple fought and ranked the overall quality of a couple's marriage. They placed each couple into one of three subgroups:
Low-conflict: 16 percent of couples
Moderate-conflict: 60 percent of participants
High-conflict: 22 percent of the subjects
The surprising thing here is not the breakdown, but the consistency. Couples generally stayed in their subgroup over the 20-year time period studied. But it should also be noted that just because a couple fights a lot, it does not mean that they are unhappy, nor that they are headed for divorce. The converse is true as well; couples that don't argue are no more or less happy than their peers.
According to Claire Kamp Dush, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of human development and family science at Ohio State University, "The most important takeaway is there is a lot of stability in conflict. If you're finding it difficult to live with the level of conflict in your relationship before you get married, you probably shouldn't get married."