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'Fighting' to save a marriage?

Do you float like a butterfly, while your spouse stings like a bee? A recent study looked at fighting styles in married couples, and the results were surprising. Chicago couples, take off your gloves and listen up!

The study, published by the University of Michigan, followed 373 couples over a 16-year time period. Starting with the first year of marriage, the researchers looked at how each partner fights and then correlated fight style with divorce.

The researchers discovered that blowing your top isn't as bad for your relationship as you think. The "most toxic" fighting style -- that is, the style most often adopted by couples who later divorced -- is the combination of the calm, objective partner who looks to analyze the situation while his or her partner simply withdraws. The calm, objective partner interprets the withdrawal as a lack of interest in the relationship. The damage wrought by these reactions "significantly lessens the longevity of a marriage."

Marriages in which both partners used constructive strategies for dealing with conflict were the least likely to end in divorce. Yelling and throwing objects apparently came down in the middle.

Fighting during the first year of marriage isn't necessarily a predictor of longevity, according to the study. Just 21 percent of wives and 29 percent of husbands reported a fight-free first year. At the end of the study (year 16), 46 percent of those couples were divorced. The researchers declined to conclude that fighting during the first year had any effect on the risk of divorce.

Examining different styles between the sexes, the researchers made their most surprising findings. Men, it seems, use less destructive and more constructive fighting methods than women. Women, though, tended to move away from destructive fighting methods (like withdrawing) over time, while men did not.

The researchers expect they haven't had the last word on the subject. They do hope that additional research will dig into the dynamics of conflict and the variations of conflict behavior over time.

Source: DoOver.com, "New Study Shows Your Fight Style - not the Fight - May Lead to Divorce," Amber DiNenna, 01/25/11

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