Wives are the key players in toning down marital spats and restoring peace after a heated argument, according to a study by researchers at the University of California Berkeley.
The study, published online Nov. 4 in the journal Emotion, said, "Emotion regulation is generally thought to be a critical ingredient for successful interpersonal relationships. Ironically, few studies have investigated the link between how well spouses regulate emotion and how satisfied they are with their marriages."
"When it comes to managing negative emotion during conflict, wives really matter," said psychologist Lian Bloch, lead author, in a written statement. Bloch is now an assistant professor at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in a joint doctoral program run by Stanford and Palo Alto universities.
The researchers took data from a longitudinal study that revisited 80 couples three times over 13 years. Participants were middle-aged (40–50 years old) and older (60–70 years old) couples who had been married a long time. The researchers focused on how they got over their disagreements, looking at the association between being able to calm down negative feelings. They measured those negative emotions as the pair discussed an area of marital conflict during the first of the three sessions and measured marital satisfaction in each session.
Wives can help resolve conflicts by talking about them and suggesting solutions, the senior author, UC Berkeley psychologist Robert Levenson, said. It doesn't appear to work as well for husbands, "who wives often criticize for leaping into problem-solving mode too quickly."
The couples are a subset of a 156-couple study group in the San Francisco Bay Area that Levenson and colleagues have followed since 1989.
In this study, they found that the wife being able to calm down quickly predicted greater marital satisfaction for both the husband and the wife. While both the man and woman were able to cool off during disagreements, "the husbands' emotional regulation had little or no bearing on long-term marital satisfaction," the researchers said.
"Time and again, they found that marriages in which wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, both in the short and long run," the release noted.
"Emotions such as anger and contempt can seem very threatening for couples. But our study suggests that if spouses, especially wives, are able to calm themselves, their marriages can continue to thrive," Bloch noted.
"Levenson concluded that wives play a vital role in conflict resolution due to their ability to discuss and offer solutions, but says the study showed the opposite is the case for married men," said a summary of the study on Huffington Post.
An article in the Daily Mail highlighted the role that age and experience may play, quoting the study's authors: "The middle-aged and older couples in our study grew up in a world that treated men and women very differently. It will be interesting to see how these gender dynamics play out in younger couples," they said.
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