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Health & Sex

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Marital Conflict May Not Ease Over Time

But Researchers Say a 'High-Conflict' Marriage Isn't Always a Sign of an Unhappy Marriage

Why Some High-Conflict Couples Are Also Happy continued...

However, ''14% of the sample were high conflict and high happiness," she says.

She is not sure what to make of high-conflict, high-happiness couples. Why they stay together is somewhat of a mystery. "They might fight a lot, but like the make-up sex," she says.

Most couples, over 60%, had medium conflict. The rest, nearly 17%, had low conflict.

About 38% had high happiness levels, another 41% medium, and the other 21% low happiness levels.

Certain qualities and beliefs did predict levels of conflict and satisfaction.

For instance, those in low-conflict marriages were more likely to say they shared decision-making with their spouses.

Those who believe in lifelong marriage, as well as those who are more religious, were more likely to have high-happiness, low-conflict marriages. They were unlikely to divorce.

Couples in which husbands shared housework chores were also more likely to be classified as high happiness, low conflict. They were less likely to divorce than other couples.

More than half the couples were in marriages with high or middle happiness levels and middle levels of conflict, she found.

As for what is ''high'' or ''low'' conflict, Kamp Dush says she cannot quantify it in terms of the number of arguments or disagreements in a specific time period. "It's totally subjective," she says. Factors such as a person's own perception play in and differ from person to person, she says.

Advice for Couples

The findings suggest that a blending of old and new works well for today's marriages, says W. Bradford Wilcox, PhD, director of the National Marriage Project and associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia. He reviewed the findings but wasn't involved in the research.

"Specifically, couples who are progressive in the sense that they share decisions and chores do better," he says. "But couples who oppose divorce and believe strongly in lifelong marriage were happier and less likely to engage in conflict."

In one sense, the findings are surprising because the literature on marital quality tends to emphasize negative or deficiency aspects of the marital relationships, says Elaine Wethington, PhD, professor of human development at Cornell University.

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