The best indicator of a stable romantic relationship might be how well partners are able to “move on” after a conflict, according to new research from U of M psychology Ph.D. candidate Jessica Salvatore.
The research looks at how people recover or come down after a conflict with their romantic partner, said Jessica Salvatore, the lead researcher in the study “Recovering From Conflict in Romantic Relationships: A Developmental Perspective.” The article is set to appear in the journal Psychological Science, and has been released online. Co-authors of the study are university researchers Sally Kuo, Ryan Steele, Jeffry Simpson and W. Andrew Collins.
Salvatore and her colleagues’ research digs into a new area. In the past, marriage researchers have focused on how people resolve conflicts, but they never looked at what happens after the conflict ends and how people recover, Salvatore said.
“What we show is that recovering from conflict well predicts higher satisfaction and more favorable relationship perceptions. You perceive the relationship more positively,” Salvatore said.
The interesting finding is that you don’t have to be the one who recovers well to benefit.
“If I’m good at recovering from conflict, my husband will benefit and be more satisfied with our relationship,” Salvatore said.
The study’s participants were 73 young adults who have been studied since birth and their romantic partners.
“Several decades of marriage research show that what happens during a conflict matters. What we show is that what happens in the time following a conflict also matters,” she said.
A partner who recovers well doesn’t let remnants of the conflict spill over or leak into other parts of the relationship, Salvatore said. He or she is able to separate conflict from other types of interactions, such as deciding how to parent their children or providing support to one another.
The study’s findings are relevant to everyone in relationships, Salvatore said.
“I especially think this will be important for marital therapists and other people who are working with couples who are experiencing some relationship distress,” Salvatore said.
Results of the study also show that infant attachment security plays a role in how someone recovers from conflict.
“Having a caregiver who was more in-tune and responsive to your emotional needs as an infant predicts better conflict recovery 20 years later,” Salvatore said. This means that if your caregiver is better at regulating your negative emotions as an infant, you tend to do a better job of regulating your own negative emotions in the moments following a conflict as an adult.
But not all is lost if you were insecurely attached as an infant. “We also show people who were insecurely attached as infants but whose adult romantic partners recover well from conflict are likely to stay together. What this shows is that good partners in adulthood can help make up for difficulties experienced early in life,” Salvatore said.
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