While I am a believer in love, marriage, and Valentine's Day, for too many overworked couples life today is not about hearts and flowers. We live in a 24/7 workday society that can leave people stressed, angry, and short-tempered. The American Psychological Association tells us that “anger can significantly damage relationships with family, friends and colleagues.”
In a relationship, anger that leads to an argument can actually be healthy if it clears the air and if couples argue constructively. How couples resolve a quarrel might tell you if you will become an after Valentine's Day or August divorce statistic.
According to researchers at the University of Washington, prime times for ending a relationship are during March and August. Through analysis of divorce findings, associate sociology professor Julie Brines and doctoral candidate Brian Serafini presented their research at the American Sociological Association in Seattle, August 2017. The researchers suggested that divorce peaked these months because of the "domestic ritual" families follow over holidays and summer vacations. Is Divorce Seasonal?
How and how not to fight
How arguments between couples escalate differs according to the situation. However, the American Psychological Association tells us how and how not to fight in Happy Couples, How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy. Disagreements are part of any partnership, but some fighting styles are particularly damaging.
Couples that use destructive behavior during arguments — such as yelling, resorting to personal criticisms or withdrawing from the discussion — are more likely to break up than are couples that fight constructively.
Examples of constructive strategies for resolving disagreements include attempting to find out exactly what your partner is feeling, listening to his or her point of view and trying to make him or her laugh." 3[a]
Finding yourself stuck in anger is dangerous both emotionally and physically. According to Karen Swartz, M.D., practicing psychiatrist and clinical programs director of the Johns Hopkins Mood Disorders Center:
If someone is stuck in an angry state, what they’re essentially doing is being in a state of adrenaline. And some of the negative health consequences of not forgiving or being stuck there are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, not having a good immune response. You’re constantly putting your energy somewhere else.
How to break the anger cycle oftentimes involves forgiveness. She explains the concept of forgiveness training in four simple steps, "a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques." And these include:
Keep in mind that, "forgiving someone is going to be facilitated by them saying,'I’m very sorry that this happened.' And sometimes what people have to realize is they don’t have to take responsibility for the whole conflict. They can take responsibility for their part in it. Like, 'I’m sorry I didn’t know that would be so upsetting to you.'" The Healing Power of Forgiveness.
Sometimes it is enough to simply state what you feel and that you hope the situation does not occur again. If this is a pattern, point it out then leave it alone. And then try to muster a love emotion so you can look at your partner and say, “I am grateful that we are together, let’s end this argument now, or pick up where we left off tomorrow. But first let’s kiss and make up before round two."
The make-up sex alternative
Some researchers suggest that when a couple fights, it can be viewed as their investment in the relationship -- a desire to jump over hurdles to find happiness. However, destructive patterns also find a way into a relationship that is characterized by anger, such as withholding loving words through the silent treatment or withholding sex as punishment. These are games that are detrimental to relationships. But on the flip side is make up sex.
For some couples, resolving a conflict comes about through makeup sex. Why does makeup sex seem so alluring?
According to Samantha Joel, writing in Psychology Today,The Truth About Make-Up Sex: Research into the connection between conflict and desire:
“When arguing makes you feel distant from your partner, sex can restore feelings of intimacy and closeness. Apparently, many people have adopted this useful advantage of sex: In studies, after being primed with feelings of emotional threat—such as being asked to imagine their partner falling in love with someone else—people tended to become more interested in sex with their partner.” 3[b]
However, while makeup sex has a passionate dimension, it can become a pattern that is not a positive one. Long lasting resolutions come through gratitude and forgiveness.
Choices -- Divorce, makeup sex, or gratitude and forgiveness:
The divorce still hovers at 40 to 50 percent depending upon interpretation of statistics. Bella DePaulo, Ph.D. answers the question, "Is it true that half of all marriages end in divorce?" in PsychologyToday, What is the Divorce Rate Really?
But you save yourself the pain of divorce by adhering to the APA's advice about fighting fairly. Add to that Dr. Swartz's advice about healing. As such, after an argument, you can try make-up sex, or you can try letting anger dissipate into gratitude by kissing and making up. It doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. What matters in relationships is that you cultivate an atmosphere of love. If you go to bed angry you are both losing sleep, peace of mind, and maybe your marriage as well.
Copyright 2018 Rita Watson
3a. Birditt, K.S., Brown, E., Orbuch, T.L., and McIlvane, J.M. (2010). "Marital conflict behaviors and implications for divorce over 16 years." Journal of Marriage and Family, 72 (5): 1188-1204.
3b. Birnbaum, G. E., Scltelman, N., Bar-Shalom, A., & Porat, O. (2008). The thin line between reality and imagination: Attachment orientation and the effects of relationship threats on sexual fantasies. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1185-1199.