are unhappy in their romantic relationship spend more time during a disagreement thinking about
how angry and frustrated they are, but happy couples coordinate their thoughts
so that when one partner has many emotional thoughts, the other has few, according
to a new study recently published online in the National Communication
Association’s journal, Communication Monographs.
happy couples, when one partner is thinking a lot about disagreement or anger,
the other instead may be thinking about how to understand his or her partner or
how to resolve the conflict,” said lead investigator Anita Vangelisti, Ph.D., professor
of communication at the University of Texas at Austin.
Vangelisti said, show that people’s thoughts during a conflict situation reflect
and shape their own relationship satisfaction and can even affect how happy
their partner is.
and her colleagues studied 71 young unmarried heterosexual couples in Texas,
who had been together an average of three years. Each person was encouraged to
privately express his or her thoughts aloud to a researcher while in a separate
room from the other partner and while communicating about a topic of conflict
with the partner via a computer chat program. The chat program showed the
person’s typed messages in one section and the partner’s replies and messages
in another section, but did not display the person’s vocalized thoughts, which
were tape recorded.
cases, the couples discussed a topic of disagreement that both participants had
listed in a questionnaire about conflict issues. Before the study, they also
completed a questionnaire about their relationship satisfaction. Topics of
conflict included amount of time spent together, money, past dating
relationships, alcohol use, and friends and relatives who disapproved of their
relationship. The researchers told the couples they had 10 minutes to discuss
the topic and come to a resolution. A researcher sat behind the participant in
each room and reminded that study subject to voice his or her thoughts
throughout the interaction.
researchers found that during a discussion involving conflict with a romantic
partner, when one person thinks about making excuses or denying his or her role
in the conflict, the other partner was likelier to be unhappy in the
relationship than those whose partner did not “stonewall.”
unhappy relationships were more likely to be inflexible in their thinking and
more interested in changing the subject of discussion. They also thought more
about how repetitive the discussion felt.
people in the relationship were dissatisfied, they were more likely to think
about the power they had or their partner had in the relationship. They also
were more likely to focus their thoughts on disagreement or emotions, such as
anger and frustration, at the same time as their partner.
have data on what happens when partners change their thoughts, but our findings
certainly do suggest that thinking about how angry and frustrated you are—or
thinking about how much power is being wielded during a conflict—is not
beneficial for the relationship,” Vangelisti said.
speculated that people’s thoughts might affect their partner’s relationship
satisfaction because they often voice their thoughts to their partner or, in a
real-life setting, they send nonverbal messages.
other studies, which found differences between men’s and women’s thoughts
during disagreement, the current study found only one statistically significant
sex-based difference in thoughts: women were more likely than men to blame
results … raise questions about widely accepted differences between women’s and
men’s cognitions,” the authors wrote.
investigators cautioned, however, that computer-aided interactions are not the
same as face-to-face conversations because they do not give participants access
to each other’s expressions or tone of voice. Participants’ thoughts may therefore
differ from those they might have during a face-to-face conflict, they
article, “Couples’ Online Cognitions during Conflict: Links between What
Partners Think and their Relational Satisfaction,” is currently online
in Communication Monographs.
About The National Communication
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discipline that studies all forms, modes, media and consequences of
communication through humanistic, social scientific, and aesthetic inquiry. The
NCA serves the scholars, teachers, and practitioners who are its members by
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