Older couples change topic to avoid arguments

Washington, July 2 (ANI): A new study suggests that as you age, you may find yourself handling disagreements more often by changing the subject.

The study by Sarah Holley, San Francisco State University assistant professor of psychology who directs the University's Relationships, Emotion and Health Lab, followed 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples across 13 years, checking in to see how they communicated about conflicts from housework to finances.

The researchers videotaped the couples' 15-minute discussions, noting the types of communication they used when talking about contentious topics.

Holley and her colleagues wanted to see how the couples might change in their use of a common and destructive type of communication, the demand-withdraw pattern, as they aged.

In the demand-withdraw pattern, one person in a relationship blames or pressures their partner for a change, while the partner tries to avoid discussion of the problem or passively withdraws from the interaction.

The researchers found that while most aspects of demand-withdraw communication remained steady over time, both husbands and wives "increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict," Holley said.

That is, when faced with an area of disagreement, both spouses were more likely to do things such as change the subject or divert attention from the conflict.

Avoidance is generally thought to be damaging to relationships as it gets in the way of conflict resolution.

For younger couples, who may be grappling with newer issues, this may be particularly true.

But for older couples, who have had decades to voice their disagreements, avoidance may be a way to move the conversation away from "toxic" areas and toward more neutral or pleasant topics, the researchers suggest.

The study is published online in the Journal of Marriage and Family. (ANI)

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