Couples who recover quickly from an argument are more likely to stay together, research finds.
And being able to recover quickly from an argument goes back to childhood.
People who were more ‘securely attached’ to their parents as children are better at regulating their emotions in adulthood, the study found.
Children who are securely attached to their parents or caregiver feel protected and trust them.
The same is true in adult relationships: people who feel protected and trust each other can better regulate their emotions at trying times, like when arguing.
Dr Jessica E. Salvatore, the study’s first author, said:
“We found that people who were insecurely attached as infants but whose adult romantic partners recover well from conflict are likely to stay together.
If one person can lead this process of recovering from conflict, it may buffer the other person and the relationship.”
The results come from a study of 73 people who were tracked from birth.
Each person was induced to have a heated discussion with their partner and then they were given a cool-down period.
Dr Salvatore explained:
“As part of another project where we looked at how couples fight, I would often catch a few minutes of this cool-down period.”
Dr Salvatore noticed that some couples were able to move from a heated discussion right back to pleasant chatting without too much effort.
Other couples, though, got stuck on their conflict and couldn’t cool down.
When they looked back at people’s childhood assessments, they spotted that securely attached people were better at regulating their emotions in their relationship as well.
The researchers also discovered that only one person in the couple needs to be a calming influence.
Dr Salvatore said:
“That, to us, was the most exciting finding.
There’s something about the important people later in our lives that changes the consequences of what happened earlier.”
About the author
Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology.
He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book “Making Habits, Breaking Habits” (Da Capo, 2003) and several ebooks:
- Accept Yourself: How to feel a profound sense of warmth and self-compassion
- The Anxiety Plan: 42 Strategies For Worry, Phobias, OCD and Panic
- Spark: 17 Steps That Will Boost Your Motivation For Anything
- Activate: How To Find Joy Again By Changing What You Do
The study was published in the journal Psychological Science (Salvatore et al., 2010).