“The happiest marriages are ones in which wives are able to calm quickly during conflict.” Lian Bloch*

That’s the conclusion of a recent study which examined how couples handle negative emotions that arise during conflict.

I’m not quite sure how they arranged this, but apparently researchers invited couples into their labs and observed them engaging in marital conflict while measuring their emotional responses (body language, facial expressions, and feelings).

Lots of men might look at the study’s conclusion and say, “See, if only my wife could avoid the hysteria we’d all be much happier.”

Not so fast, guys.

Emotional Illiteracy

Researchers say that the reason the wife’s emotional regulation matters most in a marriage is due to gender stereotypes that make wives bear the burden of managing emotion in relationships, while men are given a pass because they are so emotionally illiterate!

However, researchers express hope that if their sample had included younger couples, there would have been a more enlightened and less stereotypical outcome because younger men have been “enculturated” to be more emotionally intelligent. 

Three Takeaways

The report concluded with a few takeaways:

  • The more efficiently that couples can move away from fiery moments in conflict, and toward more cool, calm, collaborative, and constructive moments, they will be better able to engage in productive conflict resolution.
  • Conflict is not, in fact, an inherently bad thing; in fact, we believe that conflict—and the negative emotion it naturally generates—can be invaluable in highlighting trouble spots in relationships and paving the way for conflict resolution, ultimately supporting happier relationships.
  • How couples respond to negative emotions during conflict is what is critical. To the extent that couples can use negativity to navigate toward relationship repair, negative emotion during conflict can be highly useful.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

*Lian Bloch “Happy Wife, Happy Life,” Psychology Today, December 11, 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-strongest-emotion/201311/happy-wife-happy-life

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