In the most ideal of ideal worlds, relationships — especially relationships of the romantic variety — would be conflict free. Partners would agree 100 percent of the time, there would be no petty arguments over whether to watch The Bachelorette or the NFL draft, and there would be no need to test the oft-quoted theory that you should never go to bed angry. Sounds pretty fantastic, no?
The truth is, though, that even relationships that are destined to lead to happy, healthy marriages are built on a solid foundation of both bliss and challenges. Conflict is a pretty standard ingredient in any partnership, and while it’s never fun to butt heads, getting into a disagreement with your S.O. is a great way to learn more about what makes them tick and to figure out how you can grow to be a better partner for them.
If we’re going to find peace with the reality of conflict in our relationships, though, we also need to learn to better navigate the tricky waters of conflict resolution. A new study from Bucknell University demonstrates how men and women are predisposed to prefer different methods of conflict resolution, and while studies like this certainly can’t account for the behaviors and dynamics of every person or relationship, they may be able to help us become more empathetic to our partners, thus reducing tension and allowing us to move past conflict more effectively.
According to the Bucknell study, which was published in Evolutionary Psychological Science earlier this year, men tend to respond best in the wake of an argument to thoughtful gestures from their S.O., or to make-up sex. Women, on the other hand, are more responsive to quality time with their partner, crying, and apologizing.
“Women may rate spending time together more highly because this behavior signals a partner’s willingness to invest effort and limited resources into their romantic pair-bond,” says study leader T. Joel Wade. Wade suggests that a woman’s preference for a tearful apology is likely due to a general interest among women in partners who are comfortable and in touch with their feelings.
Stacy Kaiser, psychotherapist and Live Happy editor at large, was not surprised by the findings. “Across the board in all categories, men and women have different conflict resolution preferences,” says Kaiser, who was not personally involved in the study. “Women tend to be more emotional and engage in more conversations, while men tend to be more focused on resolving conflict by engaging in an activity together or having a brief conversation.”
Author and relationship expert Ken Blackman, who was also not involved with the Bucknell study, questions the effectiveness of any of the subjects’ preferred methods for conflict resolution. “To me, [they] don’t really sound like ways to resolve conflict,” he says. “They sound more like concessions that the ‘winner’ of the argument wants the ‘loser’ to make.”
Blackman also notes that sex and emotional intimacy are natural human desires, not necessarily intended for the sole purpose of brushing over an argument. “The truth is, make-up sex can be great for both partners,” he says. “And emotional intimacy can be great for both partners.”
Kaiser and Blackwell each offered their expert advice on resolving romantic conflict, and not-so-surprisingly, their recommendations have less to do with gender and more to do with compassion and collaboration.
“The resolution always starts with vulnerability, and it only takes one person to decide to do that,” Blackwell says. “In relationships, that’s really how you ‘win’ a fight.”
Beyond vulnerability, Kaiser urges couples to focus on communication and empathy. Understanding the fact that your S.O. may prefer a different type of conflict resolution than you do — which is likely, given Bucknell’s results — will go a long way toward helping you and bae fight fair in the future.
“Listen to each other and discuss preferred preferences for conflict resolution when you are not in conflict,” Kaiser advises. “Talk about these [preferences] in calm moments. Work hard to put aside your differences during the challenging times.”
Do you and your significant other have different preferences for conflict resolution? Tweet us @BritandCo!
(Photo via Getty)