How couples recover after argument depends on their infant relationships

Saturday, February 19, 2011

WASHINGTON - A University of Minnesota research has suggested that couples’ ability to bounce back from a fight may depend on what both partners were like as infants.

The researchers have been following a cohort of people since before they were born, in the mid-1970s. When the subjects were about 20 years old, they visited the lab with their romantic partners for testing.

This included a conflict discussion, when they were asked to talk about an issue they disagreed on, followed by a ‘cool-down’ period, when the couples spent a few minutes talking about something they saw eye to eye about.

Although the cool-down period was included just to make sure the researchers weren’t sending the couples away angry, Jessica E. Salvatore, of the University of Minnesota, noticed some interesting things about the couples’ communication styles during this recovery time.

“As part of another project where we looked at how couples fight, I would often catch a few minutes of this cool-down period,” she said.

Salvatore noticed that some couples had intense conflicts, but made a perfectly clean transition to chatting about something they agreed on. In other couples, one or both partners seemed ’stuck’ on the conflict discussion and couldn’t move on.

Salvatore and her team embarked on a closer look at what happens after a conflict supposedly ends. By looking back at observations of the participants and their caregivers from the 1970s, when they were between 12 and 18 months old, the researchers discovered a link between the couples’ conflict recovery behaviors and the quality of their attachment relationship with their caregivers.

People who were more securely attached to their caregivers as infants were better at recovering from conflict 20 years later, they found. This means that if your caregiver is better at regulating your negative emotions as an infant, you tend to do a better job of regulating your own negative emotions in the moments following a conflict as an adult.

The findings were reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. (ANI)

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