Unhappy Couples More Likely to Focus on Unhappiness During Arguments

C. Price
C. Price Updated:
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When you’re arguing with your partner, do you focus on the topic at hand? Or do you tend to bring up issues from the past?

New research finds people unhappy in their relationship tend to ruminate on that unhappiness during arguments with their partner. Happier couples often have more coordinated thoughts related to the conflict at hand.

According to a study published online in the National Communication Association’s journal, Communication Monographs, the findings “raise questions about widely accepted differences between women’s and men’s cognitions.”

Participating were 71 young heterosexual couples who were unmarried but had been together an average of three years.

Couples were separated into different rooms but remained connected through a chat program. The partners were overseen by a researcher, but they could only communicate with their partner by typing.


“Unhappy partners were more likely to repeat

their unhappiness or change the subject.”

Participants were asked to verbalize their thought process to the researcher during the 10-minute chats with their partner, which was recorded. The topic was pre-selected from a questionnaire filled out by each partner.

Researchers found unhappy partners were more likely to repeat their unhappiness, avoid the topic or attempt to change the subject. Couples more satisfied in their relationship were more likely to remain on topic.

The study also found a person’s thoughts during an argument both reflect and shape how they feel about the relationship. It can likewise affect the happiness of the other partner, according to study author Anita Vangelisti, a communications professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

“We don’t have data on what happens when partners change their thoughts, but our findings certainly do suggest that thinking about how angry and frustrated you are – or thinking about how much power is being wielded during a conflict – is not beneficial,” she said.

Vangelisti said a participant’s thought process may differ in a chat setting versus standard face-to-face meetings and cites the lack of facial expressions or tone of voice applied in the responses.

Source: Communication Monographs. Photo source: sheknows.com.