Day-to-day and year-to-year living with a spouse usually includes some arguments over money, housework and childcare, among other topics. But spouses who understand how their husbands and wives fight could learn "repair attempts" to use during a fight, and could become closer to their spouses as a result, according to a UNT psychology doctoral student's study on married couples' arguments.
Marciana Ramos, who will complete her doctorate in 2016, hopes to include 105 couples in many stages of marriage as part of her study. So far, the study has included couples who have been married for four months to more than 40 years.
"There is an idea that when your heart rate increases because you're under stress or angered, your listening capacity diminishes as your body goes into fight-or-flight mode," Ramos says.
Ramos, who earned her master's degree in psychology in May, is conducting the research in three phases with Joshua Hook, assistant professor of psychology. In the first part, the couples came to UNT, and each spouse filled out a questionnaire about what he or she sees as the biggest areas of conflict in the marriage. Ramos identified an issue, and the couple was videotaped discussing the issue. During the discussion, each spouse's blood pressure and heart rate was monitored.
"Physical responses are one of the most objective ways of measuring communication," Ramos says. "Even if someone is reporting that he or she is staying calm or seems calm during a fight, the body may say otherwise. I want to determine if some of the couples or spouses are aware of when they are physically showing anger, and if that realization defuses the argument."
Ramos says she and Hook also will track the number of times a spouse displays poor fighting techniques and the number of times that a spouse displays "repair attempts" -- a term created by noted relationship therapist John Gottman, director of the nonprofit Relationship Research Institute, to describe ways that spouses can prevent the fight from becoming worse.
"These repair attempts tend to be positively related to marriage success," Ramos says.
Ramos plans to finish videotaping the couples by November and begin the second and third phases of the study, which involves having the couples complete follow-up questionnaires to assess the extent to which communication predicts changes in marital satisfaction over time.
Ramos says that as she begins her career as a relationship therapist, she may follow up with the couples five, 10 or 15 years after the study, to see if the fighting styles were predictors of success for the marriages.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.