Have you ever looked at one of those couples who never argue, who nod agreeably at each others every word and seem to be two parts of the same mind and thought “Life would be so much easier if our relationship was like that”?
Well if it’s not, a recent US study* suggests that it never will be.
The study, involving a cross section of 1000 couples, found that over the course of 20 years the level of conflict within the average relationship did not lessen or increase over those 20 years.
Which means that if you are still with your partner in 20 years time, you will still be having a similar number of the same kind of arguments as you are having today.
It would seem that two decades of experience and learning won’t necessarily lead you into a life of constant peace and calm, unless you are already there now.
As a Relationship Coach, this surprised me as it is part of my work to help couples understand each other better and communicate in ways that decrease the occasion for argument.
And thinking about older couples I know, who have been together for 20 years or more, they always seem to be much more patient and understanding with each other and more steady and secure in their love in later years.
But then I thought about it a bit more.
This study particularly talked about couples who had been together for the longer term.
Therefore it might be safe to assume, that if they had survived 20 years, it probably meant that their arguing hadn’t ever escalated to breaking point, or been about anything with the potential to break them apart.
Bickering about who wore muddy shoes inside again or whether the towels have been hung is a different thing to trying to fight your way through much bigger problems.
I know first hand that when there is a serious issue in a relationship, the arguing before, during and after that issue can vary dramatically.
My husband and I argued a lot and often intensely when he was in the height of his addiction. Whereas with his recovery in hand, we rarely argue and when we do, it is pretty benign.
So to suggest that 20 years won’t see anything change, regardless of what occurs during those years, seems slightly misleading.
I believe it is always possible to improve our level of compatibility in a relationship, especially if it means removing old, unhelpful patterns or problems that keep us arguing about the same things without ever moving forward.
Don’t be disheartened though if you are one of those couples that have a little more conflict in your relationship. Conflict is not automatically a bad thing. After all, two people with their own opinions, beliefs, values, concerns and emotions are always going to come up against each other every now and then.
Merging the lives of two unique individuals without collision isn’t a simple exercise.
And low to no conflict relationships aren’t always as healthy as they might seem from the outside. Sure, there are those couples that are so well paired or otherwise relaxed that they never really find anything worth disagreeing about, but it can also mean that one or both partners are avoiding talking about the real stuff, for fear of upset, rejection or abandonment.
Conflict can help the people in a relationship learn about each other, and themselves, and provide fertile ground to then grow together. It can set boundaries and provide new insight and perspective. It can help you to realign when things get out of kilter and bring the added bonus of great make up sex ; )
It’s not so much about the arguments, as it is about how you argue. We all know that.
And while it can be difficult to argue ‘right’ in the heat of the moment, being aware of what will cause more harm than good can help you to stay away from those hot points that might threaten to blow things apart permanently.
Name calling, dredging up old issues, blame and accusation will always take you further away from the kind of love you want in your life. So by all means, make your point but try to keep it respectful and you’ll be much more likely to come out the other side with the important parts of your relationship intact.
Ultimately, this study shouldn’t cause any alarm unless your arguments are escalating and causing deep damage to either partner or your relationship.
If that’s the case, don’t wait 20 years to see if it will improve. There is help and support available and it could mean ending up with the love you REALLY want in your life.
For me, many more years of those rare arguments with my husband won’t bother me at all. I know that they are just bolder than usual expressions of two unique characters in an otherwise fantastic relationship.