Holley is the director of the University’s Relationships, Emotions and Health Lab. She followed 127 middle-aged and older long-term married couples across 13 years. She checked in to see how they communicated about conflicts from housework to finances. Couples were videotaped in 15 minute discussions to see the types of communication they used when talking about contentious topics.
Here’s what’s interesting. They wanted to see how the couples might change in their use of a common and destructive type of communication. It’s called the demand-withdraw pattern. That’s where one of them blames or pressures their partner for a change, while the other tries to avoid discussion of the problem or passively withdraws from the interaction. They found that both husbands and wives increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict. In other words, both would try to change the subject or divert attention away from it.
Trouble is, avoidance is thought to be damaging to the relationship as it gets in the way of conflict resolution.