Researchers have found that when conflict occurs in romantic relationships, the negative emotional climate that results hinders a person's ability to recognize their partner's attempts to reach out to them. However, talking things out with your partner can undo much of the damage, the findings showed.
"When conflict occurred, it influenced the way persons rated their partner's general efforts to work on their relationship," said study co-author Brian Ogolsky, professor at the University of Illinois in the US.
"If partners withdrew or become contemptuous or critical, the bad feelings lingered, and that negative emotion dampened people's ability to process or perceive their partner's attempts to repair what was wrong between them," Ogolsky noted.
For the study, 98 same sex couples kept a 14-day diary in which they recorded conflict and answered questions about how they had responded to it.
For example, did they withdraw? Did they lash out? Did they blame the other person? Did they threaten to leave? Or did they take a more positive approach? Did they persist in their attempts to communicate? Did they prioritize solving the problem?
Answers to these questions predicted whether they were able to recognize that their partner was attempting to mend the relationship. After an argument, in a newly chilly emotional climate, communication styles can be very important, Ogolsky explained.
"Hostile feelings do not gain a foothold among constructive communicators - people who talk things out and work through the problem in a constructive manner. That is a game changer for the way a couple's relationship will develop," he noted.
"If you use effective strategies to manage conflicts on a daily basis when those conflicts are small, you are likely to create a warmer emotional climate and have better outcomes," Ogolsky noted.
The findings appeared in the Journal of Family Psychology