According to a new UT study, the way couples approach an argument may be a deciding factor in the success of their marriage or relationship. Associate professor of child and family studies at UT Amy Rauer discovered in her study that happy couples often work through issues that can lead to a concrete solution in comparison to couples who argue about abstract ideas.

Rauer received her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 2006 and continues to be recognized for outstanding achievements in the familial relations field.

The inspiration for Rauer’s study comes from Leo Tolstoy’s 19th century novel “Anna Karenina,” which states, “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Rauer sought to prove in her study that while happy couples do in fact argue, the issues happy couples face are not necessarily the same.

According to Rauer, what sets a happy couple apart from the crowd is their ability to approach challenges in a relationship successfully.

“(Couples) may find it harder to figure out how to ‘solve’ that issue without undermining each other’s sense of competence. … You do not want your well-intentioned efforts to diminish their sense of independence,” Rauer said.

Rauer believes it is important to understand positive ways to approach arguments because of the inevitability of issues in a relationship.

“Even among happy couples, there are many things that partners may wish to change about their relationship, themselves or each other. … Focusing on more solvable problems may be an effective way to build up partners’ sense of security in the relationship, as they feel that they can work together to resolve their issues,” Rauer said.

Former doctoral student Allen Sabey aided Rauer in the interview process for the study. Sabey reflects back on the experience positively.

“They did seem to stay away from the more difficult and disagreeable topics during the study, but that shows sensitivity given the context of the research. I see it as so thoughtful that they would not bring up anything that might hurt the other in that setting. I really loved interviewing and learning from the couples,” Sabey said.

Rauer imparts a main take away from the study about what may lead to happier relationships. The conclusion was drawn from Rauer’s work with middle-aged and older couples. These older couples were shown to have fewer issues, and Rauer attempted to determine what leads to this.

“Older partners’ perceptions of more limited time with each other may lead them to prioritize their marriage and decide that some issues may not be worth the argument,” Rauer said. “Being able to successfully differentiate between those issues that need to be resolved versus those that can be laid aside may be one of the keys to a long-lasting, happy relationship.”

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