UNT researcher studying married couples' conflicts, including "repair attempts" during fights

Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - 14:30

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- 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 so may become closer to their spouses as a result, according to a University of North Texas doctoral student in the Department of Psychology who has started a new study on married couples' arguments.

Marciana Ramos, who received her master's degree in psychology from UNT this past May and will receive her doctoral degree in 2016, is seeking more married couples for the study, which she hopes will include 105 couples in many stages of marriage.

"The couples that have participated so far have been married for four months to more than 40 years," she said. 

The research is being conducting in three phases. In the first part, the couples will come to the UNT campus, and each spouse will fill out a questionnaire about what he or she sees as the biggest areas of conflict in the marriage. Ramos will identify an issue, and the couple will be videotaped discussing the issue. During the discussion, each spouse's blood pressure and heart rate will be monitored.

"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," said Ramos, who is conducting the research with Joshua Hook, UNT assistant professor of psychology.

She noted that physical responses are "one of the most objective ways of measuring communication."

"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 said she and Hook will also 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 said.

She plans to finish videotaping the couples by November. In the second and third phases of the study, the couples will complete follow-up questionnaires to assess the extent to which communication predicts changes in marital satisfaction over time.

Ramos said 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.

The couples will be compensated monetarily for participating in the study. To volunteer, contact Ramos at 978-204-3038 or marciana.ramos@unt.edu.

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