How we attach as babies affects how quickly we let go of lovers' quarrels.
There are countless studies out there on couples' fighting styles, but new research is finally focusing in on how pairs recover from arguments. As it turns out, how well you patch things up in your current romantic relationship has to do with the quality of attachment in your very first relationship—the one you had with your caregiver as an infant.
According to Psychological Science, researchers at the University of Minnesota have been following a group of people since before they were born in the '70s. When the subjects hit age 20, they brought them into the lab with their partners for conflict testing. First, the couples were asked to discuss a topic that they disagreed on to produce an argument while the researchers observed. Then before they left, they were told to chat about something they had the same views on. The second part was just meant to be a "cool-down" period where the couples could let go of their disagreement so they wouldn't head back home in a fight. "Never leave the lab angry" must be the researcher equivalent of "Never go to bed angry," eh? 5 Steps To Getting Over The First-Fight Hurdle
Almost by accident, Jessica E. Salvatore started observing a few of these "cool-down" sessions and noticed something intriguing.
"As part of another project where we looked at how couples fight, I would often catch a few minutes of this cool-down period," she said. Some of the couples had major blow-ups, but were easily able to transition to the topic they saw eye-to-eye on. Others seemed to be completely "stuck" on the topic of disagreement and couldn't move onto anything new. This sparked interest in post-conflict recovery in couples.
Researchers went back to their observations of the cohort as infants and found a link between the babies' relationships to their caregivers between the ages of 12 and 18 months and their current ability to bounce back from an argument. According to the study: "People who were more securely attached to their caregivers as infants were better at recovering from conflict 20 years later. This means that if your caregiver is better at regulating your negative emotions as an infant, you tend to do a better job of regulating your own negative emotions in the moments following a conflict as an adult." Difficult Emotions - Childhood into Adulthood
But even if a person didn't have the best attachment to his caregiver as a young child, that doesn't mean he's doomed to dwell on conflict. In this case, Salvatore explained that if one partner in the relationship had a solid attachment, it's usually enough.
"We found that people who were insecurely attached as infants but whose adult romantic partners recover well from conflict are likely to stay together," she said. "If one person can lead this process of recovering from conflict, it may buffer the other person and the relationship."
And that's the most interesting fact in the research. This is one of the first studies to show that a romantic partner can counter the effects of negative experiences from early in a person's life.
"That, to us, was the most exciting finding," Salvatore said. "There's something about the important people later in our lives that changes the consequences of what happened earlier."
That is great news, isn't it? So, couples: If you fight together, recover together for the best chance of staying together. Simple enough!