Are We Fighting for Power or Are We Just Cranky?

Photo: Emely/Corbis

There’s lots of new research this week in the field of lovers’ spats. First, a Baylor University study found the most common outcome couples want from each other in a fight isn’t an apology but a “willingness to relinquish power” — giving a partner more independence, compromising, or admitting faults. To this, I can relate. Nothing brings me closer to physical violence than a sotto voce, “I’m sorry you’re upset.”

Apology is actually at the bottom of the list of what the couples lead researcher Keith Sanford studied were after, behind displays of relationship investment (intimate revelations, planning vacations) and ceasing to do that annoying thing. This is because there are two feelings beneath every fight, Sanford says — perceived threat, perceived neglect. If the problem is the former — one’s “status is threatened by a critical or demanding partner” — then “flowers won’t do much to address the issue,” he says.

But a nap might. A UC Berkeley study found that couples “experience more frequent and severe conflicts after sleepless nights.” This was determined after 71 couples came into the lab, described how well they slept the night before, then discussed a source of conflict in their relationship. “The participants who had slept poorly and their partners reported feeling more negatively toward one another during the conflict discussion, according to observations and their reports. Their conflict resolution skills and ability to accurately gauge their partner’s emotions also suffered after a bad night’s sleep.”

Relationship Fights: Power Grabs or Just Cranky?