Science Current Events | Science News |

Anger in spats is more about marital climate than heat of the moment, Baylor study shows

May 21, 2012

How good are married couples at recognizing each other's emotions during conflicts? In general, pretty good, according to a study by a Baylor University researcher. But if your partner is angry, that might tell more about the overall climate of your marriage than about what your partner is feeling at the moment of the dispute.

What's more, "if your partner is angry, you are likely to miss the fact that your partner might also be feeling sad," said Keith Sanford, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences. His study - "The Communication of Emotion During Conflict in Married Couples" -is published online in the American Psychological Association's Journal of Family Psychology.

"I found that people were most likely to express anger, not in the moments where they felt most angry, but rather in the situations where there was an overall climate of anger in their relationship - situations where both partners had been feeling angry over a period of time," he said. "This means that if a couple falls into a climate of anger, they tend to continue expressing anger regardless of how they actually feel . . . It becomes a kind of a trap they cannot escape."

Common spats that might fester deal with in-laws, chores, money, affection and time spent on the computer.

Sanford found that when people express anger, they often also feel sad. But while a partner will easily and immediately recognize expressions of anger, the spouse often will fail to notice the sadness.

"When it comes to perceiving emotion in a partner, anger trumps sadness," he said.

Previous research has found that genuine expressions of sadness during a conflict can sometimes draw partners closer together, and it potentially can enable couples to break out of a climate of anger.

"A take-home message is that there may be times where it is beneficial to express feelings of sadness during conflict, but sad feelings are most likely to be noticed if you are not simultaneously expressing anger," Sanford said.

The findings were based on self-reporting by 83 married couples as well as observation and rating of their behavior by research assistants, who were given permission by the couples to videotape them through a one-way mirror. Couples were asked to choose two areas of conflict and talk to each other about them - one chosen by the wife, the other by the husband. They also were asked to rate their emotions and those of their partners before and after each discussion.

Couples' "insider knowledge" of one another might be expected to make it easier for them to read each other, Sanford said. But the only time in which couples made significant use of insider knowledge to distinguish emotions was in interpreting soft emotions -- such as hurt or disappointment -- in conflicts about specific events, the study showed.

While women expressed soft emotions more, they were no better at perceiving hard emotions (such as anger) or soft ones, Sanford said.


*Sanford has developed a free interactive internet program for couples titled the "Couple Conflict Consultant" located at This program provides a personalized assessment of 14 different areas of conflict resolution and a large resource bank of information and recommendations for couples.

To learn more about Sanford and his work, visit

Baylor University

Related Conflict Current Events and Conflict News Articles

Large global range of prices for hepatitis C medicines raises concerns about affordability
The prices and affordability of recently developed and highly effective direct-acting antivirals for treating hepatitis C (HCV) vary greatly among countries worldwide.

Ecologists advise an increase in prescribed grassland burning to maintain ecosystem
Kansas State University researchers have found a three-year absence of fire is the tipping point for the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and advise an increase in burning.

Obese young adults unaware of kidney disease risk, study finds
Many young adults with abdominal obesity exhibit a readily detectable risk factor for chronic kidney disease (CKD), yet the vast majority don't know they're at risk, according to a study of nationwide health data led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers that was published online today in the journal PLOS ONE.

Workaholism tied to psychiatric disorders
Researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway have examined the associations between workaholism and psychiatric disorders among 16,426 working adults.

Too much sex causes genitals to change shape, beetle study shows
Sexual conflict between males and females can lead to changes in the shape of their genitals, according to research on burying beetles by scientists at the University of Exeter.

Many young adult female cancer survivors need more information and support to preserve their fertility
A new study indicates that many young adult female cancer survivors do not receive adequate information about their fertility as part of their survivorship care after completing treatment, despite having concerns about their ability to bear children in the future.

Confidence in Iron Dome, coupled with resilience, can reduce PTSD symptoms
Bar-Ilan University researchers have found that belief in the success of the Iron Dome air defense system, coupled with a strong sense of resilience (an inner trait that results in positive adaptation to trauma), can reduce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms (i.e., can mitigate the effect of exposure to trauma on the development of PTSD symptoms).

Evolution and religion: New insight into instructor attitudes in Arizona
Evolution can be an emotionally charged topic in education, given a wide range of perspectives on it. Two researchers from Arizona State University are taking an in-depth look at how college professors handle it.

Commissions that reflected on Ebola outbreak highlight overlapping conclusions in new PLOS piece
To make the world safer against future infectious disease threats, national health systems should be strengthened, the World Health Organization's emergency and outbreak response activities should be consolidated and bolstered, and research and development should be enhanced, says a new Policy Forum article that appears in the May 19 edition of PLOS Medicine.

Minimally invasive tendon repair technique supports knee movement sooner after surgery
Quadriceps tendon ruptures are disabling knee injuries that typically occur in adults ages 40 and older. Obesity, illness or traumatic injuries can cause these types of injuries.
More Conflict Current Events and Conflict News Articles

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts

People Skills: How to Assert Yourself, Listen to Others, and Resolve Conflicts
by Robert Bolton (Author)

Improve your personal and professional relationships instantly with this timeless guide to communication, listening skills, body language, and conflict resolution.

A wall of silent resentment shuts you off from someone you love....You listen to an argument in which neither party seems to hear the other....Your mind drifts to other matters when people talk to you....

People Skills is a communication-skills handbook that can help you eliminate these and other communication problems. Author Robert Bolton describes the twelve most common communication barriers, showing how these “roadblocks” damage relationships by increasing defensiveness, aggressiveness, or dependency. He explains how to acquire the ability to listen, assert yourself, resolve conflicts, and work out...

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict
by The Arbinger Institute (Author)


What if conflicts at home, conflicts at work, and conflicts in the world stem from the same root cause?

What if we systematically misunderstand that cause?

And what if, as a result, we systematically perpetuate the very problems we think we are trying to solve?

Every day.

From the authors of Leadership and Self-Deception comes an international bestseller that instills hope and inspires reconciliation. Through a moving story of parents who are struggling with their own children and with problems that have come to consume their lives, we learn from once-bitter enemies the way to transform personal, professional, and global conflicts, even when war is upon...

Conflict Communication (ConCom): A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication

Conflict Communication (ConCom): A New Paradigm in Conscious Communication
by Rory Miller (Author)

FINALIST ― SOCIAL CHANGE ― ForeWord Reviews Indie Fab Award 2016
FINALIST ― SOCIAL CHANGE ― USA Best Books Award 2015
Your reactions to conflict are subconscious, scripted, and for the good of the group.

Conflict happens everywhere: at work, with friends and family, among strangers, and certainly in violence. Why did your boss ignore a suggestion that could save millions of dollars? Why do you have the same argument again and again with your spouse? When someone insults you, why do you get angry? Why do bad guys beat up the weak?

You have three brains.
• Lizard brain (survival)
• Monkey brain (emotion / social status)
• Human brain (reason)

Each “brain” has a different priority and evolved to deal...

The Coward's Guide to Conflict: Empowering Solutions for Those Who Would Rather Run Than Fight

The Coward's Guide to Conflict: Empowering Solutions for Those Who Would Rather Run Than Fight
by Tim Ursiny (Author)

Nobody likes conflict, but you can't avoid it. Top performers just like you face problems every day. If you know how to deal with conflict well, you can turn it into your biggest opportunity for success.

The Top Performer's Guide to Conflict is your essential conflict handbook, giving you the tools you need to manage conflict and come out on top. Discover:

--Why you must know how to handle conflict
--How to recognize conflict before it happens
--The best ways to deal with difficult people
--How to build strength by overcoming problems
--Secrets to impacting and leading others
--Tools to guide you past conflict

Top performers face conflict head-on and come out on top. You are just a short read away from mastering this essential skill.

Conflict: (The Ilenian Enigma, Book 2)

Conflict: (The Ilenian Enigma, Book 2)
by Pedro Urvi

Book Two in the international bestselling Fantasy series.
Now a newly updated re-edited and re-structured second edition. Join thousands of readers all over the world in this thrilling saga. A classic epic fantasy bursting with intrigue and action. Immerse yourself in this fantastic adventure, packed with mystery and action. Discover a vast and fascinating universe of fantasy filled with lively, unique, entrancing characters. 
CONFLICT is the second book of The Ilenian Enigma. The author recommends beginning with MARKED (Book #1) to fully enjoy the experience.
The fantasy adventure continues in the fascinating universe of Tremia. The lead characters of the different plot-strands struggle to survive and reach their goals,surrounded by intrigue,...

Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Encouraging a More Productive and Efficient Work Environment (Perfect Phrases Series)

Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution: Hundreds of Ready-to-Use Phrases for Encouraging a More Productive and Efficient Work Environment (Perfect Phrases Series)
by Lawrence Polsky (Author), Antoine Gerschel (Author)

THE RIGHT PHRASE FOR EVERY SITUATION . . . EVERY TIME Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. When you have the right words and phrases at your command, you can quickly resolve any disagreement―and prevent it from spreading into an uncontrollable fire. Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution has hundreds of ready-to-use phrases, dialogs, and practice scripts to help you rise above the conflict and focus on solving the problem, whether it's with an employee, boss, customer, supplier, or coworker. This handy, quick-reference guide provides effective language for dealing with: A micromanaging supervisor An underperforming employee A peer's disruptive work habits Unreasonable or unethical customer requests Abrupt, rude, and unprofessional...

Resolving Everyday Conflict

Resolving Everyday Conflict
by Ken Sande (Author), Kevin Johnson (Author)

The essential principles of conflict resolution in an affordable, reader-friendly, and casual format.

The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention

The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention
by Bernard Mayer (Author)

Praise for the Second Edition of The Dynamics of Conflict "Mayer once again demonstrates his unique ability to weave theory and practice together with real-world examples—whether about warring nations or a family dispute—to help readers better understand both the fundamentals and nuances involved in working in the conflict arena. The Dynamics of Conflict is a very important read for anyone who works with people in conflict."—Peter Salem, executive director, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts "In his latest book, Mayer explores the theoretical underpinnings of conflict as it relates to cognitive, emotional, and behavioral dimensions. Personal stories and examples provide practical skills in communication and negotiation, including how to deal with power, impasse, and...

Conflict of Interest (Joe Dillard Series) (Volume 5)

Conflict of Interest (Joe Dillard Series) (Volume 5)
by Scott Pratt (Author)

A six-year-old girl is kidnapped from her bed in Tennessee's oldest town. The ransom note demands millions. In this fifth installment of the highly-acclaimed and best selling Joe Dillard series, Dillard is hired to represent the parents of a child who has gone missing. As the clock ticks, Dillard desperately tries to find the little girl, but the return of his wife's dreaded disease and the stunning appearance of his father combine to push Dillard to his emotional limit. "I have grown to love Joe Dillard." - Janet Lindsay "This author has created a cast of characters and a protagonist so real they virtually jump off the page." - Mark Rubenstein

Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair

Conflict Is Not Abuse: Overstating Harm, Community Responsibility, and the Duty of Repair
by Sarah Schulman (Author)

From intimate relationships to global politics, Sarah Schulman observes a continuum: that inflated accusations of harm are used to avoid accountability. Illuminating the difference between Conflict and Abuse, Schulman directly addresses our contemporary culture of scapegoating. This deep, brave, and bold work reveals how punishment replaces personal and collective self-criticism, and shows why difference is so often used to justify cruelty and shunning. Rooting the problem of escalation in negative group relationships, Schulman illuminates the ways cliques, communities, families, and religious, racial, and national groups bond through the refusal to change their self-concept. She illustrates how Supremacy behavior and Traumatized behavior resemble each other, through a shared inability...

© 2016