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Why 'Sorry' Isn't Good Enough: Couples Argue to Win Power in Relationships

Update Date: Jul 22, 2013 03:24 PM EDT

You're probably expecting more than just an apology when you argue with your partner.

Psychologists found that 'winning' is actually more important than getting an apology when partners argue with each other.

The study, published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, found that submission from our other half is the most preferred resolution to conflict among couples.  Researchers found that this was true even among long-term, committed couples.

Researchers from Baylor University asked 455 couples to describe the perfect resolution to current conflicts in their marriages.

Surprisingly, the findings revealed that a simple apology was actually not what most participants wanted most. Instead, the perfect resolution for most people is for their significant other to "relinquish power".

The study revealed that this "submission" could come in many forms like partners admitting that they're wrong or their faults, giving the other more independence, showing more respect and being more willing to compromise.

"We definitely respond to whether we gain or lose status," Keith Sanford, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences, said in a press release.

"When we feel criticized, we are likely to have underlying concerns about a perceived threat to status, and when that happens, we usually want a partner simply to disengage and back off," he added.

The study revealed that the next most desired resolutions to conflicts were partners to show investment in the relationship, to stop adversarial behavior, to communicate more and to give affection with making an apology.

The latest findings support previous research into conflict in relationships.  Past studies found that arguments and conflicts are important ways to establish and maintain power and control in relationships.

Researchers said conflict questions the effectiveness of merely saying "sorry" if you are fighting with your partner and suggests that the real resolution may actually come from looking at the balance of power in the relationship. While the latest finding might make it seem like every couple is trapped in a silent power struggle, researchers said the study actually shows how to better resolve problems in relationships.

"The things couples want from each other during conflicts will depend on their underlying concerns, and to resolve conflicts, they may need to use different tactics to address different underlying concern," Sanford explained. 

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