VitalSmarts Study Finds Able Arguers are 10 Times Happier than Silent Spouses

Provo, UT—June 20, 2012—Kim was distressed after she and her fiancée received a “conflicted couple” flag following a premarital questionnaire. She knew from previous failed relationships that she struggled to bring up sensitive issues, but would her tendency to avoid a nasty debate really threaten the success of her marriage? Shouldn’t doing whatever it takes to “keep the peace” help her and her husband live happily ever after?

A new study debunks the common myth that silence is golden. According to an online poll of 976 people conducted by Joseph Grenny, co-author of the New York Times best-seller Crucial Conversations and co-founder of corporate training company VitalSmarts, couples who argue effectively are 10 times more likely to have a happy relationship than those who sweep difficult issues under the rug.

And what are the most difficult topics couples usually avoid or harmfully debate? The study found that the three most difficult topics for couples to discuss are sex, finances and irritating habits. Other interesting statistics include:

  • Four out of five say poor communication played a role in their last failed relationship and half cite poor communication as a significant cause of the failed relationship.
  • Fewer than one in five believe they are usually to blame when a conversation goes poorly.
  • Those who blame their partner for poor communication are more likely to be dissatisfied with the relationship.

Although Kim, one of the survey respondents and a Crucial Conversations book reader, had a tendency to stay mum, she was no stranger to the devastating effects of verbal abuse. Like so many in the study, explosive and harmful communication caused her previous marriage to end in divorce. However, she was surprised to find that failing to discuss difficult issues could be just as harmful to a marriage as discussing them poorly.

Grenny says many couples operate under the myth that when they avoid discussing sensitive issues they avoid an argument which is ultimately a win for the relationship.

“What we don’t talk out, we eventually act out,” says Grenny. “We need to consider the risks of not speaking up just as heavily as the risks of speaking up. In reality, it’s not how much you argue, but the way in which you debate sensitive issues that ultimately determines the success of your relationship. The good news is that with the right set of skills, crucial conversations can strengthen your marriage.”

Grenny shares five tips for effectively holding crucial conversations with your significant other. According to the study, those who skillfully use these tips are 44 percent happier with their relationship than those who don’t.

  1. Manage your thoughts. Soften your judgments by asking yourself why a reasonable, rational and decent person would do what your significant other is doing.
  2. Affirm before you complain. Don’t start by diving into the issue. Establish emotional safety by letting your significant other know you respect and care about him or her.
  3. Start with the facts. When you begin discussing the issue, strip out accusatory, judgmental and inflammatory language.
  4. Be tentative but honest. Having laid out the facts, tell your significant other why you’re concerned. But don’t do it as an accusation, share it as an opinion.
  5. Invite dialogue. After sharing your concerns, encourage your significant other to share his or hers—even if he or she disagrees with you. If you are open to hearing your significant other’s point of view, he or she will be more open to yours.

Kim is happy to report that through learning to hold crucial conversations candidly and effectively, the “conflicted couple” prediction didn’t come to fruition.

“Fortunately, by laying the groundwork gleaned from my reading of Crucial Conversations and work experiences as a manager, my husband and I are happily married and feel safe to share things that might have become huge issues without the right skills,” says Kim.

About VitalSmarts: An innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, VitalSmarts is home to Crucial Conversations, Crucial Confrontations, Influencer, and Change Anything—award-winning training products and New York Times best-selling books that enrich relationships and improve results. VitalSmarts has consulted with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies and trained more than 800,000 people worldwide.

Note to editor: Author Joseph Grenny and Kim are available for interviews. Copies of Crucial Conversations are available upon request.

About the research: The study collected responses via an online survey tool from 976 individuals. Margin of error is approximately 3%.

CONTACT: Laura Potter of VitalSmarts, L.C. +1-801-510-7590, or lpotter at vitalsmarts dot com.

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