They say the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference. You can simultaneously love and hate somebody (and something, for that matter) at the same time, but you can’t love them and feel nothing for them at the same time. So if we were to continue in that manner, hating somebody doesn’t neccesarily mean that we love them less, but if we are more indifferent towards them, that does mean we love them less.
Something along those lines has been proved by a study led by scientists from the University of Michigan. While our relationships with children and best friends tend to become less negative as we age, we’re more likely to see our spouses as irritating and demanding.
“There’s been a lot of research showing that marriage and other close relationships enhance well-being,” said Kira Birditt, a research fellow at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). “But less work has focused on the negative aspects of close relationships.”
She adds that viewing our spouses more negatively over time may not be all bad and for that matter it may very well be positive.
“As we age, and become closer and more comfortable with one another, it could be that we’re more able to express ourselves to each other. In other words, it’s possible that negativity is a normal aspect of close relationships that include a great deal of daily contact.”
For the study, they analyzed individual changes over time as well as differences among people at different stages in life— young, middle-aged and older adults. Participants in the study were interviewed first in 1992 and again in 2005.
They were asked about the negative energy in their relationships with three key people in their lives: their spouse or partner, a child, and a best friend. To be more exact, they were asked to agree or disagree with the following sentences: “My (spouse/partner, child, friend) gets on my nerves” and “My (spouse/partner, child, friend) makes too many demands on me”. At both points in time older adults (age 60-plus) had the least negative relationships with spouses, children and friends.
According to Birditt, this finding is consistent with other research showing that older adults are likely to report less conflict than do younger adults in their relationships while people from 20 to 30 had the most negative relationshipsFor all age groups, including adults in their 40s and 50s, the spousal relationship was seen as the most negative and it tended to increase in negativity over time.
“The increases in negativity over time may be indicative of learned patterns of interaction which have been reinforced and tend to persist over time,” Birditt said. “Other studies have found that negative communication increases over time and relationship quality decreases, especially after having children.” “Interestingly, as relationships with spouses become more negative, relationships with children and friends appear to become less demanding and irritating over time.”