According to a recent study published in the Journal of Family Psychology, married couples can be counted on to recognize each other’s emotions accurately during conflict. Anger and sadness, for example, are supposedly easily detected. But what if you combine these two emotions? Can married couples read each other just as well?

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Researchers conducted an experiment involving 83 married couples to find out. Aside from answering a survey, the participants were also asked to talk about two relatively sensitive topics (each person was able to choose a topic) before rating their own emotions and their partner’s as well. The exchange was videotaped through a one way mirror.

Upon observation, it appeared that the participants were quick to recognize feelings of anger. Unfortunately, it seemed that they were less adept at discerning the underlying sadness that came with the initial burst of emotion. "When it comes to perceiving emotion in a partner, anger trumps sadness,” says Keith Sanford, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience in Baylor University's College of Arts & Sciences.

Researchers initially expected the couples to use their insider knowledge of each other to be able to read emotions accurately. However, this so-called knowledge only surfaced when soft emotions like hurt or disappointment made themselves known. And while women reportedly display more soft emotions, they are actually no better at perceiving emotions in their partners.


Conflict left unresolved will always pose a problem for couples. Small emotions like disappointment always have a way of snowballing into something more serious. If you are both angry and hurt, researchers suggest pulling back some of your anger and letting your sadness show. According to Sanford, "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."

(Screencap from P.S. I Love You courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

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