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SALT LAKE CITY -- Researchers recently said that mean girls who manipulate their peers in high school will grow up and do the same thing to their spouses.
The "mean girl" phenomenon is a struggle over power. Researchers said many of the so-called mean girls use manipulation tactics in their marriages, which could have serious complications for the growing divorce rate in the United States.
Some of the same characteristics that apply in adolescence carry over into adulthood, said family therapist Chelsea Madsen.
"There's a lot of focus on gossip and sabotaging other people socially, or withdrawing love," she said.
Madsen said these characteristics are associated with what's called "relational aggression." And it doesn't end when we've supposedly grown up. The manipulation tactics pop up in marital relationships as well.
"People use it in relationships because often times it will work, even though it's unhealthy," Madsen said. "And so, they continue on with that relationship until it becomes a habit."
Madsen studied 325 couples who were in marriages for at least 18 years and found that more wives participate in love withdrawal from their husbands, more wives participate in social sabotage than their husbands and the same couples report high dissatisfaction in their marriage.
"They've got a pretty unstable foundation or unstable marriage because all of the interactions are focused on or around manipulation, or getting their partner to do what they want," she said.
Madsen added this is mainly because men typically use physical aggression, which is seen as socially unacceptable. But relational aggression is more subtle and not as taboo.
"And it can get you into these negative interaction patterns and just sort of fester and spiral the relationship downward," Madsen said. "I think that's why there's so much marital instability as a result of using relational aggression."
Researchers also learned in their study that men tended to use relational aggression -- manipulation tactics -- in the workplace.