CBN.com People have different ideas about what makes a happy marriage. But, for many, the question is one they have notasked themselves. Or at least if they have, they don’t have adefinitive answer in mind. So I think it’s worthwhile to look athow other people define a happy marriage.
Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee undertook the task of interviewing successful couples across America to find out how people define a happy marriage. They report their results in a wonderful book called The Good Marriage. Here are the types of things they found that go into the making of a happy marriage:
1. Respect between the partners
2. Each person cherishes the other
3. Each person likes the other
4. Each finds pleasure and comfort in the other’s company
5. Emotional support of each other
6. Mutually satisfying physical intimacy
7. Expression of appreciation between the partners
8. The creation of fond memories
9. A feeling of safety, friendship, and trust
10. A feeling that the spouse is central to his or her world
11. An admiration of positive qualities such as honesty, generosity, decency, loyalty, and fairness
12. A strong sense of morality
13. The conviction that each person is worthy of being loved
14. A sense of reality, in that there are some problems but that they are surmountable
15. A view that each partner is special in some important regard
16. A sense that the marriage enhances each partner
17. The sense that there’s a unique fit between each partner’s needs and the spouse’s willingness and ability
to meet those needs
18. The sense that each partner is lucky to have the other
19. An equitable division of household tasks and childrearing
20. A sense that the success of the marriage is attributable to both partners
21. An ability to express both positive and negative emotions
22. A shared view that the marriage takes constant attention and work
This is quite a list, isn’t it? Surely any couple that has these things has a wonderful, blessed marriage!
However, it’s important to note that such a marriage doesn’t come about by accident. It takes years of dedicated
work to bring this kind of relationship into existence. The good news is that it’s certainly doable; in fact, millions of couples have just this kind of relationship. It does, though, take a major commitment on both parts to continually work on the marriage.
While I say that it takes a commitment from both people, please recognize that at any point in time the task of keeping the relationship together may fall more to one person than the other. At the time, it may seem unfair. But that’s the way relationships are.
Sometimes one of the partners goes through a period of intense personal challenge, severely hampering his ability to contribute to the marriage. During these times, if the marriage is to survive, it’s up to the other partner to keep the relationship together.
These are dangerous times in a relationship, dangerous in the sense that one person can come to feel so overburdened that she decides to end the relationship. Even the person facing personal challenges may decide he would be better off if the marriage ended. Some even come to believe the partner is the cause of the problems.
If marriages are to survive long enough to cultivate the wonderful characteristics listed earlier in this chapter, then both partners must agree to stick with the marriage until challenges can be met and overcome. Also in these times of great strife, the one factor that may save a marriage from dissolution is active participation in a faith community. Doing so cannot only provide avenues of encouragement for the couple to stay together but can provide the sustaining power of prayers from the faith community.
I think it prudent here to add a note of warning. In times of strife, couples often quit going to church, cut themselves off from their faith community, and cease all activities that are necessary to sustain their faith in God. Often this happens out of shame and sometimes out of depression. Whatever the reason for doing so, nothing could be worse. Having faith and a supporting faith community can make the difference between being able to keep a marriage together during times of trouble and ending up in divorce court. While it may take energy and courage that seemingly is unavailable in times where stress has used up all available resources, digging down deep to sustain your faith will, in the end, pay off hundredfold.
And the payoff comes in the long run, when surviving the rough times eventually strengthens the marriage and your faith. In a way, it’s like a bone that breaks. When it heals, the fracture becomes the strongest part of the bone. So too, can a marriage survive difficult times. Once overcome, the problems may well become a source of strength to the marriage and to your faith.
In sum, your marriage can become one of great satisfaction and enduring love. But it will take lots of work and a commitment to staying in the marriage even through the rough times.
Excerpted from Happily Married for Lifeby Larry J. Koenig, Copyright 2006. Published by Life Journey. Used with permission.
In order to best understand how a marriage can come apart, it is helpful first to understand some of the ways that healthy marriages are structured, and how they function.
Healthy marriage partners are compatible partners
In a marriage that is to stand the test of time, romance is important, but compatibility is critical. By and large, partners in healthy marriages come to agree upon common agendas regarding the directions their marriage will take, and the way each partner will behave. These common agreements may never have been discussed, but they will be present implicitly in how each partner chooses to act.
Areas of agreement that partners will have dealt with will generally include:
- Friendship. Successful partners develop a significant friendship at the core of their relationship. They genuinely like one another, amuse and comfort one another, and prefer to spend time with each other. This friendship and mutual liking is somewhat separate from other aspects of the relationship (sexuality, for instance), and can survive the loss of these other aspects of the relationship. A strong friendship and mutual liking is often the basis for repair of troubled relationships.
- Role expectations. The partners reach agreement with regard to how household responsibilities are divided and how they will behave towards each other. Traditionally, and still dominantly, the male or masculine-identified partner will take on the majority of financial obligations, while the female or feminine-identified partner will take on nurturing roles. Tradition has broken down significantly in the industrialized west over the last century, however, and it is not at all uncommon to find 'women' who take on financial obligations, 'men' who take on nurturing roles, or to find both partners sharing these roles to one degree or another. Failure to reach agreement with regard to roles can be a major source of conflict.
- Emotional intimacy. Successful partners learn to trust each other, to be vulnerable with each other, to laugh together, and to support one another in times of need.
- Sexual expectations. Partners come to basic agreements as to how they will be sexual with each other. Frequently (traditionally) this means that they will be sexual with one another, and not with other people, but this is not necessarily the case. Sexual expectations may further dictate the kinds and patterns of sexual activities that each partner will and will not engage in. Coming to agreement with regard to sexuality can increase trust that couples feel for each other, and failure to reach agreement can be cause for conflict. As sexual activity is strongly rewarding and bonding for couples, it is best for marriages when partners agree upon sexual expectations and are both satisfied with their lovemaking.
- Vision/Goals. Successful partners agree that they want to pursue the same life paths, values and goals and mutually commit to those paths, values and goals. Examples might include decisions to have children or not, to attend or not attend religious services, to raise a child in a particular faith, to save or spend money, or to live frugally or extravagantly, etc.
Successful marriages tend to be populated by partners who come to their marriage with pre-existing significant compatibilities (of personality, temperament, goals, etc.) that make it easier for them to reach agreement because they frequently end up wanting the same thing. They may share commonalities with regard to personality, temperament, or preferences for volatile or conflict-avoiding interactions, as well as goals, religious and ethical ideals, etc.
While these areas of agreement do tend to be present in healthy marriages, we should note that no marriage is perfect, and that many perfectly good marriages harbor disagreements with regard to some of the domains we've discussed. In general, however, the more domains you and your partner are in agreement on, the better are your chances for a healthy marriage.
Background factors play a minor role in determining marriage success.
Personality, temperament and goal compatibility is very important in determining whether a marriage will be strong. Other background factors are also important, however. Better marriages are reported by people who chose to marry later in life as opposed to younger, by people who recall being very intensely in love with their partners prior to getting married, and by people who maintain close family relationships and whose parents' approved of their marriage. Also, people identified with more traditional sex-role and religious values tend to report having higher quality marriages overall (although it isn't clear that such people aren't just reporting positive outcomes based on their desire to present themselves in a positive light). When all factors relating to marital adjustment are considered together, personality and life-goal compatibility seems to be of paramount importance, and background factors such as whether partners come from similar family, religious or economic backgrounds or whether they have similar dating histories appear to be of lessor importance.