Half of all the couples marrying today will end in divorce. In previous generations it was not surprising to hear that a couple was celebrating their twenty-fifth, thirtieth, or even fiftieth wedding anniversary. Will any of the current generation celebrate these milestones? What can people do to increase the probability of a long and satisfying marital relationship?
Since both sexes are equally able to perform nearly all of the tasks required in a marriage, neither has to depend on the other for these abilities. Even the issue of having children no longer is necessary for marriage. People can choose to have children or not and can have children without having a partner. Even adoption is possible for single individuals. Therefore, the very basis for marriage changes from fulfilling certain functions to fulfilling emotional and psychological needs.
Psychologist, Dr. Judith S. Wallerstein, co-author of The Good Marriage: How and Why Love Lasts, identified nine "psychological tasks" as the pillars on which any marital relationship rests:
Psychologist Dr. Howard Markman at the University of Denver believes that "Love and commitment to the relationship are necessary for a good marriage, but they are not enough. What are needed, on top of that, are skills in effective communication and how to handle conflict." Dr. Markman, along with Dr. Clifford Notarius of Catholic University of America, studied 135 about-to-be-married couples. "How you handle conflict is the single most important predictor of whether your marriage will survive," according to Dr. Markman. These researchers found that certain behavior patterns usually signaled an impending collapse in the marriage:
In addition to the suggestions already made, the following additional ideas have been culled from the literature on what makes for a successful marriage as well my clinical experience with hundreds of couples. Be Realistic. Couples often go into marriage with idealistic notions of what marriage is all about. Each individual should make clear what their explicit and implicit expectations are and clarify these expectations such that they are clearly understood by one another. Where there are discrepancies, a mutually satisfying compromise must be reached.Do Not Take One another For Granted. This can be a killer for a relationship. It usually occurs sometime after the honeymoon period. A regular "state of the union" check-in with your spouse as to how s/he is feeling about the relationship can help avert resentment build-up. Communication Skills. Being able to communicate is one of the greatest assets in any relationship. Being able to articulate our thoughts and being certain that the listener understands what you wish to say take considerable practice. Communication requires both good transmission skills (articulation) and good receptive skills (listening). Without both, communication will be at best difficult. The next time you want to discuss something important with your spouse, follow the following steps:
This approach, often referred to as "active listening," once learned can prevent misunderstandings and serve to keep emotions under control. It is difficult to react emotionally if you are truly listening and have to communicate understanding before you get a chance to react.Regular Meetings. There are two types of meetings that can facilitate communication: a business meeting and a date night.
Keep the Romance Alive. Maintaining the romance in a relationship is vital to the vibrancy of the relationship. Once folks marry they often become quite lax in this department. They allow business, chores, and children to get the way of their romantic life. In a busy life, especially if there are children, it takes considerable effort to maintain romance.
Develop Sexual Skills. People believe that having sex is just "doing what comes naturally." Believing this is like thinking that world-class ballroom dancers are simply born -- no rehearsals, no practice, no innovation, no experimentation, and no mistakes. Good lovers are made, not born.
Be Complimentary. It costs nothing to compliment your partner and it sure feels good to receive them. We are often chary about paying compliments to our mates, letting them know that we think they are pretty/handsome, smart, clever, well-dressed, kind, a good parent, etc.
Show Appreciation. Another small thing that feels good. Thanking your partner for making dinner or taking out the trash, picking up clothes from the dry-cleaners, and in general letting him/her know that s/he is appreciated can go along way in creating a caring environment. Couples are very quick to criticize one another when chores do not get done, but they are very remiss when it comes to showing appreciation.
As you can see from the foregoing, maintaining a contemporary marriage is no easy task. It requires hard work. To think that a successful marriage -- that is a relationship between two people that is fulfilling, enhancing of one's sense of self-esteem, emotionally gratifying, nurturing, and supportive -- can be achieved by merely living under the same roof without investing effort and time, would be naive thinking. Some individuals believe that marriage should be easy, and if it is not, they think something is wrong. Marriage, like any other worthwhile endeavor, requires patience and practice. When there is difficulty, it may require outside help. Just as a business may require a consultant, so too might a marriage. Today's marriages are more than just two people living under the same roof. They are complex and dynamic entities that become even more complex as children enter the picture. For then there are additional dynamics that must be incorporated into the mix. Maintaining a marriage is one of our most significant challenges.
Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Divorce Mediator, and Life Coach, whose goal is to help people maximize their potential and achieve their goals. He is a licensed psychologist, certified sex therapist, and licensed marriage and family therapist. He has been in practice for over three decades with clinical specialties in sex therapy, divorce and relationship counseling, individual and group psychotherapy. The above article is excerpted from Dr. Dreyfus's book Keeping Your Sanity.Back To Top