There is a lot of valuable information out there on what makes marriages work. Whether it’s words of wisdom from your 85-year old grandma who’s been married for 60-years, or your long-time friend who is going through his second divorce, it seems that everyone has something useful say about what works and what doesn’t work when you decide to tie the knot.
Here is a summary of what the research says on effective marriages (those that last for decades). It was based on a 16-year longitudinal study of 373 couples who married in 1986, conducted by Dr. Terri Orbuch of the University of Michigan. You can read the full article here . I’ve summarized it into three points. In the next post, I’ll list the other three points:
1. Do and say little things to make your partner feel special. My wife Sabrina does a few small things that brighten up my day in a way that I never expected. For example, she’ll prepare a lunch (which is already a wonderful gesture), and then add a small note on a napkin. Although it’s a small gesture, coming across that small note when I open up my lunch bag puts a huge smile on my face. Dr. Orbuch found that these small acts of kindness were predictive of staying together. Her research also found that men tend to benefit more than women. So men, we need to follow the ladies’ lead.
2. Fight nicely . When Sabrina and I exchanged vows, our priest gave a homily that captured important lessons that he learned in his 30-years of marrying couples. One of the things that stayed with us (other than having to say “I love you” at least three times a day…) is that we should never be mean when we fight. All couples fight and argue. That’s normal. But a person should never try to be mean or intentionally do things to hurt the other person when fighting. If you are able to fight nicely, your relationship is more likely to last. Dr. Gottman, a renowned researcher in the field of marital and couple’s counselling, says that the couples who have stable, happy marriages are the ones who are much gentler with one another than the ones who are unhappy and break up. It’s not that the couples don’t fight; it’s that happier couples aren’t mean to each other when fighting. You can read about Dr. Gottman’s findings on conflict here.
3. Celebrate the good times. I love talking about my good days with my wife, especially when I feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful. Similarly, I love hearing about my wife’s accomplishments. Research suggests that supporting a spouse when times are good might go further than doing so when life goes sour. A 2012 article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Shelly Gable, PhD, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, and colleagues found that participants who felt supported by a partner during a positive event, such as receiving a high rating at work, felt better about themselves and about their relationships. These accomplishments can take a variety of forms. For example, if your wife or husband achieves a small goal, or maybe they’ve learned a new skill, or maybe they’re still sticking to their New Year’s Resolutions. Either way, praising your partner and doing something together to celebrate can go a long way to sustaining good feelings in a marriage.
Being in a committed relationship, whether as a married couple or as common-law, can bring with it some challenges. But it also brings wonderful opportunities for growth. Stay tuned as I write a little more on this topic in PART 2. This is a topic that is of interest to me as I expand my areas of competence as a psychologist to include couples counselling….and as I expand my areas of competence as a husband 😉