There are many common (wrong) opinions as to what factors are most predictive of successful marriages. This article reveals some important truths about successful marriages.
PREDICTING SUCCESSFUL MARRIAGES
By Bill Cottringer
I have been a student of marriage relationships for nearly a half century now and have written several books and article on this topic that intrigues us all. As with most other truth quests, the closer I get to really knowing what factors are most predictive of success in marriage, the more contradictory evidence I discover. It is probably best to forget about much of your own personal experience because it is too subjective and be extra critical with what research has to say because it isnít always as objective as it claims to be.
So, in thinking about what I have learned from including the integrity that seems to be left over from all this, I believe I can confidently say that these factors are probably true about successful marriages.
1. Successful marriages are based on a mutual agreement of the main purpose and utility of marriageóthat both people can get much more out of being together than they can get being alone. Any other primary motive may be perceived as being potentially too disruptive to building trust. What is more important than agreeing upon why you are really together in the first place?
While it is true that any relationship is the ultimate test of character, especially in dealing with inevitable adversity, this is the arena where there are the best opportunities for people to learn, grow and improve towards there best and healthiest selves. The result of this commitment is what the optimism expert, Martin Seligman, terms authentic happiness or what others refer to as inner peace and genuine contentment. Such a cumulative sense of happiness, peace and contentment is what most people crave and pursue through any activities they think will bring it, only to find out it isnít as easy as it appears to be.
2. One of the foremost relationship experts of our time, John Gottman, has conducted research on thousands of couples and concludes that successful marriages involve 5 times more positive experiences than negative ones. Although I am not sure how anyone can really keep an accurate score on this measure, this claim is reasonable and based on common sense. My only question is, How long would a marriage last if the negative experiences in interactions consistently outnumbered the positive ones 2 to 1? Maybe it just takes some people longer to realize they are perpetuating a mistake that they really canít correct. How much unhappiness and negativity does it take to reach the point of no return in knowing when it is time to fish or cut bait?
3. Gottman also says love and respect are the cornerstones of a successful marriage. Who can argue with this? However, I used to think that religious/spiritual joking was the superglue that held marriages together. Maybe people who are spiritually together practice love and respect more than people who arenít? And maybe people who arenít connected in love and respect can stay together in a mediocre marriage that never gets quite bad enough to get out of. But that is not a successful marriage. Successful marriages are based on mutual love and respect.
4. I also used to think that a high degree of mutual compatibilities in characteristics, values, expectations and abilities were essential in successful marriages, disproving the once popular belief that opposites attract. Solid research today would say that compatibility of these things isnít what matters most. Rather it is the compatibility of both partnerís approach to dealing with incompatibilities, differences and inevitable conflicts that can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camelís back when compatibilities themselves are way out of sync and the first three items are in trouble.
This last point may be the most powerful insight we can have about anythingóit may be the way we approach and deal with troublesome conflicts and annoying differences that leads to success or failure in any endeavor. Maybe this is the whole point to life? The test of dealing with conflict and adversity effectively so everyone wins and there arenít losers and we all get further to the finish line in our journeys.
There are really only three main ways to deal with conflicts: (1) To deny and avoid them as being destructive and hurtful (2) To aggressively attack them and pursue resolutions with all your rationality and emotionality (3) to assertively explore them as opportunities to learn, grow and improve your relationship skills with creative win-win compromises. Oddly no one can say which is better than the other for sure, despite your intuitive assumption. The one thing research can say though, is that when two people even have a very compatible relationship and disagree on their approach to resolving inevitable conflicts, there is trouble brewing in Dodge.
I have had many personal experiences with both sides of the spectrum when it comes to compatibility and incompatibility, and it has always been the lack of agreement on how to deal with conflict, when it either quickly or eventually surfaced, that was the undoing of the relationship. My current relationship involves compatibility on both levels and so finally, success is likely ours. But this all seems like very fundamental common sense and I wonder why it took me so long to figure out? Maybe common sense has been hidden for the joy of its discovery. Whoever knows for sure? Iíll settle for 95% certainty.
William Cottringer, Ph.D. is President of Puget Sound Security in Bellevue, WA. He is author of several personal development books including You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too, The Bow-Wow Secrets and Do What Matters Most. His next writing project is Reality Repair: Fixing Broken Realities & Creating Positive Ones. Bill can be reached for questions and comments at (425) 454-5011 or bcottringer.pssp.net.