Tools for Couples Happiness — 09 November 2009
Early predictors of marriage success

A research supported current approach to marriage durability has centered on the couple’s ability to maintain effective communication, preserve mutual respect and skillfully resolve conflicts. However, another research-based finding documents that loss of initial love and affection, rather than conflicts are early predictors of marriage breakup.

Ted Huston, a professor of human ecology and psychology at the University of Texas, has spent the last two and a half decades studying how and why intimate relationships change over time. His PAIR (Processes of Adaptation in Intimate Relationships) Project began in 1981 exploring courtship and early marriage patterns of 168 newlyweds, who have been followed through the years. Many studies later, the Pair Project is still active and has yielded a plethora of findings.

Many relationship experts also ascribe to the stages of evolution of intimacy. Starting with the “Infatuation Stage”, where attraction, passion and desire may cloud the pair’s true view of each other. They posit that after six months to two years, when this stage fades, the “Disenchantment Stage” creates a disheartening let down that starts couples’ struggles and disgruntlement.

Dr. Huston’s research found that many newlyweds are far from being madly in love with each other, and those who are end up being at a higher risk for divorce than those who did not start this way. He contends that it is the loss of love and affection that causes divorce rather than interpersonal disharmony. Dr. Hudson attempts to re-orient prevention of break-ups by altering the treatment focus. “The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict, but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings.”

It has been my clinical observation that the most important emotional issue for all people is the need to significantly matter to at least one other individual. In courtship we often feel seen, heard, important and accepted as we are. When it continues, all relationship challenges are manageable. But if this sense of being valued fades for one or both partners, the marriage is at great risk.

Dr. Huston found that the assessment of the marriage state after two years, or recalling it, offers an excellent predictor for its durability. He devised ‘The Marriage Quiz’ eight answers that assign you to one of four groups in terms of marriage survival. You can find the quiz at the end of Aviva Paz’ article at www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200001/will-your-marriage-last. Regardless of your group designation, you can still recapture your connection by taking the following steps:

• Remember that loving and caring are not random emotions; they are decisions to positively exhibit what you truly feel.
• Remind yourself of all your mate’s valued traits that initially captured your interest. Rehearse them in your mind to recapture the affection and loving feelings that drew you to your spouse.
• Speak lovingly of these memories. Be cautious not to imply that they have changed.
• Highlight to your children, family and friends your spouse’s positive attributes and how they enhance your and their lives.
• Recall the pleasurable activities you used to share and make an effort to duplicate them.
• Place yourself in a romantic and playful mood and recreate your out- of- practice passion.
• Start giving your spouse three appreciations a day about any of the following four areas: How his/her body looks and feels, his/her helpful or appreciated thoughts, evidence of cherished feelings and any action that is pleasing to you.
• Consult your partner about important and insignificant couple or personal issues – it affirms your mate’s significance and partnership contributions.
• Look into your mate’s eyes as you think about how wonderful he/she is. The caring energy will be absorbed and likely to be responded to in kind.
• Talk of your pleasure at just being together. Appreciating his/her mere presence conveys your true liking of your partner’s essence, which generates mutual love and affection.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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