Tools for Couples Happiness — 29 April 2012
Kudos for couples in successful marriages

The current issue of “Time” features “The 100 Most Influential People in the World.” These “Breakouts, Pioneers, Leaders and Icons” include politicians, financial moguls, athletes, entertainers and many other exceptional contributors to society. Though these individuals have earned their unique distinction they are outliers in the top echelons with distinct quantifiable accomplishments. Where does society commend outstanding everyday individuals who model for others the best interpersonal gifts of their happy and successful marriages?

Sharon Leigh and Janet Clark of the University of Missouri in “Creating a Strong and Satisfying Marriage,” listed six characteristics of good marriages as reported by leading researchers. They include: “ Positivity, Empathy, Commitment, Acceptance, Mutual love and respect and Conflict management skills.” Though none of these traits and practices is likely to earn successful spouses the title of “The Most Influential People in the World,” I maintain that their contribution to others is exceptional and merits adulation.

Social studies research found that happy and healthy people have happy and healthy friends. Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard University summarized the results of the study of 4,739 people over a 20-year period in three words, “Happiness is contagious.” He adds, “We found that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them that reach out to three degrees of separation. A person’s happiness is related to the happiness of their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends—that is, to people well beyond their social horizon. Happy people were also more productive, creative and healthier.”

Christaki’s co-researcher, political scientist James Fowler added another interesting finding regarding the impact of the infectious nature of happiness. He writes, “For a long time, we measured the health of a country by looking at its gross domestic product, but our work shows that whether a friend’s friend is happy has more influence than a $5,000 raise. So at a time when we’re facing such economic difficulties, the message could be, ‘Hang in there. You still have your friends and family, and these are the people to rely on to be happy.’ ”

Networking researcher, Stanley Wasserman of Indiana University commented on Christakis and Fowler’s finding, “We’ve known that one’s network ties are important, but we’ve never looked at anything on this scale. The implications are you can’t look at individuals as little entities devoid of their social context.”

With the support of these findings, if happy couples do influence their friends, their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends marital happiness they certainly earn the status of “The Most Influential People in the World.” They also help provide many children the benefits of happy parents and great models for loving interactions.

If you have a happy marriage:

  • Model your positive, empathic, accepting, loving, respectful and committed relationship to your friends.
  • Know that you are a very influential couple who has earned the adulation of other spouses and can positively affect societal change.

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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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