Tools for Couples Happiness — 18 August 2013
Long-Term Marriages

Our culture both values and is bewildered by long-term marriages. Some regard these successful relationships as an anomaly, others see them as a stroke of luck and yet others assume that these are unhappy marriages in which the mates have settled for a less-than-ideal co-existence. Whatever one’s perspective, happy long-term marriages have captivated the curiosity and interest of many who wish to decipher the formula for life-long love.

Researchers have also been fascinated with identifying the “magical” ingredients contributing to happy, long-term unions. Thomas Bradbury and Benjamin Karney of UCLA reviewed 100 longitudinal studies, four major theoretical perspectives and identified three major areas that determine why some marriages survive and others wilt: “Enduring Vulnerabilities: each individual’s personality, beliefs, attitude about marriage, social background and family of origin. Stressful Life Events: incidents, transitions, or circumstances encountered by the couple that can infringe upon their relationship and create tension or stress and Adaptive Processes: the ways in which a couple addresses conflict, how they communicate, how they support each other and the ways in which they think about marriage, their spouse and their spouse’s behavior.”

John Gottman’s studies concluded that couples conflict resolution style and the ratio of positive to negative interactions, as well as the frequency of their “criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (withdrawal)” determined success or failure in marriages.

Francine Klagsburn, author of Married People: Staying Together in the Age of Divorce found that marriages in which both mates had a high level of accordance in: “Viewing the spouse as a best friend, liking the partner, regarding marriage as a sacred institution and a long-term commitment, agreeing on goals, being interested in each other and desiring the marriage to succeed,” were destined for long-term marital happiness.

In Marriages That Last a Lifetime, Finnegan Alford-Cooper reports that the eight major characteristics that help long-term couples stay together were; “Trust, Loving Relationship, Willingness to Compromise, Mutual Respect, Needing each other, Compatibility, Children and Good Communication.”

Other studies recite additional factors enabling long-term marital success. It appears that a one or two item formula for marital happiness over a lifetime is unlikely.

Perhaps it is easier to think about a successful marriage as one would about any other successful partnership. It requires a joint, cooperative intent, practical collaborative execution and ongoing cooperation, consideration and goodwill. Marriages are blessed by the additionally cementing power of romantic love and their public pledge “to love and to cherish til death do us part.”

Perhaps it may not be as difficult to attain a happy, long-term marriage if we make marriage our highest priority. No venture succeeds without ongoing dedication, mental, emotional and physical efforts and positive anticipation of success. Putting your marriage first and foremost will help you create the love and life you wish to have.

To achieve a successful long-term marriage:

  •  Make your marriage and your partner your highest priority.
  • Invest your heart, body and soul in enabling your partner to feel loved, respected and adored.



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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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