The Secrets to a Happy, Healthy Marriage

Why do some marriages survive, thrive or fail?

The secrets to a healthy and satisfying long-term union between two committed partners have intrigued many individuals and researchers alike. Various psychological, developmental, relational and situational factors have been studied to determine the elements of sustained, satisfying or wilting relationships.


Four of the prominent theories of marital success are: Attachment Theory that focuses on individuals’ capacity to form a bonding connection with another; Social Exchange Theory that is based on the mutual benefits gained by each mate; Crisis Theory that associates the pair’s ability to manage crises, and Behavioral Theory that expounds on the couple’s capacity to manage relational issues, conflicts and transitions that impact their love bond. How a couple deals with these issues helps define their level of functional success and durability.


Researcher John Gottman concluded, “A Lasting marriage results from a couple’s ability to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable in any relationship.” He found that “Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling (withdrawal) are the four behaviors that lead to distance and alienation between mates.


The above theories and research findings do not identify specific personal characteristics of partners that help promote stability in their relationships. In my clinical work with couples I have observed the power of love, devotion, commitment and endurance as salient traits leading to couples’ success in making their marriages work. Those who tend to despair and give up often do not seek couple therapy and instead seek legal avenues to restore their personal comfort at a loss to themselves, their family and their children.


The success of any endeavor requires commitment to oneself and to the family unit. It requires dedication, love, energy and exerting sustained efforts to overcome inevitable hurdles. Those who deny themselves the opportunity to persist and fight for their right to happiness may regret it in the long run. Conversely, those who persist in believing that their choice of mate had been the right one and that the early happiness during courtship was not just a passing phase but a true life gift, may overcome their momentary discomfort and choose couple therapy as an avenue toward achieving their life goal of marital and family happiness.


It is not uncommon for divorced individuals to periodically imagine how their lives and their children’s future could have evolved had they not parted with their original mate. Many former partners, with time, establish a cordial or even close relationship with former spouses and new mates for the sake of their children and may even celebrate Holidays together. The power of the love they have for their youngsters and their appreciation for family unity helps some second families heal old wounds and rejoice together.


Help your marriage thrive:


  • Make every effort to safeguard your relationship with your spouse for your sake and your children’s.
  • Seek couple therapy to restore your marriage to its former state of happiness.
  • Extend yourself to all members of past and present family for your and your children’s emotional health and wellbeing.




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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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