My husband and I have been married three years in November. I wish I could say that I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to make a marriage work during the past three years. I suppose I could say it, but it wouldn’t be entirely true and I’m not a huge fan of lying. It’s not that I haven’t learned anything in the past three years. It’s just that I haven’t been able to successfully apply the knowledge I’ve gained in any meaningful way.
Here’s what I do know: Marriage is hard! I realize this isn’t very insightful. While I am usually a fairly introspective person, I find it very difficult to reflect on and understand my thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors as they apply to my relationship with my husband. And if it’s hard for me to make sense of myself, I often find it impossible to understand my husband.
All this makes me wonder, what does it take for a marriage to work anyway? So of course, I decided to do some research. I discovered that there has been a lot of research done on this topic. This research has led to the development of many different theories about what makes a successful marriage. While each study generated a different list of variables associated with marital success, there were some common themes.
*Communication: I wasn’t surprised to find good communication repeatedly identified as a factor associated with successful marriages. Healthy communication allows a couple to understand one another; this enables partners to validate and empathize with each other. Good communication facilitates allows day to day activities to run smoothly. (Frequent miscommunication creates unnecessary crises. For example, miscommunication about where to be and what time to be there can lead to confusion and disappointment. Important tasks go uncompleted. Problems arise. Plans have to be changed, sometimes drastically. More time is spent trying to fix problems caused by miscommunication, leaving less time for enjoyable activities that would strengthen the relationship). Good communication also promotes successful conflict resolution. It prevents disagreements from inevitably turning into arguments.
*Conflict management/resolution: This one didn’t surprise me either. Couples who can resolve conflict have less conflict. Successful conflict resolution prevents the same problems from arising again and again. The ability to compromise leads to the development of solutions that leave both partners feeling loved and respected. Time isn’t wasted arguing over who is right or who is to blame. Both partners understand that if one person wins, the other one loses. If one person loses, the whole relationship loses. Thus, blaming always has a negative impact on the relationship.
*Trust: I’ve always heard that you can’t have a relationship without trust – at least not a good one. The presence or absence of trust impacts the level of security a person experiences in a relationship. Security – a sense of safety – is one of the most fundamental of human needs. An individual’s basic needs must be met before higher-level development can occur. Thus, an absence of trust prevents a relationship from growing. Distance emerges between two partners. The relationship becomes dominated by feelings of doubt, fear, and hurt.
There is a final factor that I believe deserves at least an honorable mention: commitment. Commitment is the belief – held by both partners – that a relationship is permanent. Commitment also describes a set of behaviors devoted to maintaining a relationship, even (and especially) when things are not going well. When people are committed to a marriage, they are willing to do whatever it takes, again and again, to make the relationship work. If one strategy does not work, they try something else. Commitment is also characterized by the willingness of both partners to make personal sacrifices for the good of the relationship.