Most couples walk down the aisle expecting to succeed, and very few of them expect that they will join the nearly 50 percent of couples whose marriages end in divorce. The bride and groom look at the grim divorce statistics and believe those figures do not apply to them. And yet, somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of those marrying today become part of the statistics.
According to Dr. Thomas R. Lee of the Department of Family and Human Development at Utah State University several important factors make the difference between success and failure in a marriage. Even before the marriage begins, several important considerations – some under the couple’s control, others not -– contribute to the likelihood of success or failure of a marriage.
Here are points to consider:
> If a couple’s parents were happily married, the couple is more likely to be happily married and less likely to divorce. Of course, many individuals whose parents divorced are able to establish happy marriages, but the odds favor those with happily married parents
> An individual who had a happy, normal childhood is more likely to be successful in marriage.
> The longer the courtship, the more likely the marriage will be successful. Those who have known each other over one year have better odds than those with acquaintanceships less than a year.
> In general, those who are older when married have more stable marriages. For example, those who marry at 20 years or older have marriages that last twice as long as those who marry under age 20.
> Parental approval improves the chances of success because approving parents are more supportive, and disapproving parents may see real problems that will create difficulties for the couple.
> “Shotgun marriages” have a high rate of failure. Fifty percent end within five years.
> Marriages begun because of genuine understanding and caring have better success than those started for the “wrong reasons,” such as getting away from home, rebellion, or wanting to be “grown up.”
Once a couple is married, additional factors tend to influence their likelihood of marital success. Attitudes (a democratic attitude, where both spouses seek to cooperate and compromise; common Interests (couples with shared interests are more likely to participate in activities together and develop greater understanding and empathy for each other); communication (happily married couples tend to talk to each other more often and are more sensitive to each other’s feelings, and use non-verbal communication more effectively) – all make a difference.
The most important factor in marriage success is the ability to bend.
According to marriage research conducted by John Gottman, among the most important predictors of marriage success are the man’s ability to accept influence from his wife, and the woman’s ability to moderate her approach to seeking influence over her husband.
In other words, marriages succeed when both partners give up some control and bend, says Gottman, a professor emeritus in psychology known for his work on marital stability and relationship analysis through scientific direct observations.
For men, accepting influence usually means trying some of the approaches suggested by his wife instead of withdrawing or surrendering or ending the discussion with a premature resolution. This does not mean complying with a wife’s wishes regardless of agreement or giving in because she always gets her way. Influence means respecting her viewpoint and being willing to discuss issues. For women, a moderate approach usually means toning down her insistence on getting an answer even when she feels desperate to have a response. She doesn’t give up, but she’s patient and sensitive in how she engages him.
For example, the husband wants to buy a small car, but the wife recommends a larger one because they are planning on children. On reflection, he decides that it makes sense to buy something larger. Rather than asking him to discuss the car on a weeknight when he’s bushed she suggests that they talk about it on the weekend. Instead of starting the discussion on a critical note about his preference, she is careful to suggest that they consider their future needs before deciding.
It’s a bit paradoxical. Both partners get more of what they want when they give up some control. This happens because men and women have different styles when it comes to conflict.
Men tolerate unstructured conflict poorly. They cannot stand it when their partner brings up a sensitive issue, especially when they are feeling burdened or depleted. They often react by distancing themselves or withdrawing. Women, on the other hand, can’t stand to feel ignored, especially when they’re trying to bring up something they care about. And that’s just how they feel when their partner gets overloaded and withdraws. Often they react by criticizing and/or escalating. And that’s just what their partner can’t tolerate.
(These gender-related characteristics are based on marriage research result averages for the genders, so while there may be individual differences and exceptions, the findings hold for most people to a greater or lesser degree.)
Men should stay open to their partner’s point of view and not avoid issues or try to railroad a decision. Withdrawal is permitted when a person feels overloaded. But it’s important to let the partner know that the issue is not being dodged. A specific appointment to resume the discussion (“in twenty minutes” or “Saturday morning at breakfast”) lets her know she has been heard. Women should discuss calmly and positively and avoid criticizing. If possible, schedule a mutually agreeable time when the partner is feeling less depleted or burdened.
Some factors related to background, upbringing, or circumstances that tend to be in a couple’s favor a successful marriage. Many couples will not have all of these factors in their favor and still have successful marriages; some with the odds in their favor will fail, nevertheless. Part of the difference lies in the extent to which couples take care of their marriage. Every marriage needs maintenance, thought and effort to improve.