What does the research say?
This research paper investigates the key attributes of marital success. Using several studies, surveys and reports, the results showed that there exists two key attributes which comprise a successful marriage. These attributes were communications skills and commonality. This research arrives at these attributes through a careful examination of important factors that were present in successful marriages. These factors were education, cohabitation, and belief differences. The significance of these factors correlates strongly with communication and commonality.
Most people are raised with the idea of becoming married and having a family. In the United States there are many concerns and confusions with regard to having a successful marriage. The experts seem to have a great deal of advice concerning how to make a marriage last, however the national average for divorce has remained at about 50% for several decades. The problem of divorce is a more complex problem and the solution resides less in homespun wisdom and more in research data. From this research, there can be derived two keys to making a marriage successful; communication and commonality.
In the National Center for Health Statistics 2002 national study, several factors were examined regarding marriage success and failure. The most important of these factors included:
3. Belief Differences
One of the most important aspects of a successful marriage has been determined to be education. The numbers are startling revealing:
Sixty-four percent of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher married three years of living with someone compared with thirty-seven percent of women without a high school diploma or GED.
Sixty-eight percent of men with a bachelor’s degree or higher married three years of living with someone compared with thirty-four percent of men without a high school diploma or GED (Goodwin et al, 2002, p 28).
The research goes on to state that the majority of marriages in which both couples had bachelor degrees and higher lasted greater than ten years in more than sixty-six percent of all cases (Goodwin et al, 2002). The data shows this strong connection with education and marriage revealing that education must be affecting the relationship between married partners.
The effect of education on married couples can be seen in several significant ways. Drawing on data from a second study, successful marriages share several key elements which were not present in marriage failures (Blanchard et al, 2009). Of these elements communication and frustration were the most important aspects to a successful marriage. Communication between partners or the lack of communication was the largest component of marriage failure (Blanchard et al, 2009). Couples which divorced lacked the ability to make each other understand their desires, feelings, or expectations. In this study, marriage education, with regard to improving communication was studied and the results were significant. Couples that underwent marriage education had longer marriages and greater communication skills (Blanchard et al, 2009).
The communication problem can be seen as systemic of lack of education. The reason that marriages last longer as a result of education is due to the fact that individuals with greater education are able to communicate more coherently and effectively than individuals with less education. The correlation here finds large support beyond statistical analysis. It is well known that communication is vital to business success and in personal success. Logically, proper communication can dispel confusions and faulty interpretations of messages. However, communication is a skill that can be improved and sharpened, but is not usually taught to people until they have reached college level academics. In a 2005 survey of high school graduates and employers; it was found that forty-five percent identified gaps in oral communication skills and twelve percent claimed large gaps (Peter D. Hart Research Associates, 2005). This percentage is in direct correlation with the national divorce average of about fifty-percent. This is very revealing data as it shows that education is fundamental in having a successful marriage due to greater communications skills.
Cohabitation (living in a romantic but unmarried state) is extremely important in revealing factors affecting marriage. While some people might consider cohabitation in a negative manner due to personal or religious reasons; cohabitation is growing in popularity each year. Research in this area has revealed that the personal choices and preferences with regarding cohabitation have profound impacts on the success of relationships and marriages. These choices and preferences reflect correlations between marriage success and cohabitation success.
Cohabitation before marriage has long been thought by many individuals as a means for preparing for marriage. The thought seems logical, but in reality the statistics reveal that individuals who cohabitate have about the same chance of getting divorced as individuals who do not cohabitate. In some instances the chances of divorce were actually higher and the length of cohabitation was lower (Goodwin et al, 2002). Again the leading factor in cohabitation success was education.
Individuals with less education cohabitated longer [3 years or more] then individuals with higher education [less than 3 years] (Goodwin et al, 2002). The startling fact to this statistic is that although more educated people cohabitated less they also married faster and had more successful marriages. When one views cohabitation from this standpoint, it is possible to see that the reason that cohabitation is statistically no better than non-cohabitation, in producing successful marriages, is due to the same issues reoccurring. In essence, if people lack the ability to communicate, whether in cohabitation or in marriage the results would be the same.
Another factor with cohabitation that might make it less or equally successful with marriage is that people who are cohabitating are more likely to have partners that have a great deal of diversity. For example, partners in cohabitation situations were far more likely to have occupational, financial, educational and religious differences (Goodwin et al, 2002). These instances produced higher rates of relationship dissolution or eventual divorce. When seen from this point, cohabitation may create relationship situations which have unrealistic expectations. For example, if one partner is financially more stable than the other this could lead to eventual relationship ending. In evidence of this, women cohabitating are fifteen percent more likely to have partners that were unemployed (Goodwin et al, 2002). These relationships had the highest rates of failure. These facts concerning cohabitation highlights the need for quality communication and that people need to choose partners with commonalities.
One of the largest components of successful marriage is that individuals need to have common beliefs. Major differences in diversity have not shown to make for successful marriages. Individuals with wide differences in race, income, religion, and political affiliation consistently had the highest rates of marriage and cohabitation failure. Cohabitation had the highest rates of diversity with regard to race, income, religion, and political affiliation; but also had the highest rates of failure. Most marriages (78%) outlasted cohabitating unions by five years or more and present in these unions were typically large variations in race, education, beliefs, background, and other factors (Goodwin et al, 2002).
The problem that is revealed is that there are most likely significant underlying cultural differences affecting marriage success. For instance, individuals raised in low income environments have significant differences in their thinking and values than individuals from higher income brackets because classes present different situational conditions that impact perceptions since individuals might differ in their participation as a supervisor or a worker (Gabrenya, 2003). This difference can dramatically impact not just perceptions of situations but also reactions to life circumstances, creating incompatibility.
The divide of social and financial class shows the disparity in individual thinking. This same thought concerning class can be applied to political and religious ideology. Sharing common thinking, culture, and beliefs increases marriage success by allowing partners to communicate better and as well reduces the likelihood of conflict resulting from differences. If spouses do not share the same values it is easy to see how this factor can lead to relationship failures.
This idea of common beliefs and values is best seen through the example of financial wellbeing. One of the largest factors affecting marriage outcomes is finances. Most people think of this factor in terms of not having enough money, but in reality it is often the difference in the way that partners perceive finance stability (Washburn and Christensen, 2002). Often individuals are raised with the idea that personal finance is a private issue and they are often unwilling to discuss the problems even within a marriage. This is a large problem because marriages are dependent upon financial harmony. Partners might also disagree about the importance of money. Many individuals are raised in environments in which they are told that money is not that important. This can be a significant factor in creating conflict. Thus, money is not so much the cause of marriage failure as much as it is a belief difference that is causal to conflict.
Another large factor, exposing common beliefs and values as a culprit in marriage failure, is religion. Sixty-three percvent of women and men who were divorced cited religion as a major difference in the relationship. Often individuals experience changes in religious viewpoint or attempt to overlook religious differences. This problem is best seen in the Jewish culture. In the last few decades American Jews have been engaging in marriages outside their religion (Cohen, 2009). The rate of divorce amongst American Jews has escalated in the same decades in which intermarriage began to rise. But when Israeli Jews are examined the rates of divorce have remained about the same (Cohen, 2009). This is due to the fact that Israeli Jews marry other Jews and thus eliminate differences in belief.
If religion or finance were the only difference that people maintain in relationships, common beliefs might not be so important. However, one must broaden their view of the many facets and attributes that exist in people. Some large differences could include being healthy, maintaining friendships, or even opinions of morality. The differences in beliefs is probably not limited to just finances, ethnicity, or religion.
Through research, one discovers that the key factors for marital success are communication and commonality. Often these factors are viewed in less critical terms such as blaming money or blaming the partner for not caring. These interpretations of the major problems are often misleading and perhaps explain the reason that second marriages have no greater success rates than first marriages (Goodwin et al, 2002). This would be true if the real problems are not being addressed.
Communication seems to be the glue of healthy marriages as this is often professed. However, communication is equaled in importance with commonality. Rationally, two people might be able to communicate effectively but if they have large fundamental differences in opinion and belief then the only communication that will take place is through disagreement. With this idea in mind, commonality might actually be the more important aspect of a healthy marriage.
The strength of communication and commonality in relationships also reveals that many people might be utilizing counterproductive thinking when it comes to relationships. Homespun wisdom for example, teaches individuals concept such as opposites attract. This thinking cuts against the grain of research that shows commonality to be a key to success.
Another example of faulty thinking concerning relationships comes from misconception of communication. Many marriage counselors recognize the problem of communication but view it from an emotional angle such as ‘inability or fear of being honest’. While this idea has some merit, perhaps the communication problem is more pragmatic in nature. When we view communication as a skill and a function of education this alters the view of marital communication. Essentially if a person cannot communicate properly because he or she does not know how; telling the person to be more honest is missing the point. For example, often people argue ineffectively or irrationally. For example, passive aggressive individuals lack the ability to communicate what they are feeling or desire. Instead, they speak in a manner which is designed to manipulate the situation to their advantage. These individuals will respond with statements that shift blame to the listener such as “that’s not what I meant,” or “you misunderstood me,” but keep in mind this type of communication needs to be consistent over time to be considered passive aggressive (Sarnoff-Ross, 2009). This form of communication is irrational and leads to many miscommunications and conflicts. Again, this is a pragmatic approach to realizing that communication is a factor in marriage and one which can be fixed because it is a learned behavior.
This faulty thinking also extends deeply into commonality issues. Many of these issues extend beyond mere cultural diversity issues. For instance:
· A woman seeks confidence as an attribute in a potential husband.
· The woman dislikes arrogance.
· She mistakes his arrogance with confidence.
· She marries this man unknowingly taking on an undesirable factor.
From this example, one can see that seeking commonality in relationships is not as simple as judging a person in accordance with financial thinking and religious conviction. This example shows that commonality is deeply intrinsic requiring a great degree of honesty with oneself.
Perhaps it is time to alter the common thought concerning marriage and look for more realistic solutions such as increasing one’s education, implementing marriage education programs, developing critical thinking and communications skills. These suggestions provide realistic and practical solutions to marriage problems. Through seeking common beliefs in potential partners and learning better communications skills, perhaps the success rates of marriage can be increased.
Blanchard, V. L. Hawkins, A. J. Baldwin, S. A. Fawcett, E.B. Investigating the effects of marriage and relationship education on couples’ communication skills: A meta-analytic study. Journal of Family Psychology, Vol 23(2), Apr 2009, 203–214.
Cohen, SM. (2009) Changes in American Jewish Identities Since 1948: From Norms to Aesthetics The American Jewish Scene, The Blog Retrieved from http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/changes-in-american-jewish-identities-since-1948-from- norms-to-aesthetics/
Gabrenya W. K. (2003) Research Skills for Psychology Majors: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started Culture and Social Class Retrieved from the Florida Institute of Technology http://my.fit.edu/~gabrenya/social/readings/ses.pdf
Goodwin PY, Mosher WD, Chandra A. Marriage and cohabitation in the United States: A statistical portrait based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 23(28). 2010.
Washburn C. and Christensen, D (2002) Financial harmony: A key component of successful marriage relationship North Carolina State University Retrieved from http://ncsu.edu/ffci/publications/2008/v13-n1-2008-spring/Washburn-Christensen.php
Peter D. Hart Research Associates (2005) Rising to the challenge: Are high school graduates prepared For college and work? A study of recent high school graduates, college Instructors, and employers Retrieved from http://www.achieve.org/files/pollreport_0.pdf
Sarnoff-Ross C. (2009) Passive Aggressive Communication Retrieved from http://www.dailystrength.org/health_blogs/cyndi/article/passive-aggressive- communication
Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash