The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

happy couple morguefileWhile commitment may be the key to staying together in marriage, science has its own explanations. The latest Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they expected their marriages to last a lifetime. (The balance were presumed to be unlikely to marry.) Yet, statistically, various factors make individuals far more or less likely to stay married.

The American Psychological Association recently compiled factors that are most likely to make love last. I don’t find it helpful to share which races are more likely to divorce, since that is not something we can change. However, we can do a lot to help or hurt our marital success, according to researchers. Here’s a sampling:

  • According to NCHS data, women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with 41 percent chance among women with a high school diploma. Did you know those with a college degree have a nearly 80 percent chance of success? I guess my Mom was right to encourage me to finish college before considering marriage.
  • Couples whose first child is born after the wedding have a greater likelihood of staying together, while couples who marry in their teens have a lower chance of staying together.
  • Lack of assets cause marital stress for newlyweds, according to the National Marriage Project. Couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 or more in assets. Consider this fact if you’re about to go into debt over an expensive wedding celebration.
  • Stress can be a major contributor to divorce. In a 2012 study by the University of Texas, researchers found that when one spouse had a stressful day (traffic, difficulties at work, or whatever), they reported more negative behaviors toward their spouse as well as less satisfaction with their relationship. Please keep this in mind if you are going through a stressful time or a major transition, as stress definitely affects how you evaluate your relationships. “Psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship,” according to the Journal of Family Psychology. Take efforts to reduce or better manage your stress.
  • A strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress than can be toxic to a relationship. Examples of a strong social support include military support, church support, family support, neighbor and friends who are supportive. If you don’t have a good support network, help develop one. Social connections are known to help you live longer and healthier as well as to provide marriage and family support.
  • Doing small things often to make your spouse feel special and loved is very predictive of staying together, preventing divorce, and being happy, according to the Early Years Marriage Project. Contrary to popular opinion, men tend to need these affirmations the most, because women frequently affirm one another with hugs or compliments, while it’s uncommon for men to receive these in public.
  • The manner in which couples deal with conflict is important. Couples that are likely to stay together “are kinder, more considerate, and soften the way they raise a complaint” according to the Gottman Institute. Another study (from UCLA) addressing conflict found that couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later.
  • Depth of communication is important. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household’ or detailing to-do lists,” says Terry Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University. “The happiest couples also share their hopes, fears and dreams.”
  • Be a lifelong learner in marriage. You may put regular effort into improving your golf game or your home, but marriage also takes a conscious effort to maintain and improve. “If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist, you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” says couples therapist Nicholas Kirsch, PhD. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

For details on these studies, visit APA.org.

In what area do you think your marriage could use attention?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

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8 responses to “The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

  1. Like every other job, being married is also a vocation. I agree with the researchers. Marriage comes with greater responsibility!

    • Thanks for your comment. Hopefully it is a responsibility and vocation that we enjoy, but certainly it requires effort. Best regards.

  2. Pam and I really enjoyed this post, Lori. I especially agree with the part about depth of communication. It is so easy to spend all your time talking about what is happening now and you never seem to have the time to talk about what’s in your heart. Articles like these really help you focus on what matters. 😊

    • Thanks, Kyle. I think we all fall into that trap, especially when we have young children whose activities seem to consume the day. But sharing more deeply helps keep us from drifting. Take care.

  3. Having just celebrated 25 years, it was interesting to see how many areas we matched on – for example, college degrees, first child 3 years after the wedding, social support (both sets of parents happily married). We were poor as church mice when we married and have had our share of stress over the years, but we are both fairly laid back and don’t get into huge rows about stuff. And I suppose we communicate when it counts but I have to get him away from the TV first :)

    • Thanks for sharing, Ana. It sounds like you were fortunate in many areas. I’m sure many wives would agree about the last statement. ;-)

  4. If I could point at one part of my relationship that needed help to keep the marriage there longer it would be stress levels, but not major stresses it would be the small things all adding up IE toilet seat up, cloths on the floor, dishes not put away, communication loss. Those to me are the marriage killers.

  5. I think loss of communication is a big killer but every single person in the world is going to have irritating habits of one kind or another. The question is, what comes first? Do the habits get to you once the love goes or the love goes once the habits get you. If it wasn’t the first scenario, I’d probably be divorced :)

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