Tag Archives: Marriage Research

Great news about marriages: 80% are happy

wedding kiss morguefileWhat if I could snap my fingers and make 80 percent of marriages happy? And cut the divorce rate for first time marriages in half? Consider it done.

What if everything you thought you knew about marriage statistics was wrong?

How often have you heard people—journalists and even counselors and pastors—cite the 50 percent failure rate in marriage? The true divorce rate is much lower and always has been. What percentage of marriages do you think are happy?

Harvard researcher Shaunti Feldhahn and her husband Jeff were marriage counselors and authors who used to cite incorrect data that is commonly bandied about. After being unable to support the data, they spent eight years digging through complicated marriage research and revealed the results in their new book, The Good News About Marriage.

They report that between 20 and 25 percent of first marriages end in divorce. While this is more than we would like, it’s better than what most believe. Divorce rates are even lower among active churchgoers, whose chance of divorcing is more likely in the single digits or teens. (Active churchgoers have divorce rates 27 to 50 percent lower than non-churchgoers, they say.)

The 50 percent divorce rate commonly cited came from projections of what researchers thought the divorce rate would be come if they stayed on trend in the 70s and early 80s. However, those numbers were never realized, and the estimates stuck in popular culture.

BIG problems resulted from this false assumption. First, many couples avoid marriage entirely because of their incorrect belief that half (or more) of marriages fail, AND that those who do stay together are mostly unhappy. Why bother? Popular belief is that only 30 percent of marriages are happy. Again…wrong. Four out of five marriages are happy. And even for those who are unhappy, the researchers point out that if they stay married for five years, almost 80 percent of them will be happy five years later.

Second, the high (false) rates of marital failure cause a sense of hopelessness among couples who struggle. If they feel a happy marriage is not attainable, they may throw in the towel.

“That sense of futility itself pulls down marriages,” Feldhahn said. “And the problem is we have this culture-wide feeling of futility about marriage. It’s based on all those discouraging beliefs and many of them just aren’t true.”

She hopes that these new insights will give couples hope that they can be successful. Indeed, they have a good chance at being successful.

Changing the way we think about marriage and talk about marriage is meaningful and helpful. When you hear discouraging comments about marriage, Feldhahn says we need to say, “No, wait. Most
marriages are strong and happy for a lifetime.”

When a friend is struggling in his or her marriage, remind them that the odds are in their favor. Change the conversation in your corner of the world to shed light on these false assumptions.

Source: Divorce Shocker: Most Marriages Do Make It, CBN News

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for more than 18 years. She 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, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

How to be a better marriage helper

friends talkingAlmost three-fourths of adults have been marriage confidants, according to a USA Today survey of 1,000 adults aged 25 to 70. More women (78%) than men (69%) have had a friend or family member confide in them about their marriage or long-term relationship struggles.

In fact, most people (64%) would rather confide in a trusted friend or family member than in a professional. Less than half would talk to a professional counselor (47%) and still fewer would confide in a member of the clergy (37%).

With this being the case, a program was unveiled a few months ago to help individuals gain the skills and knowledge to best support marriages around them. Because, honestly, it’s not always easy to know what to say or do when someone comes to you with a marital issue that is bothering them.

The program, called Marital First Responders, was developed by William Doherty, a longtime marriage and family therapist. He says that while not everyone is “qualified” to help someone through a rough patch in the marriage, even basic skills can be helpful. In addition, the training helps the “helper” to know where to set boundaries and direct the person or couple to a professional. Doherty says he called it first responder as a reminder to not get in over your head. (A first responder helps stabilize a situation then refers someone for professional treatment.)

You are a marital responder if:
-Friends, family members, and coworkers confide in you about their marital struggles.
-You enjoy the role of confidant, though it may be stressful or frustrating at times.
-You are sympathetic to the ordinary struggles of married life.
-You don’t run the other way then a problem comes up.
-You know you aren’t a marriage counselor, but would love to be more helpful to married people in your life.

Here are a few tips to be a better confidant if a friend or family member talks to you about a marriage issue:
1. Listen for feelings, not just complaints.
2. Empathize without taking sides.
3. Affirm strengths in the confider and in the marriage/relationship.
4. Offer perspective as someone who cares about them and their marriage.
5. Challenge with gentleness and firmness.
6. Offer resources when more help is needed.
Source: William Doherty, psychologist, marriage and family therapist

There are risks associated with getting family or friends involved in marital discord. One problem is that the couple may not receive effective assistance in a timely manner. Another risk is that the confidant takes the side of their loved one (instead of the marriage) and by doing so may worsen the situation by adding to the divide. So, if someone does confide in you (particularly an adult child, sibling or close friend), be careful not to take their side; instead, try to remain objective and supportive.

The top 5 marital issues that are brought up to a confidant (from the USA Today survey):
Growing apart—68%
Not enough attention—63%
Money—60%
Not able to talk together—60%
Spouse’s personal habits—59%

If you have marriage issues of your own you want to discuss, choose carefully whom you decide to confide in, and ask yourself if it wouldn’t be safer to talk to a professional than risk making that person jaded against your spouse in the future.

If you are interested in training in the Marital First Responders Course, Doherty is making some in-person classes available in different cities—the next one is in April in St. Paul, Minn.—and interactive online webinars are available.

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.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

Parental Divorce Negatively Affects Later Parent/Child Relationships

mom and child morgefileWhen children experience parental divorce, they are more likely to have insecure relationships with their parents once they grow into adults. A new 2013 study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, reports that insecure parental relationships were most pronounced when the divorce occurred during early childhood. This is the first such study to determine that the timing of the divorce in the first years of life has a greater impact. It is also one of the first to demonstrate a link between the divorce and the parent/child relationship being harmed.

This research contradicts cultural assertions that children are very resilient and that they can easily get over family breakups, particularly if they are too young to really understand what is going on. On the contrary, early childhood is deemed a “sensitive period” during which the child learns how to trust and attach to others. Therefore, divorce during this sensitive period was shown to be more impactful.

There has been some disagreement in previous research about when during childhood the most harmful effects of parental divorce occur. A 1989 study by Allison and Furstenburg found greater distress, delinquency, problem behavior, and academic difficulties in children whose parents separated between infancy and age five. However, a 2005 study by Strohschein suggested older children whose parents divorced were more vulnerable to mental health problems.

This 2013 study by Fraley and Heffernan isolated and tested the sensitive period hypothesis which posited that, if true, the impact of parental divorce on adult attachment styles should be more pronounced if it occurred during early childhood than if it took place later in childhood. The study concluded that the data was in fact consistent with the sensitive period hypothesis. The researchers concluded that “not only is early divorce more consequential than later divorce, but it is also particularly influential when it takes place in the early years of life.”

Psychologists say some experiences, such as parental divorce, can influence our personality development more when they take place during a child’s early development. Why? A 2006 study by Sullivan suggests one possibility is that our nervous system is more malleable or plastic early in life, and so may be impacted to a greater degree during this time. A 2002 study by Fraley adds that early experiences help us set expectations for later experiences. So when a disruption in family relationships occurs very early, it changes the mindset and removes the secure foundation on which other relationships can be compared and built.

Adult Children of Divorce Have More Insecure Relationships with Parents
If you are a parent considering divorce, it is certainly worth noting that the action of divorce and its timing have major consequences for your child and for his or her future relationship with you and your spouse.

Researchers concluded that people who were younger when their parents divorced were more insecure in their relationships with their parents as adults than people who were older when their parents divorced. The first few years of life appear to be the most critical “sensitive period.” However, even when children were older when the divorce occurred, the parental relationships were more likely to be insecure.

Fraley and Heffernan used a fairly large testing group of more than 12,300 participants for this study and replicated the results with a second sample of 7,300. They included people who varied in parental divorce status, age, and age at parental divorce. Participants were mostly from the U.S., the U.K., and Canada.

Custody Affects Parent/Child Relationships
It shouldn’t be surprising that the amount of time the child spends with a parent was shown in this study to be linked with the security of the adult/child relationship as adults. People in the study were more likely to have an insecure relationship with their father if they lived with their mother. However, if they lived with their father, they were less likely to have an insecure relationship with him as an adult. And if they lived with their father, they reported more insecurity in their relationship with their mothers than with their fathers.

Adult children of divorce were more insecure with fathers than with mothers, on average. This is likely due to the fact that more mothers gain full custody. In fact, 74 percent of participants whose parents divorced reported that their mothers had primary custody, while 11 percent lived with their fathers, and the rest lived with a grandparent or other caretakers.

“These findings are valuable because they suggest that something as basic as the amount of time one spends with a parent or one’s living arrangements can have the potential to shape the quality of the attachment relationship that one has with a parent,” say researchers.

To summarize, divorce during the first few years of life affects children the most, and this family breakdown is likely to result in more insecure relationships with one or both parents, with custody being a major factor in relationship security. Is this study consistent with your own personal experience, or the experiences of your friends?

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

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.

What is the Happiest Year of Your Marriage?

DSC06526 I sincerely hope that the happiest year of your marriage is THIS year, but a recent British survey* of 2,000 married people suggests that year three was the happiest year in their marriage.

In the study, the first year of marriage followed year three as the next happiest, with the couple basking in the newlywed glow, while year two was spent getting to know one another better. The study suggests year three marks the success of learning to deal with one another’s imperfections, as well as some occasional doubts. By year three, discussions of having children often occur, helping to solidify the relationship.

What was the toughest year in their marriage? According to the study, the fifth year was the most difficult due to feelings of exhaustion, financial worries, stress of caring for children, and conflict over division of work/chores.

The good news is that the couples who continued to work on the marriage found year seven to be the point at which, when obstacles are overcome—such as unbalanced sex drives, different hobbies or social preferences—it paves the way for a long-term and happy marriage. Half of respondents say their wedding day was the happiest day of their life.

All that being said, the data should not be seen as exactly relating to every marriage, but rather a trend. Frequently, it appears, once we settle into marriage and get to know one another, marriage can be blissfully happy (yay!). Then, when differing expectations, family demands and workloads collide with the romantic side of the relationship, it takes some effort to overcome problems and remain committed. Marriage has ups and downs, and often after going through troubled times or crises, couples gain a stronger bond.

For couples who decide they “Married the Wrong Person” and move on to someone new, they may become blissfully happy for another very brief period, but they will end up in the same place a few years down the road with a new person. However, for the majority of couples who get past this stage, marriage can become a long and happy union.

Whatever stage you are in, work to stick together. We may blame our spouse for stress that is external to the relationship. Instead of thinking your spouse has changed, realize your situation may be very different from the days of dating. Work to keep communication open and positive.

So, what was your happiest year of marriage, and what was your toughest period to get through?

*The study was commissioned by Slater & Gordon, a UK-based law firm.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

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.

Minimizing the Combat Zone in Your Marriage

man woman on beach morguefileWe all have our negative patterns in marriage that may be based on our personality tendencies and our common reactions to one another. I found a recent New York Times article that provided some helpful hints for avoiding the “combat zone” or at least minimizing it.

Counselors teach conflict resolution skills and better communication skills, because they know sometimes the way we react or even phrase something can make a big difference in the outcome of what can become a heated conversation. Conflict isn’t always to be avoided; in fact, it can help bring us closer when used appropriately. So, here are the tips from Bruce Feiler who wrote “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” for the NYT:

  1. Beware of the transitions in your day. The times when people are either coming or going are the source of the biggest fights within families, say researchers. For example, getting yourselves and/or your children ready to head out the door, or coming in after a long day of work, wondering what will be for dinner and who will be making it. These are the vulnerable times. The “most highly charged” time of day was between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. So, give one another a bit of space and time and don’t bring up difficult topics until things are calm.
  2. Sit at the same level, with the same posture. This is important, particularly if one partner tends to adopt a “power position” i.e. in a higher chair, standing over the other, or with laced fingertips behind the head and feet up. Higher positions create elevated testosterone, reduced cortisol and increased feelings of superiority.  On the flip side, sometimes a spouse adopts a frequent “lower position” i.e. slumped, slouched, or arms crossed. Instead, sit alongside your spouse in your discussions.
  3. Select your seating surface well. Researchers found when people sit on a soft, cushioned chair, they are more accommodating and generous, while those who sat on a hard wooden chair were more rigid and inflexible.
  4. Go to the balcony. When things begin to escalate, imagine in your mind that you are on a balcony overlooking your interaction, suggests Bill Ury, founder of a Harvard program on peace negotiations. From the “balcony” you can see the macro view, calm yourself down, and see alternatives that you might not see if you didn’t disengage. Often there are other alternatives you haven’t considered. “The goal is to expand the pie before dividing it,” says Ury.
  5. Keep it short. The most important points in an argument are found in the opening minutes. After that, it’s just repetition and escalation. So say what you need to say, then take a short break or walk to prevent the escalation.
  6. Avoid saying “you always” and “you never.” In fact, switch from “you” to “we” so that you don’t sound so accusatory.
  7. Say you’re sorry, and most importantly, take responsibility for your choices/actions, even if you aren’t feeling very sorry during the argument.

What tips do you have to keep your disagreements from creating divisions in your family?

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.

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.

How Does Your Marriage Compare? More Interesting Findings…

The Normal BarMy recent post called “The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think” caused quite a debate, with many disagreeing with the research findings or explaining what they feel as a combination of needs. The findings were based on “surprising” relationship secrets of 70,000 individuals surveyed in The Normal Bar, a new book.

I promised to give away a free copy of the book, and then I went on spring break. So, because of my delay, I’ll give away two copies of the book—one drawing held from commenters of the last post, and one from comments on this one. So, if you’d like a copy, just leave a comment, and I’ll throw your name into the hat.

I wanted to share a few morsels of some of the other results that surprised or interested me. Feel free to share your feelings on one of more of the following findings:

  • Two-thirds of couples do not agree with each other’s politics. Fewer than 10 percent of these couples say this seriously strains their relationships. That surprised me, because I wonder if this has to do with common values and worldviews being different in these couples, and also because so many couples I know seem to be similar in this way. But I’m glad they can work through this area of division.
  • Be more romantic. It bothers almost 29 percent of women “a lot” that their partner is not more romantic. But even more surprising is that a lack of sufficient romance bothers more men “a lot”—44 percent of them. Talk to your spouse about what they feel is romantic, and try to make a better effort in this area. Too often this advice comes to men, but women need to practice romance as well.
  • Three-fourths of all American couples have never taken a romantic vacation. What? Not even a honeymoon? This seems pretty deplorable to me, but I recognize that once the kids come, traveling without them (and without worrying about them) becomes such a challenge that many don’t find it worth the effort. If you’ve benefited from romantic vacations in the past, please share how they have impacted your relationship. Can you get a weekend away together?
  • Interrupting your partner is a big problem. People who are often interrupted by their partners are twice as likely to be unhappy in the relationship. This affects many couples—59 percent of both men and women say they are sometimes or frequently interrupted by their partners.
  • Laugh more! On the other side of the coin, happy couples laugh much more; 66 percent of happy couples laugh together often.
  • Criticize less. Sadly, 12 percent of couples who have been together more than a decade are criticized daily by their partner. Women tend to be the more critical spouse. Two-thirds of men say they are criticized “a lot”; slightly over half of women say the same of their spouse.
  • Having more money did not make relationships happier. In fact, the most wealthy couples were slightly less happy.
  • Going back to my last article, it’s true that men said they wanted better communication more than anything else. However, the surveys also reported that most men also wanted more sex. Sixty percent of men and 30 percent of women feel their sexual frequency is too low. On the other hand, 36 percent of men and 56 percent of women feel their frequency is just about right.
  • We all know that one of the most important characteristics of happy couples is that they spend time together. Surveyed individuals say they don’t spend enough time together because they are so busy, but 80 percent of these same couples said they typically spend an hour or more on the Internet daily for non-work matters. Twenty-six percent spend more than three hours on the Internet a day.  Can you consider cutting back Internet/TV or other screen time to invest some needed time with your spouse?

Which of these bullet points resonates with you or strikes you as odd? Of course there’s a lot more research in the book, so check it out if you like. Remember, though, what is “normal” for one couple is not helpful for another. The thing I do find helpful is to ask yourself if something you read about (lack of fun, criticizing your partner, etc.) might be holding your marriage back from being all it can be.

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think

The Normal BarBased on survey results from more than 70,000 respondents, the new book, The Normal Bar, provided a number of surprises. But the most surprising result I read about was when men in unhappy relationships were asked what they want most from their partners that they’re not getting. The authors/researchers expected to find that sex topped the list, but it didn’t make the top two.

Male respondents instead want more and better communication, saying their partners don’t listen to them attentively enough. Coming in second, they wanted more affection. In third place, they said they desired more sex.

Unhappy women also ranked communication at the top of their wish list, and for more affection in second place. Their third wish was for financial stability.

Remember that these were the responses from unhappy couples. Another surprise was the response from happy couples as to what they wanted more of. The number-one answer was “nothing.” In fact 35% of satisfied women and 40% of satisfied men say all their relationship needs are being met.

These results were not just true for Americans, but were true worldwide. Communication is apparently a bigger issue than most of us realize, being the most important relationship issue for many couples. Only the French reported affection as more important, which was surprising because the French were number-one in romance.

Take-Away

What can we take from these results to help us in our marriages? First, if your spouse is asking for better communication, don’t roll your eyes or belittle its importance. In your partner’s eyes, the way you speak to them and listen to them out may be one of their top concerns. Second, better communication may mean less talking and more listening. Reflect back what you hear to make sure you are understanding them correctly. And third, remember that it can be easy to drift apart. Make daily effort to reconnect on an emotional and physical level. Show affection and demonstrate your love with small daily efforts.

Are you giving your spouse enough time and attention? Are you talking only about the day’s agenda or about deeper issues, desires and concerns? Can you carve out time for a walk together or to have a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the evening? Try to bring a fun topic or question to your chats, such as dreaming about a future vacation, or guessing what famous person you would each like to have over for dinner.

Communication is a skill we can all learn to improve. If communication is an area of dissatisfaction or dispute, seek out a class, a counselor or even online tips for how you can take your communication to the next level.

I’ll be providing some additional insights from the book. You can learn more by reading The Normal Bar by Chrisanna Northup, Pepper Schwartz, PhD, and James Witte, PhD. Let me know if you’re interested in having your  name added to a drawing for a free copy of the book by leaving a comment below.

Do you agree or disagree with the survey results?

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Why More Americans are Happy, Yet Unsatisfied

winter by Michal  Marcol freedigitalphotos.netAccording to recent Gallup polls, American levels of happiness are at a four-year high, with 60 percent of all Americans reporting they feel happy without a lot of stress or worry. Books about happiness are selling in record numbers. So why don’t Americans seem more satisfied?

One reason is, as I have written in a previous post, “There’s more to life and marriage than happiness.” Another reason is that 40 percent of Americans have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Having a clear purpose and meaning for your life has been shown in research to increase your life satisfaction, improve your physical and mental health, and decrease the chances of depression. It is very possible to be both relatively happy and yet still live an unsatisfied life.

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness,” conclude researchers. Yes, pursuing happiness and pleasure can actually hinder you from having a meaningful, satisfying life as an individual and as a married couple.

A new study to be published in the Journal of Positive Psychology examined the attitudes of 400 Americans over a month and found that while a meaningful life and a happy life overlap in some ways, they were very different. Researchers determined that leading a “happy life” was associated with being a “taker” who at times appeared shallow, selfish or self-absorbed, but with satisfied demands. These happy individuals might be healthy and have plenty of income for what they needed or wanted, as well as few worries.

A meaningful life, on the other hand, was associated with being a “giver.” The participants in this category derived meaning from sacrifices. They actively looked for meaning in their activities, even when they knew the action might decrease their happiness or require them to give something up for themselves. Examples might be a parent who takes time to care for their children, a person who buys a present for a friend to cheer her up, or a spouse who offers to help around the house.

Finding meaning can even involve extreme sacrifices, such as the one made by the Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist Viktor Frankl in Vienna in September 1942. Read about his fascinating story and more about the research in this article from The Atlantic called “There’s more to life than being happy.” Frankl, who survived the Nazi concentration camps, later wrote the best-selling book Man’s Search for Meaning. After working on suicide prevention for teens earlier in his career, he helped two suicidal inmates in the camps find meaning for their lives and gave them something to live for. Don’t we all need something to live for?

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue. One must have a reason to ‘be happy,’” wrote Frankl. He also wrote the enduring words: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

This last quote brings me to the point of this post. To find meaning in life and certainly in our marriages, we need to direct our attention away from our desire for happiness of the moment and toward others. By loving our spouse and family more fully, we can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction.

Researchers say happy people derive joy from receiving benefits from others, while people leading more meaningful lives derive a great deal of joy from giving to others.

Why is finding a deeper meaning for your life and marriage more important than seeking happiness for your family? Because it affects every choice you will make.  When one spouse reaches a turning point in their life, such as a mid-life crisis, someone focused on personal happiness might assess what they are getting from others and who is making them happy. They may say things like “life is short” and “you only live once” to justify behavior focused on personal pleasure. On the contrary, someone focused on meaning might assess what memories and values they are giving to their loved ones and how they have improved the lives of others. They will wonder what legacy they are leaving and how they can strengthen that legacy.

The idea that we are responsible for something greater than ourselves is contrary to the value of freedom above all.  Are these values at odds in your mind?

Please share how you find meaning in your life and in your marriage.

If you are interested in more on this topic, here are other happiness-related posts:

Is your family seeking pleasure, happiness, or joy?

Happiness comes before success in life, not after

The formula for unhappiness is revealed

Are too many choices leading to unhappiness?

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 all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

Are Pre-Marriage Jitters Predictors of Later Divorce?

The months preceding a marriage should be used by a couple to seriously consider whether they wish to be truly committed to one another and feel that they can do so. It’s not unusual for one or both of them to have questions, concerns or even fears about marriage. Occasionally, these reservations lead them to call off the wedding.

I’ve known several couples who after going through marriage preparation decided not to marry. Rather than considering this a failure, it’s probably good to know early—before they promise to love and honor ‘til death do they part—that at least one of them has serious doubts as to their long-term success. Unfortunately, it’s often just one person in the couple who comes to that conclusion, leaving the other broken-hearted.

A recent study caught my attention that analyzed these pre-wedding jitters of couples who went ahead and got married. Did having these fears predict a later divorce? Psychologists from the University of California, Los Angeles surveyed 250 couples a few months after they got married. They conducted follow-up surveys every six months for four years.

The researchers concluded that wives’ uncertainty before marriage was a better predictor of a later divorce than were husbands’ reservations. They also found the wives who had doubts before marriage tended to be less satisfied with the marriages. And couples in which both partners had doubts were linked with a 20 percent divorce rate.

“Don’t assume that love is enough to overpower your concerns,” said lead study author Justin Lavner. “You know yourself, your partner and your relationship better than anybody else does. If you’re feeling nervous about it, pay attention to that. It’s worth exploring what you’re nervous about.”

Considerably more husbands had doubts about getting married—47 percent—compared with wives at 38 percent. However, the wives’ doubts were better predictors of impending marital trouble. Nineteen percent of the women who had doubts about getting married were divorced within four years, while 8 percent of wives who did not have reservations were divorced four years later. For men, 14 percent of the husbands with doubts were split in four years, compared with 9 percent of husbands who did not have doubts getting hitched.

Researchers said marital jitters were significant predictors even when they took other factors into consideration, including cohabitation, whether the couple had divorced parents, or the difficulty of their engagement.

Newlywed wives with doubts about the marriage were two-and-a-half times more likely to divorce within four years than wives who did not have these doubts. And even the wives (who had doubts) who stayed together after four years were significantly less satisfied with their marriage than wives who did not experience these doubts.

“There’s no evidence that problems in a marriage just go away and get better. If anything problems are more likely to escalate,” said Lavner.  So, for couples not yet married, explore any reservations you may have, and go through premarital preparation to help you discuss important issues before tying the knot.

For couples who are already married, that is not to say marital problems can’t be solved; there is hope for all marriages, and many (experts say most) problems can be solved.

I should also add that I know some individuals who had jitters that faded away once they made the decision to commit to one another. It was the commitment decision itself that gave them jitters, not the person to whom they were engaged. Only you know whether your feelings of doubt are serious or fleeting.

See the story in HealthDay.

Did you have pre-wedding jitters? If so, did they fade or did they become predictors of future problems in your marriage?

Photo by Aleksandr Kutsayev courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.