Tag Archives: Marriage Research

Researchers say successful marriages come down to this trait

rose morguefileSocial scientists and marriage experts have been gathering data since the ‘70s on what separates successful marriages from unsuccessful ones. John and Julie Gottman, both psychologists with The Gottman Institute were forerunners of this work and continue to help couples learn how to have stable, loving relationships. By observing certain interactions, they can predict with up to 94 percent certainty whether couples will be broken up, together, happy or unhappy years down the road.

How we are predisposed toward one another, how we respond to requests, and how good we are at kindness and generosity all play a part in a marriage’s success.

Physiology
A recent article in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love” divulges the differences between the masters of marriage and the disasters. Couples associated with the disasters were markedly different down to their very physiology. When they talked, their heart rates were quick. Their sweat glands were active. They were in fight-or-flight mode all the time, waiting for the next argument. They were more aggressive and defensive. The physiology demonstrated how they were negatively predisposed toward one another.

Couples who were masters of marriage felt calm and connected, had slower heart rates, and warm behavior and language toward one another. It’s not their physical make-up that changed things, says John Gottman. Instead, they created a climate of trust and intimacy that made them both feel at ease. The way in which they created this positive climate was through kindness, generosity and responding positively to bids for attention.

Responding to Bids/Requests for Attention
How you respond to subtle requests for attention or “bids” throughout the day from your spouse is another major factor for marital success. Whether one person shares a funny story from work or asks the other to join them on the couch, we respond in different ways depending on our mood and activities. Maybe we share a laugh, or we may say (or show) that we are busy reading. Even small actions add up, particularly if they are rebuffed or ignored. Couples who divorced after six years only responded favorably to their partner one-third of the time, while couples married after six years met these bids 9 out of 10 times. By ignoring your partner’s requests for attention, you can make them feel worthless or ignored, eventually killing the love they feel.

Types of Kindness
Kindness is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in marriage, say the Gottmans. It makes each spouse feel loved, validated, understood and important. Some people are naturally kind, but kindness is a muscle that can grow stronger with practice. Kindness can have many meanings.

Kindness can mean responding in a pleasing way to your partner’s bids for attention. For example, if you’re watching a show (even a big game), reading the news or busy with a hobby when your spouse comes in the door or asks you a question, do you give them your attention or act annoyed? How do you respond to bids for intimacy?

Kindness can mean how you act during a disagreement or fight. Avoid words of contempt, rolling the eyes, raising your voice, acting aggressively. The way we express our anger or feelings is critical, as is the type of language we choose.

Kindness can mean small acts of generosity—a cup of tea, a backrub, an offer to go to the store or clean up.

Kindness can mean assuming the best intentions for your partner. If he forgot to pick up the dry cleaning, left his towel on the floor, or was late to a date, we don’t assume the worst.

Kindness can mean celebrating life’s joys and good news together—being genuinely excited for the other person when things go well (and of course being there when things don’t go so well).

More than all these, kindness in marriage means how you interact on a daily basis, the affection you share, the feeling that you’re in life together and happy about it.

Relationships fail for a variety of reasons, but the breakdown of kindness drives the unraveling of many of them. “As the normal stresses of life together pile up—with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy—couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart,” says Emily Esfahani Smith, author of The Atlantic article.

Master or Disaster?
Taking this research into account, are your behaviors more in line with the masters or disasters of marriage? What attributes are bringing you down or holding you up?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 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

Marriage offers proven benefits to both men and women

wedding ring morguefileAs fewer Americans are choosing to wed, a common discussion is why committed couples should marry rather than simply live together. Outside of religious reasons, people often focus on the benefits of children with married parents. This is valid, as children and adolescents are shown to have myriad advantages.

However, it’s also important to point out that men and women enjoy a long list of proven benefits when they marry instead of merely cohabitating. Even when a couple does not have children, a marriage protects them and strengthens them as individuals and as a family unit.

Married women generally enjoy the following (as compared with unmarried peers):
*More satisfying relationships with their spouse/partner and children
*Greater emotional happiness with less depression
*More financial resources/less likely to end up in poverty
*Decreased risk of domestic violence, sexual assault, or other violent crimes
*Decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
*Better physical health
*Longer life

That’s all well and good for women, but why should men commit to marriage? Many benefits have also been proven for married men as compared with their unmarried peers. These include:
*Improved physical health
*Faster recuperation from illness
*Longer life
*Better emotional wellbeing
*Improved relationships with children
*More satisfying sexual relationship with their wives
*Wealthier
*Higher wages and greater employment stability
*Decreased risk of drug and alcohol abuse
*Less likely to commit violent crimes
*Less likely to contract a sexually transmitted disease

If you are considering marriage or have children at that stage, don’t be fooled by cultural trends to avoid marriage because it’s “too risky”. If you think marriage is risky, the above lists should demonstrate that cohabitating or engaging in serial relationships also have risks and downsides.

What scares you the most about marriage? What is the best part of marriage? I would really like to hear your input on these two questions.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 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

Words that can make or break your marriage

brain morguefileWhich words do you use in communicating with your spouse that make the discussion worse, and which words cause you both to calm down? Researchers have the answers.

Some words increase your stress level, and can even heighten your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems. Other words and phrases can actually reduce your stress and calm your body down, allowing your brain to think more rationally instead of in anger.

One study revealed that couples who used the words “think,” “reason,” “because,” “understand,” “why” and other analytical words during an argument lowered the body’s stress. When using these words, they experienced lower levels of proteins that help aid the body’s immune system. Research led by Jennifer Graham, PhD, from Penn State University was published in Health Psychology.

Men experienced a greater benefit than women, but women tended to use more of these analytical words and phrases. (Isn’t that interesting, when women are thought to be the more emotive gender?)

The reason these words can help reduce stress and diffuse anger, is they cause us to think rather than relying on our anger or first response, often the fight-or-flight response.

Experts suggest two other phrases to use during a discussion/argument. The first is “I wonder…” which allows you both to consider the issue or problem rather than placing blame. The second is simply “Hmmm…” which allows you both to be uncritical in that moment. It can often shift the energy to a more positive one, helping you consider possibilities and solutions.

Trigger words to AVOID include: “You always…” or “Your never…” and “There you go again.”

In addition to words, consider your non-verbal communication. Are your arms crossed, are you glaring? Do you use sarcasm or express contempt, or roll your eyes? Do you have aggressive gestures, such as arm waving or raised voice? Or are you calm, sitting next to, maybe touching gently?

When you feel the disagreement escalating, breathe deeply and slowly from your belly. Quicker breaths from the chest are more common when we are upset, and this helps calm you down. And practice better communication. These are skills that can be learned.

Each day, practice gratitude and try to avoid complaining. “Thanks” is always a welcome word to express your spouse.

Are there words you have learned to avoid with your spouse? Or words that help you calm down?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 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

Big wedding = happy marriage…and other recent findings

wedding cake morguefileThe more people who attended your wedding, the better your odds of marital bliss. On the flip side, the more premarital relationships you had before marriage, the lower your odds of being happily married down the road.

These are findings from the University of Virginia-based National Marriage Project report called “Before I do: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults.”

While the study doesn’t address causation, here are some of its findings:

• The wedding ceremony had links to marriage quality. Couples who invited a lot of friends and family tended to have happier marriages. Researchers theorized a possible reason is that couples had a larger network of friends and family to help and encourage them. They also suggested that a larger ceremony may reflect a clear decision to commit to the marriage and demonstrate the commitment. Financial resources were not the reason for this association, because they controlled for income and education. While this isn’t reason enough to put yourself in debt, it may help justify inviting all the people who are important to you to your wedding to witness your commitment.

• Individuals who had more experience cohabiting or more sexual partners were not as likely to have high-quality marriages compared with those who had fewer. Researchers speculate that “having more partners provides fodder for comparison and reminds one there are other choices.”

• Couples who had a child before marriage or one on the way at the time of the marriage were less likely to have a formal wedding, and having a child before marriage was associated with lower marital quality.

• Couples who “slide” rather than “decide” their way through major transitions—Including having sex, getting pregnant, living together and marriage—are less likely to have high-quality marriages. Sliding into these decisions, in particular living together, “creates a kind of inertia that makes it difficult to change course,” say researchers. They may end up getting “stuck with” someone they might not have otherwise chosen to marry.

• Premarital education, i.e. relationship education, was linked with higher marital quality. This is great news, because such education is widely available.

The study followed 1,000 participants aged 18 to 34 for five years and controlled for race, ethnicity, years of education, personal income, and religiosity.

Study co-author Galena K. Rhodes concludes “people need to talk about their relationships and make deliberate decisions, and couples who live together should consider relationship education.” Couples should also understand that serial cohabitation may lead them further from eventual marital bliss.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 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

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.