What separates happy marriages from unhappy marriages?
Researchers David Olson, Amy Olson-Sigg and Peter Larson, authors of “The Couple Checkup,” conducted a study of more than 50,000 couples to find out. They found that marital happiness primarily depends on five areas of the couple's relationship.
The authors note that these areas “predict with 92 percent accuracy whether a specific couple was happy or unhappy.” These are also the relationship areas that every couple should focus on.
The five areas are:
•Communication skills: Communication is as much about listening as speaking. We love to talk and be understood. It's much more difficult to listen and understand. But a primary mark of happy couples is “that they are very satisfied with how they talk to each other” and that they describe their spouses as “good listeners.”
Healthy communication shows an attitude of respect and caring through the tone of voice and body language. Likewise, happy couples don't “make comments to put each other down.” Put-downs create barriers, not connection.
•Couple closeness: “Closeness” describes how emotionally connected you and your spouse are. Healthy couples have balance in this area and frequently “shift back and forth between togetherness and separateness,” depending on the circumstances.
Couples who are emotionally joined at the hip aren't able to use their full range of talents as individuals. Each holds the other back. But without any emotional connections, couples also lose the advantage of providing each other emotional support. Both extremes tend to lead to unhappiness.
•Couple flexibility: Flexibility refers to the couple's ability to deal with change in the relationship in the areas of leadership, roles and rules. Happy marriages are balanced in flexibility.
Marriages need stability “to meet the demands of daily living.” Who mows the lawn, fixes the car, cooks meals and does the laundry needs to be decided or nothing gets done. But change happens, emergencies arise and problems develop.
Happy marriages involve couples who can adjust in these situations about who leads and who follows and who plays what role. They also work to make decisions jointly and are willing to share leadership.
•Personality compatibility: Having compatible personalities does not mean you're both the same. The authors explain the real question: “Is there room for both personalities on our team?”
Personalities change very little. Introverts don't mature into extraverts, nor do highly structured people become care-free and spontaneous over time. Trying to change your spouse or expecting him or her to change on their own is a waste of energy.
Indeed, the authors warn, “Couples who set out to change one another's personalities will embark on a journey of frustration.”
Compatibility is learning “to understand, appreciate and work with” each other's personality. Let the more organized person pay the bills and balance the checkbook, the more assertive person negotiate major financial deals and the person who loves new stuff keep you both up to date.
•Conflict resolution: Conflict, by itself, is not a problem and does not lead to an unhappy marriage. The real issue is how conflict is handled. Happy couples take their disagreements seriously, but “winning” is not their goal. Instead, their goal is to understand each other's opinions and ideas. They make it possible to share their thoughts freely, without fear of criticism, put downs or angry responses.
But, these five points all boil down to love and respect in action, through respectful communication, a healthy balance in emotional closeness and relationship flexibility, appreciation of personality differences, and the use of conflict to draw closer to one another. And love and respect are the ultimate keys to a happy relationship.
©2012, All Rights Reserved. James Sheridan’s website is www.marriagedoneright.com. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.