At least 67 percent of marriages will end in divorce and 77 percent of second marriages will result in the same outcome, reports say. It makes sense then for people to put some extra effort into making their marriage stronger.
Research shows people in happy marriages live four years longer than those who don’t. In fact, there’s evidence supporting the health benefits of working on your marriage. Marriage specialist John M. Gottman found that couples who spent 20 minutes a day improving their relationship had three times the health benefits of working out on a StairMaster for the same length of time each day!
In contrast, Gottman says, people who stay in unhappy marriages increase their chances of getting sick by 35 percent, although they might feel that remaining unhappily married is not a big deal and/or they stay together for the sake of their children. Gottman’s research of children raised in homes with high levels of marital conflict and stress had some dismal outcomes. These children, who were studied for 15 years, demonstrated higher levels of “truancy, depression, peer rejection, behavioral problems (especially aggression) and low achievement or failure in school” when compared with their contemporaries. Clearly staying in a miserable marriage for the sake of the children does not help the children.
Gottman also writes that the other myths of marriage include: personality problems ruin marriages; common interests keep couples together; quid pro quo makes relationships work; avoiding conflict will ruin your marriage; affairs are the root cause of divorce; men are not biologically built for marriage; and gender differences cause marital problems. All of these myths are false.
Gottman has found there are seven key factors in a successful marriage. However, most couples who seek help and engage in marital counseling are told to work on their communication skills. But conflict resolution is not the only component required for a relationship to be successful. Neil Jacobson, Ph.D., conducted a study on the outcomes of conflict resolution approaches to marital therapy and found that only 35 percent of couples saw a meaningful improvement in their marriage. And after a year, only 18 percent retained those benefits. To find the best match with a therapist or other provider, check into their training in this area and ask about their approach to see if it is a good fit for your needs. It is important to find a counselor who both partners feel comfortable with; one who also is trained to work with couples on more than just communication skills to obtain the biggest benefit from counseling.
One final important message from Gottman about couples: The biggest determination of marital satisfaction for women is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. The biggest determination of marital satisfaction for men is, by 70 percent, the quality of the couple’s friendship. Looks like men and women are from the same planet after all.
Dawn Wever is a licensed mental health counselor and has worked in the behavioral health care industry for six years. She has appeared at conferences on issues related to mental health and substance abuse, and provides mental health trainings for professionals. Additional resources and information can be found on her website at http://dawnweverlmhc.com.