What Relationship Research Tells us About Living "Happily Ever After"
With up to 50% of marriages ending in divorce, according to a new article in the Monitor on Psychology (April 2013), it's vital to understand what makes love, and our marriages, last.
Delving into the latest research on marriage longevity, including the Early Years of Marriage Project a study following 373 couples who married in 1986 over time and the University of Washington's Love Lab, Anna Miller identifies predictors of marital difficulty and strategies to make love last.
Predictors of Marital Difficulty
Demographics: You can't control your ethnicity and may have little control over your socioeconomic status, but these demographics are linked to rates of divorce. Asian women and foreign born Hispanic men, for example, have the highest likelihood of reaching their 20 year anniversaries with their spouses. Couples who marry in their teens have a higher likelihood of divorce, as do couples who become parents prior to marriage.
Stress: It's not surprising, but external stressors negatively impact marriage. This might, at least in part, explain why couples from low-income communities are particularly prone to marital dissatisfaction and divorce. Faced with chronic stressors and rare opportunities to restore their 'reserves' these couples are more likely to be hurt by stressful life events.
Cold feet: How a couple feels before the wedding can be a predictor of marital longevity. Particularly how a woman feels before marriage. Women who reported premarital 'cold feet' were more than two times as likely to be divorced four years later than couples where the woman didn't have doubts. Men's feet, were not predictive of marital longevity.
Another study indicates that marital satisfaction declined soon after the wedding more frequently for couples who reported less satisfaction to begin with (Journal of Family Psychology, 2012). One researcher suggested that these marriages went from bad to worse, eventually leading to divorce.
Making Love Last
So, if you're a part of a couple faced with one of the predictors of marital difficulty or if you have a happy marriage that you want to stand the test of time, what can you do?
Small acts of support and kindness: Three-fourths of happy couples reported that their spouses made them feel cared for and special often. Doing and saying small appreciative things frequently is predictive of staying together.
Be kind during fights: Newlyweds who reacted to difficulties with anger and pessimism were more likely to be divorced 10 years later. People with stable happy relationships are much gentler with one another, according to one researcher.
Talk about who you are: After years of being together, it's easy to spend most of your time talking about the logistics of married life. But the happiest couples continued to share their hopes, dreams and fears with each other.
Celebrate good times: Being supportive during hard times is important, but your partner is more likely to note and appreciate the times when you celebrate good times and success.
Take risks: It's easy to become used to each other and, as a result, bored in the relationship. Having new and exciting experiences together can rekindle the feelings you had during courtship, offsetting feelings of boredom that can derail a marriage.
Don't rely on love alone: Marriage takes conscious effort to preserve. Like a sport or a growing career, in marriage you need to put in effort and time in order to keep it strong.
Marriage today is changing. Americans are typically marrying later, more are opting for co-habitation and in some states same-sex couples are able to marry. These and other changes may impact divorce rates and the longevity of marriage. However, understanding what factors have lead to long-lasting, happy marriages in the past can help to build stronger marriages in the future.