From Dr. Jane's Notebook

Improving Your Marital Satisfaction

Chapter I: Improving Your Marriage

Not long ago, I conducted marital research on spouses in over 200 different marriagesas part of my doctoral dissertation. The purpose of this research was to identify the relationshipingredients necessary to achieve marital satisfaction. This article is the first of aseries in which I will share with you the results of this research. Below are six categories of behaviors which can lead a couple to marital satisfaction or bust!

Some spouses manage conflict by habitually giving in to the wishes of their mate, regardless of their own feelings. While on face value this seems like a peaceful tactic, it generally results in built up anger which will surface in some other destructive way. In other relationships, conflicts are resolved through bullying behavior which often turns from verbal to physical violence. When conflicts escalate into domestic violence, they leave permanent scars on the relationship.

In short, marriage is teamwork and when team members take good care of each other, therewards are great. Take a few minutes to review these six categories with your partner.Together, you may be able to make your new year's resolutions come true!

Chapter 2:  Loving Marriages

In Chapter 1 we saw how research revealed three key characteristics of satisfying marriages. Marriages must be sufficiently loving; they must be sufficiently loyal;and spouses must be satisfied in the areas of parenting and religion. In thissection we will look at one of these components --- loving marriages.

This study also showed that while loving relationships are important to marital satisfaction, satisfaction with love is not enough! Relationships must be sufficientlyloving, and they must be sufficiently loyal. Without loyalty, even the most loving couple cannot achieve marital satisfaction.

Chapter 3: Loyal Marriages

In this chapter we will describe the role of loyalty in marital satisfaction.

To avoid embarrassment, couples must learn which topics are off limits in public. Two which readily come to mind are (1) criticisms of in-laws and (2) telling embarrassing stories about each other. Unfortunately, most of these lessons are learned after the fact, and after the fight. So, I recommend using the marital fight as a learning experience and an opportunity to discuss how things should be handled in the future. Hopefully, marital disagreements lead to a better understanding of one another, and a growing love and respect for each other.

Each of us enters into marriage with a set of standards and beliefs which have developed over the course of our lifetime. Thus, it should be relatively easy to predict whether a relationship between two parties will be peaceful, or escalate into constant power struggles. Since most of us learn our ethics and values from our families of origin, a look at both families is one way to predict long-term compatibility. However, engaged couples tend to minimize their differences during courtship, so it is hard to imagine the future as any less than perfect. None-the-less, a shared value system will eventually be important, especially if children come into the picture. Loyal marriages are sexually satisfying. Sex in marriage serves to re-charge the teamwork battery. When couples make love, they are caring for each other in very important ways. By honoring each other’s sexuality and conveying that you find your partner sexually attractive, you are also helping to maintain the esteem of your mate. When spouses fail to relate to each other in sexual ways, the relationship becomes vulnerable to mistrust and interference by others. Human beings have a great need to feel loved, honored and cherished. Sexuality is a bonding exercise between mates, which must be renewed regularly and with enthusiasm. Likewise, sexual functioning is important from a physical perspective. When in doubt, see a doctor or therapist for your sexual concerns.

To sum up, when couples decide to marry, they often fail to consider the role of loyalty in marriage. However, this research suggests that loyalty is critically importantand plays a significant role in marital satisfaction. When choosing a mate, we must realize that we are not only selecting a life partner, but also, we are selecting apartner for life. Courtship is really the easy part. After the wedding, the real work begins!

Chapter 4: The Role of Kids and Religion in Marital Satisfaction

So far, we have discussed the role of lovingness and loyalty in a marriage. In this chapter we'll address the role of satisfaction with family and religion in the marriage.

In order to survive, families need certain structures and elements in their lives. They need a means of economic security, an effective sharing of family roles, the ability to solve their problems, and a host of emotional resources. Our research found that couples were most satisfied when they shared similar ideas about family roles, were able to solve problems together.

Ideally, couples share a similar value system and want to work together to raise their children. This research suggests that couples must agree about the importance of children and they must be satisfied with their roles as parents in order to be satisfied in the marriage.

Ideally, couples agree with each other both about the importance of having children,and on their satisfaction with their parental status at the moment. Ideally, they willagree about whether the time is right, and they will co-create the family they have planned.

Having a family is a "couple " thing. Spouses need each other's help to raise a child, and children need two healthy and happy parents. As a family, members will hopefully provide economic, physical and emotional security to each other throughout life.

Marital satisfaction can be achieved when mates are synchronized in re more importantto one spouse than the other, Marital satisfaction is most easily achieved when spousesare in agreement about the importance of children and each person's current level ofsatisfaction.

For example, couples may disagree about the timing of parenthood, styles of parenting,developmental readiness, all of which can make things miserable. Once children are in the picture, parenting is for life. These days, couples are wise to discuss their before desire to be part of a couple. If two spouses are deciding whether or not to have children, it is important that they agree about this lifelong decision. Problems arise when the individual spouses disagree about the importance of children.

Long, long ago, the fairy-tale life was laid out such that two young people got married, expecting to stay together for life. After a few years of marriage, during which they got to know each other and plan a life together, they mutually decided to become parents, and were ready to face the joys and pains of their life-long responsibility as parents.

Fortunately, because this fairy tale included nannies and servants, couples were able to divide their time between their many family roles, allowing them to find a comfortable balance in the time they took for each of their life tasks. As individuals, each parent as parents, and as spouses in their marriage. And assumed perhaps the most serious disagreement that a couple can have, is whether or not to become parents. After all, thedecision to have a child is an agreement to assume a lifelong responsibility which is highly labor-intensive and demanding. Also, because parenting is forever, the decision to have a child has a dramatic impact on marital relationships. Parents must therefore be mature enough to take care of both their child, and their marital relationship.

Do children help or hinder marriages? Early research on marriage showed that couples experienced a distinct decrease in marital satisfaction during the child-rearing years, which then frequently improved during the empty-nest stage of life after the children had left home. From these findings, some researchers concluded that raising children negatively impacts marital satisfaction. Further research, however, has suggested that marital satisfaction is more complex than that.

While instincts alone can lead to marriages and children, it is necessary to learn how to be a good parent and a good spouse. Today, a variety of programs are available to assist couples in improving relationship skills and improved parenting skills. What's more, the act of engaging in activities designed to improve relationship skills also offers a unique bonding experience for couples.

The role of religion in marital satisfaction. While most dating and engaged couples deny that their religious differences are important, our research showed that religious beliefs greatly influence long-term marital satisfaction. In this research, religion was considered from two distinct perspectives: Faith in God, and Religious Commitment. Results suggested that marital satisfaction is largely based upon the relative importance of faith in God, and satisfaction with the family's role in their religious community. So, even if religion is not important to either spouse, but they agree on their views, it is likely that they will be satisfied. The problem is that before marriage, religious differences are often minimized, and not discussed until after childbirth. Often times, religion becomes such a point of conflict that parents end up playing tug-of-war for the child's religious up bringing.

The research described here was conducted as part of my doctoral dissertation,"The relationship between marital characteristics, marital interaction processes, and marital satisfaction". I am grateful to Dr. Jane E. Myers and other faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro for their guidance, support and encouragement on this project.

©Copyright, 1999, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.

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Last Updated June 5, 1999 by Gary M. Grandon, Ph.D.