Does initial compatibility predict a long-lasting and gratifying marriage?
With the statistics more or less 50-50 on whether a given couple will succeed in marriage or end up in divorce, it’s understandable that many folks wonder how to tell which side they will end up on. With a second marriage, the odds of success are actually lower. What if anything does compatibility have to do with reasons for divorce?
There’s good news for couples, and even more so for second time newlyweds. The news is that the outcome of a marriage that begins with a loving and compatible couple is predictable. And most importantly, marriage success depends on factors that couples can do something about.
Most couples who take wedding vows start out feeling quite happy together. A recent study by Justin Lavner and Thomas Bradbury, published October 31 in the Journal of Family Psychology looked to see if there were risk factors early in marriage that could identify which couples would continue to build a loving partnership, and which would gradually split apart over anger, affairs, or other form of relationship deterioration.
Lavner and Bradbury followed 136 couples for over ten years. For the first four years of marriage, all the couples who were included in the study reported high levels of relationship satisfaction.
After ten years of marriage, some of the couples had divorced. Lavner and Bradbury then looked back at the data they had collected when the couples had first married to see if the divorced couples had been different from early on.
Turns out that the happy and divorced couples scored similarly in their newlywed ratings of how satisfied they were with their relationship. They were similar in how loving they had been around the time of the wedding and even for the first several years.
What differed was that the couples who later divorced showed more tendency, even in their first year of marriage, to express negative emotions like anger and to use negative communications like blame and criticism. That is, their skills for sustaining cooperation were shakey. They too easily slipped into arguing, speaking harshly, listening dismissively or giving up when differences arose.
Every couple bumps into issues where she’d prefer they do one thing and he’d prefer another. Every couple has moments of disagreement, disappointment, and distress. The difference lies in what couples say and do at these times. Do they have the skills to be able to stay cooperative so they can talk over the problem in a mutually respectful way? Or do they become angry and speak aggressively to each other, or equally problematic, avoid discussing problems, drift apart, and eventually have affairs?
The good news is that cooperation is a skill set. Skills sets can be learned. Couples who learn the skills for sustaining cooperative interactions have higher odds of staying happily married, just like drivers who learn the rules for safe driving have fewer car accidents.
Click here for a quick and free test of where your skills look strong enough and where, looking ahead, you’d be likely to run into trouble.
The moral of the story? Polish up your skills for cooperative partnership if you want to stay in love.
Next time you have an anniversary coming up, instead of buying a glass vase, give yourself and your spouse a marriage skills course. A glass vase may shatter; a skills upgrade will help assure that that your marital happiness lasts forever.
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is a Denverclinical psychologist who specializes in treatment of anxiety, depression, anger, narcissism, parenting challenges, and marital difficulties. An author of multiple books, articles, audio cd’s and videos, Dr. Heitleris best known in the therapy community for having brought understandings of conflict resolution from the legal and business mediation world to the professional literature on psychotherapy. David Decides About Thumbsucking, Dr. Heitler’s first book, has been recommended for over twenty years by children’s dentists to help young children end detrimental sucking habits. From Conflict to Resolution, an innovative conflict-resolution theory of psychopathology and treatment, has strongly influenced the work of many therapists. The Power of Twoand The Power of Two Workbook, and also Dr. Heitler’s website for couples called PowerOfTwoMarriage.com, teach the skills for marriage success.
In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Heitler coaches boards of directors in skills for collaboarative decision-making and, in the world of professional sports, Dr. Heitler serves as mental coach for a men’s doubles tennis team.
Dr. Heitler graduated from Harvard University in 1967, and earned her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from NYU in 1975.
Awards and Accomplishments
The editors of the master therapist video series Assessment and Treatment of Psychological Disorders selected Dr. Heitler from all the marriage and family therapists in the US to demonstrate the theory and techniques of couple treatment. Her video from this series, The Angry Couple: Conflict Focused Treatment has become a staple in psychologist and marriage counseling training programs.
The editors of the Psychologist Desk Reference, a compendium of therapeutic interventions, selected Dr. Heitler to write the chapter onTreating High Conflict Couples. Other editors of books on counseling theory and techniques have similarly invited her to contribute chapters on her conflict resolution treatment methods.
Dr. Heitler’s 1997 book The Power of Two (New Harbinger), which clarifies the communication and conflict resolution skills that sustain healthy marriages, has been translated for publication in six foreign language editions–in China, Taiwan, Israel, Turkey, Brazil and Poland.
Dr. Heitler has been invited to present workshops on her conflict resolution methods for mediators and lawyers, psychologists, and marriage and family therapists throughout the country. She has been a popular presenter at national professional conferences including AAMFT, APA, SmartMarriages, and SEPI and has lectured internationally in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, Israel, Lebanon, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
Dr. Heitler is frequently interviewed in magazines such as Fitness, Men’s Health, Women’s World, and Parenting. Her cases have appeared often in the Ladies Home Journal column “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” She is often interviewed by Denver TV newscasters for her perspectives on psychological aspects of current events.
In May, 2004 Dr. Heitler appeared on the CBS Early Show where anchor Harry Smith introduced her as “the most influential person in my life—my therapist.” He encouraged his viewers similarly to seek therapy when they are emotionally distressed and pre-marital counseling when they are contemplating marriage.
Most recently, Dr. Heitler, three of her adult children and one of their friends were awarded a U.S. government Healthy Marriages Initiative grant to produce interactive games for teaching marriage communication and conflict resolution skills over the internet. Seehttp://poweroftwomarriage.com to experience their fun, low-cost, high-impact methods of teaching the skills for a strong and loving marriage.
Dr. Heitler and her husband of almost 40 years are proud parents of four happily married adult children and are grandparents, thus far, of a a baker’s dozen grandchildren.