Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D.

Clinical Psychologist 

 

Love & marriage - Part II 

June 16, 1999 

This article is one of a series of radio spots prepared by Sally Singer Horwatt, Ph.D. for 
WAGE 1200 AM RADIO

HOME

RESUME

SERVICES

NEWSLETTER

RADIO SPOTS 

CONTACT INFO

Today, I am going to talk about what it is that makes some marriages last until the death of a spouse. Recently,  I reviewed research showing that our choice of mates seems to be random.  Among 738 couples, which included identical twins, the strongest similarities between spouses lay in the cluster of traits measuring traditional values and religiosity.  There, the correlations were positive, though low to moderate. In addition to not having much in common, we are living longer, past romantic infatuation and past that child-bearing years, and seem to be expecting that our marriages satisfy more of our needs.  If this is true, the wonder is not that one out of two marriages are terminated;  the wonder is that one out of two marriages last until the death of a spouse! 
  
Several large-scale studies of married couples have produced some interesting results. First, it seems that marital stability can be predicted with more accuracy than marital dissolution, but not by much.  While we can speak in general terms about factors that predict divorce, we cannot predict that a particular couple will be divorced. 
  
One study videotyped the conversations and emotions of  73 married couples over a period of four years.  Speech is coded either positive (humor, positive problem description, task-oriented relationship information) or negative (criticizing, negative mind-reading, put-downs, yes-buts).  Emotion was coded for anger, contempt, sadness, fear and whining or affection, humor, interest and joy.  Of course, no couple was totally positive or totally negative.  But the couples that achieved a balance of more positive than negative interactions also achieved a stable marriage.  Isn't that a surprise!  
  
But, there were some findings we might not have predicted.  The health of couple's in negative marriages is poorer than in positive marriages. But, men's health is better than women's in both positive and negative marriages.  An ailing marriage or divorce most strongly affects the physiological functioning of women.  While the illness of women is directly affected by marital distress, for men it is affected most by loneliness. 
  
Another study of positive and negative interaction found that some negative acts were more predictive of marital dissolution than others.  Anger,  in and of itself, was not  
predictive of separation or divorce, but the husband's defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling were predictive of divorce.  By means of a global specific emotions coding system, the wife's contempt and disgust were found to be particularly predictive of marital separation. 
  
In unhappy marriages people develop hypotheses about their partner's behavior that are very hard to disconfirm.  Positive behavior is attributed to fleeting, situational causes, whereas negative behavior is attributed to the stable and global negative traits of the partner. 
  
The author describes three types of stable marriage.  The volatile couple escalates quarrels about almost any issue because they seem to have an ethic of exploration of all feelings on any issue at any time.  However, they balance this direct confrontation and persuasion with high levels of affection and humor.  The validating couple uses a little more persuasion, and the conflict-avoiding couple seems never to engage in attempts at persuasion, but focuses on  
similarities and agrees to disagree.  The ratio of positive to negative interactions in these groups is 5:1.  The ratio of ositive to negative interactions in the unstable marriages is
8:1.  Each type of marriage is has its own rewards and costs with its own comfort level of emotional expression.  
  
The author suggests that to develop a stable marriage, couples should develop three skills:  1) nondefensive and nonprovocative speaking, 2) nondefensive listening and  
Validation, and 3) editing. 
  
Are you getting a message here?  Stable marriages, while allowing a great deal of room for spontaneity, are not produced by saying the first thing that comes to mind, no matter how critical.  To make a marriage the best it can be, it seems we have to make our spouses feel desirable.  I think we have to make them feel desirable even when they are not making up to us for what we didn't get as children.  This doesn't mean put up with everything.  It's not what  
we say, it's how we say it.  If we tear them down, we just get ourselves a "torn-down" spouse.  
Who wants one of those? 
 

For more radio spots, return to the topic list:

 
RADIO SPOTS TOPIC LIST
 

For more information about my psychology practice, follow these links:

HOME
SERVICES
RADIO SPOTS
NEWSLETTER
CONTACT INFO
RESUME