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Marriage

What Makes a Good Marriage?

Research can help us better understand our marriage, and OCD's effects on it.

Key points

  • OCD impacts relationships, particularly marriages and long-term commitments.
  • Reminding yourselves that you are not struggling alone is critical to success.
  • Focused communication built upon mutual trust can strengthen lifelong partnerships.
Tembinkosi Sikupela @lexhosaguy/Unsplash
OCD can make your marriage feel like it's going nowhere
Source: Tembinkosi Sikupela @lexhosaguy/Unsplash

Our Story

“He’s broken!”

I can still hear my wife’s anguished voice during one of our first therapy sessions together after we heard of my diagnosis with OCD.

Broken.

The road ahead seemed so long and infinite, but we were determined to make our marriage work. We quickly discovered that while there was a great amount of information about OCD, there wasn’t as much information about how couples in committed relationships deal with it. My wife felt alone as my caregiver and was unsure of how to help me break my obsessive cycles without enabling me. We felt like we were on train tracks going nowhere.

Twenty years later we have worked hard to build a strong relationship, knowing that OCD will remain omnipresent. This blog’s intent is to offer research-based solutions and practical tips that helped our floundering marriage thrive.

You are not alone.

Elements of a Good Marriage

Before we begin to talk about OCD and its effects on marriage, it’s important to define the essential ingredients of a strong marriage, regardless of whether or not OCD plays a critical role. In 2019, approximately 2 million couples1 married in the United States. Many of these relationships begin with romantic love that is more passionate and physical. How does a couple strengthen that love to become more selfless, unconditional, and enduring? How can a relationship mature and develop over a long period of time? Life Innovations surveyed 21,501 married couples in all 50 states to determine the top 10 strengths and stumbling blocks of marriages. By identifying the top 10 strengths of happy marriages, the researchers were able to identify happy and unhappy marriages with 93% accuracy.2

Top 10 Strengths of Happy Marriages

  1. Partners are satisfied with how each one talks to the other.
  2. Partners are creative in handling differences.
  3. They feel close to one another.
  4. Neither partner is too controlling.
  5. When discussing problems, partners understand each other’s opinions and ideas.
  6. Partners are satisfied with the amount of affection shown and received.
  7. There is a good balance of leisure time spent together and separately.
  8. Friends and family rarely interfere with the relationship.
  9. Partners agree on how to spend money.
  10. They are satisfied with how each other expresses spiritual values and beliefs.

The results of the survey also identified that the strongest marriages are those in which partners have strong communication skills, show flexibility, are close to one another, and have compatible personalities to help resolve conflicts.

Communication Skills. Those in happy marriages report feeling understood by their partners and find it easier to share their feelings with one another, especially when their partner doesn’t use put-downs. Partners in happy marriages are six times more likely than others to agree that they are satisfied with how they talk to one another. Happy couples report that they feel understood by their partners and can share their feelings, especially during a disagreement.

Listening is crucial to a happy marriage since it is more about trying to understand one another instead of spending energy on judgment. Conflicts, when handled in a healthy way, can benefit a relationship and help couples come to a resolution. Seventy-eight percent of happy couples in the survey agreed that they were creative when handling differences between one another.

Conflict is inevitable in human relationships. There will always be differences between people, sometimes leading to disagreements. The survey of marital strengths found that most happy couples feel their conflicts are resolved, and disagreements are less about placing blame and more about finding common ground. As a result, similar conflict resolution skills are of the utmost importance in a strong and happy relationship.

Couple Flexibility. Flexibility, as defined by the survey results, refers to how open couples are to change. Flexibility helps couples to manage daily stressors and maintain an openness to change, regardless of cultural norms. Partners in a happy relationship are willing to move away from more traditional roles and adjust as needed when it comes to running errands, completing household chores, and cooking.

Couples in the survey shared that they were happier and more satisfied when household chores were divided between the two partners. Happy couples reported that they weren’t as concerned about who was doing more of the share of the daily tasks and worked to maintain an equal relationship.

Closeness. You feel close to your partner when you are emotionally connected to him or her. Closeness also includes a balance of together time and separate time. Happy couples who feel emotionally connected are open to asking for help from one another and enjoy spending time with one another.

Compatible Personalities. Partners in happy marriages reported having personalities that complement one another. They build on each other's strengths and address differences creatively to work together for the best interest of the marriage. When partners share goals for the relationship, they tend to forge a stronger bond.

Top 10 Problems in Marriages

The survey identified 10 primary problems in unhappy marriages. Consider which items resonate with your relationship.

  1. We have problems sharing leadership.
  2. One of us is too stubborn.
  3. There is stress created by how to raise a child based on how one of us was raised.
  4. One of us is too negative or critical.
  5. One of us feels responsible for the issues in the marriage.
  6. One of us wishes the other had more time to share.
  7. There is an avoidance of conflict.
  8. One of us wishes the other was more willing to share feelings.
  9. There is difficulty completing daily tasks in the marriage.
  10. Differences between us are not resolved.

Interestingly enough, when reflecting on the first years of our marriage, we see that most of our ownproblems fit in the “Top 10 Problems in Marriages.” It wasn’t until we identified the problems related to OCD and addressed them head-on that we began to move more toward claiming the “Top Ten Strengths of a Happy Marriage.” You will find many challenges in a marriage, but the challenges of OCD add another complete layer of difficulty.

1 See Center for Disease Control Statistics.

2 See https://firstthings.org/building-a-strong-marriage/ for more details on strengths and problems in marriages.

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