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What Makes a Happy, Successful Marriage?

Predictors for satisfying, stable, and sexual relationships

A healthy marriage is satisfying, stable, and sexual. The following factors are most predictive of a healthy marriage.

A. Historical factors

1. Growing up in an intact, functional family

2. Parents were a good, not perfect, marital and sexual model

3. Both parents functioned well psychologically

B. Pre-disposing factors

4. At least 21 at time of marriage and not pregnant

5. Marry for positive reasons: to share your life with your spouse. Marriage not driven by negative motivations such as fear of loneliness, parental or peer pressure, rescue a floundering life

6. Know partner for at least one year

7. Commonalities in terms of socio-economic class, race, religion, education

8. Physical attraction with potential to develop an intimate sexual relationship

9. Discuss important life organization issues: work, money, children, where to live

10. Support of family and friends

11. Prospective spouse as a respectful, trusting friend

12. If cohabitating, treating the marital decision as a proactive choice, not sliding into marriage

13. Sharing important information about self, no major secrets

C. Process factors

14. Marital bond of respect, trust, and intimacy grows stronger and more resilient in the first two years of marriage

15. Develop a mutually agreed-on couple style for handling differences and conflicts

16. Wait at least two years before the birth of a planned, wanted child

17. Develop a comfortable, functional couple sexual style which integrates intimacy, pleasuring, and eroticism

18. Accept that approximately 30% of problems are resolvable, 50-60% are modifiable, and that 10-20% need to be accepted and coped with

19. Maintain positive, realistic personal and marital expectations

20. Use the guideline of a 5 to 1 positive-negative set of thoughts, feelings, and behavior toward your spouse and marriage

I encourage each spouse (or partner) to honestly assess each factor on a five point scale:

++ A major strength

+ A positive factor

0 neutral

- A vulnerability

-- A major vulnerability

Be honest with yourself; don't give the politically correct or socially desirable answer.

Next, share and discuss these factors.

Find your results less-than satisfactory? Here's what each category means for your relationship:

  • Historical factors increase awareness, but are not in your control and are not changeable.
  • The pre-disposing factors are potentially changeable. You and your partner need to share strengths and vulnerabilities in assessing your challenges in creating and maintaining a healthy marriage.
  • Process factors are most in your control and potentially the most changeable. However, follow the guideline of factor 18, make wise decisions (those which will be helpful emotionally and practically and work in both the short and long term). A sign of an unhealthy marriage is making decisions that are emotional and short term, but not wise.

Remember, the focus of this self, partner, and relationship assessment is to empower you to create a satisfying, stable, and sexual marriage. If you identify major personal and relational vulnerabilities I encourage you to seek professional counseling to address these issues and give you the resources to create and maintain a healthy marriage.

Resource: McCarthy, Barry & McCarthy, Emily (2004). Getting It Right the First Time: Creating a Healthy Marriage. Routledge

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