One Simple Way to Maintain a Happy Marriage
Why some couples walk down the aisle and into the sunset.
Posted November 15, 2020 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
We have all seen happy couples whose relaxed interaction appears effortless. Content and comfortable, they genuinely appear to enjoy each other’s company. Does this happen naturally or is there a way to intentionally cultivate and maintain positive chemistry? Should we assume that couples who seem to be happy in public never argue—or have they learned to gracefully communicate conflict? Research provides some answers.
For Better or for Worse
Despite marital promises pledging to honor and cherish each other for better or for worse, most couples would agree that keeping their vows are easier in good times than in bad. Yet conflict-free relationships are hardly the norm; the key is how couples respond to conflict. This is an important factor contributing to marital satisfaction because relational quality is significantly emotion-dependent. Think about it: How many couples do you know that enjoy prosperity and profit, health and wealth, yet are still unhappy?
We all know that money won’t buy you love, and the best things in life are often free. Some of the free perks of marriage include long-term relational stability and satisfaction. Yet positive communication is key to enhancing relational happiness and well-being. As an added bonus, research reveals that positivity has relational benefits even when couples have areas of marital disagreement or dissatisfaction.
Marcela C. Otero et al. (2020) explored the association between positivity resonance and long-term marital satisfaction.[i] They define positivity resonance as “a synthesis of shared positive affect, mutual care, and concern, plus behavioral and biological synchrony,” noting that it is believed to promote a spectrum of positive outcomes which include relationship satisfaction. Otero et al. sought to determine whether long-term married couples experienced positivity resonance in connection with shared positive affect, and whether positivity resonance would independently produce marital satisfaction.
Interestingly, their study involved, among other measures, couples being observed discussing areas of marital disagreement, in addition to other topics. Their results indicated that positivity resonance was linked with the frequency of shared positive affect, and the effect of positivity resonance on marital satisfaction remained significant even after controlling for the affective tone of conflict conversation.
The Power of Positive Communication
Otero et al. note their findings are significant not only because of increasingly high divorce rates, but also because of the importance of exploring what factors contribute to marital satisfaction. They note that prior research has determined that shared affect is one of the most powerful predictors of marital satisfaction, but largely focused on the impact of reciprocated negative behavior on marital satisfaction. They note that negative interaction patterns, which include being stubborn, defensive, demanding, or completely withdrawing from conversation, have not surprisingly been found to be linked with higher levels of marital dissatisfaction.
On the other hand, Otero et al. remind us that because an absence of negative interaction patterns does not automatically suggest the presence of positive interaction, the study of relationships has also examined positive interaction between spouses, including expressing affection, appreciation, forgiveness, and a spirit of willingness to work on relationship concerns. They note that positive relational dynamics can counteract the adverse effects of negative affect, as well as contribute to relational quality.
Their results showed that behaviorally coded positivity resonance was linked to marital satisfaction, consistent with the prediction that it was also linked with relationship well-being. The authors suggest that although their findings are correlational, causality may be reciprocal, which would indicate what they aptly term as “upward spiral” processes, in which preexisting relationship satisfaction may facilitate positivity resonance.
Till Death Do We Part: Walking Down the Aisle and Into the Sunset
Marital vows in which partners pledge to stay together for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, are designed to promote and honor marriage as a lifetime covenant. Tempering inevitable, negative emotional exchanges with consistent, positive communication is a healthy way to keep peace and harmony during the honeymoon period, and maintain relational quality for life.
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[i] Otero, Marcela C., Jenna L. Wells, Kuan-Hua Chen, Casey L. Brown, Dyan E. Connelly, Robert W. Levenson, and Barbara L. Fredrickson. 2020. “Behavioral Indices of Positivity Resonance Associated with Long-Term Marital Satisfaction.” Emotion 20 (7): 1225–33. doi:10.1037/emo0000634.supp (Supplemental).