Posted by: Debbie Loyd | May 17, 2010

The “Friendship” Factor

What makes a marriage work? Well, today we are going to look at just the opposite to see what we can learn from failed marriages. What causes a happy, loving relationship to become one marked by anger, resentment, and ultimately, divorce? There are so many factors to consider! Some causes are obvious such as infidelity, abuse, drugs, or alcohol. If you do some research on the internet, you will find a myriad of causes cited—everything from financial issues, failed expectations, conflict over household tasks, in-laws, not trying hard enough, the internet, even snoring.  Most of the marriage literature over the last decade or two has focused on communication and conflict resolution. This seems to be an important factor but not the only one by any means.

Until recently, there hasn’t been much actual scientific research about what makes marriages succeed or fail. There at least a couple of researchers who stand out. John Gottman is probably the country’s current leading relationship expert. He has written several books, including Why Marriages Succeed or Fail and Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, and I highly recommend them. He claims that he can predict the success or failure of a couple’s marriage with 91% accuracy after listening to them interact in his lab for 5 minutes. You’ll be hearing me talk about more of his findings in future blogs. He has found that couples in long-lasting and successful marriages don’t always do well at active listening. He found that successful couples used a variety of communication styles and that which style worked was individual for each couple. The important thing about the style was that it had to work for both people. Gottman does, however, identify some communication elements that are red flags for trouble in the relationship and that he uses to predict divorce. Gottman also asserts that some marital problems are unsolvable, that all marriages have unsolvable problems, and that marriage can thrive despite these unsolvable problems.

Gottman concludes that happy, stable marriages are based on a deep friendship that includes mutual respect for and enjoyment of each other’s company. It is about how they are with each other. He has seven principles to describe this underlying friendship.

Ted Huston, professor at the University of Texas has found similar results. He found that, rather than resolving conflict, what was important was maintaining positive feelings and intimacy despite conflict. This appeared to work better when couples were realistic about each other rather than blissfully happy. Blissful couples tended to become disillusioned, and he found that this was an important factor in eroding positive feelings and intimacy. Couples that took the time to really get to know one another before marriage did better.

Huston’s work is unique in that he studied couples during courtship and early marriage. He found that the first two years of a marriage are the most vulnerable to divorce. He says that the patterns of behavior that a couple establish in the first two years of their marriage are central to their success.

I think that Gottman’s and Huston’s findings are exciting and hopeful. They are encouraging for those of us that are not yet perfect. We can succeed despite personality gliches or unsolvable problems. It’s quite possible that their “friendship” factor is a layer underneath many of the marriage-strengthening techniques that have been used for decades and which unifies them. And yet, it doesn’t seem easy to define the “friendship” they talk about, the glue that holds marriages together. In this blog site, we will be exploring what this friendship looks like. Look for more to come.

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Posted by: Debbie Loyd | May 3, 2010

Planning Beyond the Ceremony

Little girls dream about their wedding day from a young age. It’s like being a princess. There is the perfect dress, a romantic location, gorgeous flowers, even colors to choose. Most importantly, there is a knight in shining armor who ensures the “happily ever after” part of the fairy tale.

When a couple gets engaged, there is excitement about the ceremony. It is easy to get caught up in all the plans and details of the ceremony. There is so much to do, and everything has to be perfect. Ceremonies play an important role, but sometimes a couple puts a lot more into planning their wedding day which will be over in a flash and not nearly as much effort into planning the marriage itself which hopefully will last “till death do us part. They know better intellectually, but it is so enticing to have bigger and better plans. It is important to remember that the ceremony is not the destination or goal. A gorgeous and expensive wedding does not make a better marriage. In fact, going into debt for an expensive wedding may actually create problems for the relationship. Marriage really starts the day you wake up after the ceremony and honeymoon are over.

Marriage provides so many possibilities! It can be a perfect opportunity for personal growth. There is nothing like a close, intimate relationship to put one face to face with one’s own issues. It is an opportunity to create a different and better marriage/family than what one had growing up. Then there are the differences. Each partner has their own set of DNA, personality, and past experiences. There are differences in values and interests even among couples who believe they are quite similar. These differences are often a source of conflict, but there is an exciting opportunity to use these as a strength as couples learn to expand and enrich each other’s lives. They can create a “whole” that is richer than the separate “parts”.

This is my first blog on this site. My goal is to help engaged couples plan their marriages and married couples improve their relationships. I will be providing information about topics that I think will be helpful. I am a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Astoria, Oregon, and a lot of my work is with couples. I also have a premarital program for engaged couples. You can check out my web site which is debbieloyd.com.

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