Is Your Marriage Bliss, or a Miss?
Great Date, Great Mate?
The success factors
About 25 or 30 factors should be taken into account when predicting relationship success, says Jeffry Larson, PhD, professor and director of the marriage and family therapy graduate programs at Brigham Young University, who recently taught colleagues about the topic in a program sponsored by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Some are obvious factors such as personality differences, says Larson, author of Should We Stay Together?
Among the pairings he feels have little chance of long-term success: Those in which there are significant religious differences, and those in which one person is the party type and the other isn't. Despite the old wisdom that opposites attract, he advises against such relationships. "It makes marriage interesting," he says, "but difficult."
Another red flag: A couple who have a conflict every time they go out, but think marriage will smooth things over. Engaged couples, he finds, chalk it up to pre-wedding pressure or anxiety. But he tells them that marriage is more stressful than dating or living together.
The three-minute litmus test
Aside from personality factors and argument frequency, pay attention to your arguing style, suggest Larson and other therapists. It is telling -- and predictive. There's nothing wrong with arguing, but hostility during arguments is a very bad sign, Larson says.
Fighting style is very much an indicator of whether a relationship will last, agrees Sybil Carrere, PhD, a research psychologist and assistant professor of family and child nursing at the University of Washington School of Nursing, Seattle, who has conducted many studies with John Gottman, PhD, known as the University of Washington's marriage research guru.
After observing couples argue, Carrere and her co-researchers found, they could predict divorce among newlyweds based on the first three minutes of an argument. Couples who ultimately divorced were more likely to start the dialogue with an attack on their partner's character, says Carrere. Something like: You never tell me what is going on. You always hold in everything.
"When someone comes at you that way, it is hard to come back in a positive fashion," Carrere says. And so the fight escalates. "It reminds me of 8-year-olds fighting," she says.