Is There Hope for My Marriage?
Often we think an unhappy couple has only two options:
- Stay together and be miserable.
- Get a divorce.
As mentioned earlier, another study found that about 60 percent of marriages that ended in divorce were not bad marriages, but average.2 They had average levels of positive interactions and average levels of conflict. Basically, these marriages were "good enough" but could be improved. Most marriages go through emotional ups and downs - times of great happiness and times of boredom and fatigue.
To have good marriages, we need to ride out the "lows" and learn from those times so that the relationship can be strengthened. If your relationship is at a low point and you wonder what happened to the spark, there is good news. It's not too late to revitalize your relationship.
What Makes Marriages Get Better?
Researchers followed up on those couples who rated their marriages as unhappy at first and happy five years later. Here's what the couples told them were the reasons for the dramatic turnaround:3
- Waiting. Since many couples have unhappy marriages due to outside pressures (like a job loss or the demands of young children), the passage of time changed those circumstances. Things just naturally got better again.
- Working at it. Many of the problems in marriage are a result of poor communication. Some couples told the researchers they simply learned to take small steps - like listening to each other - which resulted in happier marriages. For example, husbands learned to compliment wives, and wives learned to encourage husbands.
- Personal happiness/perspective change in one spouse. Sometimes, one spouse simply decided not to base all of his or her happiness on the mood of the other spouse. Instead, one spouse took up a hobby or simply made an attitude adjustment that allowed him or her to be more patient and accepting of the other.
- Credible threat of consequences for bad behavior. Some of the marriages were initially very unhappy because the husbands were engaged in "bad behaviors" - out late drinking with the boys, infidelity or even occasional abuse.4 Just as Dr. James Dobson advises in his bookLove Must Be Tough, these wives took firm action and let their husbands know they would not tolerate such behavior. The husbands changed.
1 Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage (New York: Doubleday, 2000), p. 148.
2 Amato and Booth, 1997, p. 220.
3 Linda J. Waite, Don Browning, William J. Doherty, Maggie Gallagher, Ye Luo and Scott Stanley, "Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages," Institute for American Values, 2002,americanvalues.org/UnhappyMarriages.pdf.
4 While women are also known to exhibit these negative behaviors, in this particular study it was the men who were "misbehaving."