Family

Secrets of a Lasting Marriage

It starts with an appreciation for a spouse's positive traits — something our popular culture does little to emphasize

Many American adults choose not to honor their marriage vows when their relationship hits harder times than they expected. The failure of marriage commitments has increased among baby boomers since the 1990s. A recent report from the Pew Research Center cites a divorce rate that has roughly doubled between 1990 and 2015 among adults over age 50.

The weakness or absence of lasting commitment in many marriages is magnified by the divorce rate of baby boomers who are remarried. Among this group, the divorce rate has tripled since the 1990s.

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Younger adults are also contributing to the problem. The divorce rate for adults younger than 50 is about twice that of adults who are older than 50.

Benjamin Karney is a professor of psychology and co-director of the Relationship Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles. In a university report, Karney was quoted: “When people say, ‘I’m committed to my relationship,’ they can mean two things. One thing they can mean is, ‘I really like this relationship and want it to continue.’ However, commitment is more than just that.”

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Karney and his co-director for the Relationship Institute, psychology professor Thomas Bradbury, conducted an 11-year study of 172 married couples. They discovered that there is a difference between couples who say, “I like this relationship and I am committed to it,” couples who say, “I’m committed to doing what it takes to make this relationship work.”

Karney and Bradbury discovered that those couples willing to make sacrifices in their marriages and do the work are more likely to remain married. They were also more likely to have happy marriages.

In popular culture, love comes in many flavors — all with the same label but different ingredients. But only one love is infused with lasting commitment. This love is found in marriages in which couples willingly make sacrifices for each other. Their love is deeper than the emotional excitement they feel toward each other. Sacrificial love is altruistic, given without self-interest. A husband or wife expressing this love does so to fulfill the needs and dreams of the spouse, with the goal of cultivating and sustaining a thriving relationship. It’s the kind of love the Bible refers to in 1 Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter.

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Related: The Secrets of a Non-Boring Marriage

Additional research by psychologist John Gottman sheds light on what contributes to a lasting marriage commitment. Gottman’s research at the University of Washington in Seattle derives its conclusions from decades of studying hundreds of married couples. Gottman has discovered that the way a spouse goes about comparing the partner to other potential or imagined mates has a profound effect on the strength of his or her commitment to the marriage relationship.

Related: Love and Marriage: They’re Worth the Fight

We’re familiar with the husbands who compare their wives negatively to other women, and wives who wish their husbands were more like other men. An example is a husband who warms up to the compliments he receives from the attractive woman he works with — and dreads going home to his critical wife. Another example is the wife who appreciates the compliments on her appearance she receives from the kind man next door — and how she wishes her husband would turn off the TV and notice her more. (go to page 2 to continue reading)  [lz_pagination]

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