Marriage and Intimate Partnerships
Approximately 90% of Americans expect to marry at some point in their lives, and most expect their marriages to be successful (DeFrain & Olson, 1999). But what does it mean for a marriage to be successful? Are successful marriages simply ones that remain intact for multiple years? Common sense suggests that marital success is about more than just remaining married. One is not hard pressed to find couples that are married, but not happily married or committed to their marriage. In this chapter, we begin by examining what makes for a successful marriage. Next, we explore how successful marriages are maintained over time. Work by some of the best researchers in marital communication focuses attention on the behaviors and perceptions characteristic of spouses in successful marriages. In other words, how do successfully married spouses behave and communicate in their marriages, or how do they think about their marriages so as to set themselves apart from less successful spouses? Finally, how specific is the “formula” for a successful marriage or intimate partnership? Is there more than one way to make a marriage work? Our examination of various “couple types” proves that there is more than one way for intimate partnerships to work. Although there are some general principles common to successful marriages, not all successful couples approach relational processes in the same manner. We also explore similarities and differences in heterosexual and homosexual intimate relationships. We close the chapter by examining whether the same things that make for success early in a marriage work in long-term marriages.
Throughout history, marital success has been judged according to both institutional and companionate criteria. Institutional criteria measure the extent to which marriage meets the instrumental needs and desires of an individual and society. For example, does the marriage preserve socioeconomic structure, produce children, or uphold religious tradition? Companionate criteria measure the extent to which marriage fulfills psychological needs and desires, including emotional security, happiness, intimacy, or, as Cooper (1999) describes, the “sentiments” of marriage (p. 22). Some scholars argue that a little over a century ago an extreme historical shift took place, in which the sentiments of romantic love usurped institutional considerations, particularly in the Western world (e.g., Shorter, 1975). Other moderate perspectives argue that at most any point in history, marital success has required attention to both institutional and companionate