Predicting Marital Success or Failure


, 1996, p. 12). Vitalized couples had the highest levels of satisfaction. Fowers et al. note that satisfaction is not synonymous with stability, as many dissatisfied couples stay married (1996, p. 2). Dissatisfaction alone is not enough to predict marital success or failure. Defining relationships as virtualized, harmonious, traditional, and conflicted better allows for the development of premarital intervention programs. Couples who were administered PREPARE and canceled their wedding plans advised they did so due to overall relationship problems (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 7). This suggests PREPARE could assist couples in identifying relationship difficulties and help those at high-risk of marriage failure to reconsider their options.

Additional researchers also emphasize the period before marriage is a key indicator of marital success. The premarital timeframe allows couples to learn about themselves and each other, and courtship practices initiate a marital tone. During the premarital and courtship period couples are able to evaluate such relationship elements as communication ability, conflict resolution, and personality compatibility (Strong et al., 2011). Couples typically have an indication of these practices within their relationship well before marriage, and have an awareness of their overall happiness. It is not profound to assume unhappy couples prior to marriage are more likely to remain unhappy during their marriage (Strong et al., 2011).

There are three types of prototypical courtship experiences which showcase predictors of marital outcome: rocky and turbulent courtships, sweet and undramatic courtships, and passionate courtships (Strong et al., 2011). The dynamics of the premarital courtship speak to the personality traits of each individual, and their combined compatibility, which are significant determinants of marital quality. An example provided by Strong et al. describes warmhearted and even tempered personality traits to be more conducive to happy and stable marriages (2011, p. 282). Rocky and turbulent courtships are characterized by anger, periods of being upset, distress, and jealousy over potential relationship rivals (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282). Personalities associated with rocky and turbulent courtships are characterized by lack of conscientiousness, high anxiety, being exceedingly independent minded, and having overall "difficult" personalities (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282). If the male is excessively independent minded, marriages tend to be frail as these individuals tend to make poor spouses. If two high anxiety people marry each other, however, marriages appear to be lasting but relatively unhappy (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282).

Sweet and undramatic courtships are characterized by personalities that are considered warmhearted, helpful, sensitive to needs of others, and are empathetic (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282). These couples often find enjoyment in each other's company and this is predictive of a fulfilling and lasting marriage. Passionate courtships are marked by individuals who dive into love, have sex early in the relationship, and commit to marriage within the first few months of the relationship (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282). Couples experiencing passionate courtship engage with blind optimism and high levels of affection and physical intimacy. Passion typically begins to decline for these couples after the first few years of marriage and then become susceptible to divorce (Strong et al., 2011, p. 282). Courtships often reflect the personality traits of the couple, and it is the responsibility of the individuals to use their combined traits to nurture their marriage.

Every individual who enters a relationship subsequently introduces their background, and background factors, into the partnership. Background factors are predictors of marital outcomes due to their associated personality traits, and how these factors can enhance or deter the strength of the relationship. Age at the time of marriage is one of the most considerable factors in affecting marital success or failure. Individuals who marry at a younger age, notably younger than the age of 20, are at greater risk of marriage failure (Strong et al., 2011, p. 283). Failed marriages that were entered upon at a younger age could be explained by lack of maturity and high impulsivity, which would detract from shared emotional depth between partners and overall connectedness (Strong et al., 2011, p. 283). In the United States, individuals are more likely to marry young if they are white, a rural southerner, and from families of low socioeconomic status. People are more likely to marry in their early twenties based on shared religion, education, and socioeconomic background (Strong et al., 2011, p. 283). Length of courtship is another background factor related to marital success. Those who experience longer dating and courtship periods are more inclined to evaluate their levels of compatibility, translating into likelihood of a more successful marriage. Those who are slow to commit, however, and experience "up-and-down" relationships tend to be less satisfied in marriage and more likely to divorce (Strong et al., 2011, p. 283). Education is a noted background factor as it can affect additional resources such as income, insight, and status, which influence how an individual fills a marital role. Parental divorce may influence someone to be hesitant to marry, ultimately affected a relationship, and highly religious individuals have greater probability of experiencing happy and stable marriages (Strong et al., 2011, p. 283). Background factors highlight the foundation of an individual prior to engaging in a relationship, and these factors will eventually contribute to the context of the marriage, couple interaction, and marital stability.

The concept of relationship transitions is a telling factor establishing how one grows within and between relationships, and influences how one behaves, perceives, and contributes to marital outcomes (Ferguson, 2004). Individuals generally begin to engage with ideas of dating and relationships during adolescence, and each "crush," date, and relationship presents an opportunity to learn about oneself and relationship values. To negotiate relationship transitions, individuals must become more sophisticated in relationship knowledge, skills, and attitudes to explore successful relationships (Ferguson, 2004).

One predictor of relationship transition is changes in intimacy. Changes in levels of intimacy have been attributed to transitions within and between relationships. Intimacy shares a relationship with passion, as stronger passion is often a result of increased intimacy and stable intimacy (whether high or low) produces low passion (Ferguson, 2004). Although romantic beliefs are not considered to have an effect on longevity, couples tend to experience declines in their romantic beliefs prior to dissolution (Ferguson, 2004). Decreasing romantic beliefs can be an indicator of marital failure. Significant indicators of relationship transition or failure within the premarital period include: the amount of time the couple spends together, racial differences, lack of support from a partner's social network, and length of the relationship (Ferguson, 2004). Factors predicting marital failure are also attributed to certain individual and personality traits, such as lack of caring, excessive need for control, instability, age discrepancy, lack of commitment, and unequal involvement in the relationship (Ferguson, 2004). There is also a "fatal attraction" element that predicts marital failure which refers to the qualities that are disliked in a partner (to the point of prompting divorce), were once the same qualities that made the individual initially attractive (Ferguson, 2004). This harbors a "doomed from the beginning" phenomenon arising from opposing needs from the relationship, for example, a longing for intimacy coupled with a desire for independence (Ferguson, 2004).

As detailed by Ferguson, individuality is one of the predictors of a successful marriage (2004). Each partner in the relationship must achieve a level of individuality where one "knows" themselves, has a concept of personal value, ethics, wants, and needs. By knowing what one deems important and understanding one's own priorities, it allows for the partners to better connect physically and emotionally (Ferguson, 2004). Individuals must have some knowledge of self, as this is also important to identifying problems within a relationship. Partners must be willing to admit to their own contributions to a problem and not simply blame the relationship (Charny, 2006, p. 29). As previously mentioned, individual differences such as personality, social network support, attitude and even birth order have impact on marital success. First-borns tend to express the most irrational beliefs about relationships in comparison to last-borns, which express the least (Ferguson, 2004).

Effective communication and empathy skills are two of the most important factors predicting marital success. Practicing communication is one of the standards of marriage and family counseling and aims to identify factors that can improve communication, recognize timing of communication, and when to pause an argument before it reaches escalation (Ferguson, 2004). For a marriage to succeed, it is important not to avoid conflict, but establish successful tools to achieve conflict resolution. Reaching healthy, non-threatening conflict resolution, while both partners feel validated, is associated with romantic satisfaction (Ferguson, 2004). The ability for partners to empathize with each other is critical to sustaining a satisfying and stable marriage (Ferguson, 2004). Empathy promotes positive social interaction and understanding within a relationship. As a relationship progresses it is critical each person can…