What makes a committed relationship (e.g. marriage) work? It’s more than saying “I love you” and celebrating an anniversary together. It takes effort…not just any effort.
Research on what makes a marriage work shows that people in a good marriage have completed these psychological “tasks”:
- Separate emotionally from the family you grew up in; not to the point of estrangement, but enough so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings.
- Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy and identity, while at the same time set boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy.
- Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations.
- If you have children, embrace your role as a parent to help lessen the impact of the baby’s entrance into your marriage.
- Work together to confront and conquer all of the inevitable challenges of life (e.g. caregiving, job change and moving, a special needs child).
- Be strong together despite any adversity. Marriage is your safe haven. It should be a “space” in which you and your partner can able to express differences, anger and conflict (and love!).
- Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation.
- Nurture and comfort each other.
- Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love. Remember how you felt when you met, remember the excitement of your first date, remember the moment of proposal…it’s endless once you start!
- Bookwala, J. (2016). Couple Relationships in the Middle and Later Years: Their Nature, Complexity, and Role in Health and Illness. American Psychological Association Publications.
- Gottman, J. (1994). What Makes Marriage Work? It’s how you resolve conflict that matters most. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 1, 2018 from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/articles/199403/what-makes-marriage-work.
- Sood A. Relationships (2015). In: The Mayo Clinic Handbook for Happiness: A 4-Step Plan for Resilient Living. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press/Lifelong Books.