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Surprising Findings on What Makes a Happy, Stable Marriage

By Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Associate Editor

happy coupleRecently, I had the pleasure of interviewing psychologist Terri Orbuch, Ph.D, about her book 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great. (Stay tuned for the article on Psych Central shortly!)

Since 1986, Orbuch …

8 Comments to
Surprising Findings on What Makes a Happy, Stable Marriage

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  1. I like Sue Johnson’s (Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples) recommendation of four six-second hugs a day. I have found it to be pretty much universally helpful to the people I work with.

    We are a species that needs touch to thrive and the six second hugs not only provide that, there is something about the length of the hugs that is important. People report that even when they’re angry at their partner, that right about five seconds into the hug their bodies relax and they feel reconnected.

    Longitudinal studies such as Orbach’s can be so rich in information. Thanks for posting about it.

  2. Thanks for the post. I thought the first finding (focus on what is working) was more interesting than the second (do sweat the small stuff). I have found in my own marriage and in my clinical work with couples that the small frustrations/problems do accumulate if not addressed. But we often miss or don’t vocalize those things that are working well in a marriage. I think part of that is simply appreciating things our spouse does and letting them know. I would’ve liked an example or two in the article.

  3. I think it is luck. You either have two people with good temperaments, or you don’t. For instance if a man or woman is rude, doesn’t take care of their responsibilties, doesn’t devote time to the relationship, there is nothing you can do about it. Bascially you need two people who have the intellectual and emotional intelligence to work and act in a fair manner with each other.

    That’s why arranged marriages are supposed to be as happy as chosen marriages. It’s just luck. There’s a certain proportion of people who are suitable for marriage, and when they pair up, for whatever reason, they will have a good marriage, and when they are not those people, it won’t be good.

  4. I agree that focusing on the good aspects instead of the negative creates the most success.

  5. These points are consistent with the research findings of Gottman, and are key components that I include in my work with couples. Of course, the tricky bit is using it in a way that respects the theory of change of both people in the couple.

  6. Focusing on what’s working in your relationship goes along well with focusing on what is going well in your life. What you focus on grows. I teach my clients to make a point to think of and be grateful for 3 things about their partner each day. Then, take the next step and actually communicate those things through messages, texts, notes or in conversation. When we are appreciated and we feel it, we have far more energy to do it again.

    As far as ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’, I find that I react more to small stuff in accordance to the shifts in hormone levels I experience throughout the month. I teach men to watch for those shifts in their partners and consider taking things less personally during those times.

  7. Some interesting comments have been made here. As a psychologist who often sees couples, many of the clients who come to me have a complete breakdown in communication and trust. There is often conflict and one thing I get them to do from the start is to put aside time daily for each person to say what they think is working in relationship and what they like about their partner. This may sound very basic but often couples in crisis forget the good things and focus on the bad.

    ‘Not sweating the small stuff’ is important too Good relationships are based on shared values and the ability of each partner to anticipate the other person’s needs without taking responsibility for them.

    Clare Mann
    Sydney Psychologist

  8. I realize that appreciating what is working in a marriage is important. That said, this article (and the accompanying comments) misses an important truth. If mutual respect isn’t present in the marriage, NOTHING in the marriage is going to work over the long-haul. Many therapists emphasize setting boundaries/communication skills. Setting boundaries won’t add up to a hill of beans with a person who won’t respect boundaries. There are too many partners who are in verbally abusive marriages who are blamed for not setting boundaries as if that somehow would change the other person’s behavior. (ask me how I know all of this–I’m not a mental health professional.) Frankly, I’m getting darned tired of mental health professionals who can’t see the forest for the trees.

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