Marital discord is well researched and has a significant amount of literature that addresses many areas of a relationship. These studies include the issues of parenting, finances, diversity issues and the acceptance of each other through clinical intervention. However, there is very little research on what makes a couple stay together when they have the same issues as couples that divorce. Using a phenomenological study, I addressed this question.
The criteria for the study included couples needing to score above 60 on the Couples Satisfaction Index (CSI) Questionnaire, a 16-item questionnaire that asked the couple members to report on different areas of their couple relationship such as needs, expectations, level of comfort, etc., in order to assess their satisfaction with their relationship (Funk & Rogge, 2007). The couples in the study had children and came from different walks of life and different ethnic and financial backgrounds. None of the couples had even been in psychotherapy for marital issues. All the couples had been married for over 16 years.
At the end of the study no matter what their backgrounds were, there were similarities that kept their unions intact. The rules they all followed made their unions survive difficult times and helped them stay together and work towards harmony and a stronger relationship.
These 6 rules helped them work through the issues and ride the wave of discourse that every union has, but in addition helped them build a better relationship with each other and their family.
Rule #1: They organized their finances early in their union and had an understanding and an acceptance of each other’s role in financial management.
Financial decision making is one of the most difficult areas of a relationship. Both members of the union come with their own set of what spending looks like. One member might have grown up in poverty and wants to spend all they make; the other might have grown up in a household where spending was viewed from a more conservative lens. In this case, if they had not discussed what money means in their relationship then they are in for a difficult ride.
Rule #2: They had an acceptance through tolerance of the role of extended family and an understanding that the couple relationship came first.
Even with healthy, extended family, there is always a grey area. Couples can see each other’s family members as helpful, over-protective or interfering. There are no relationships where the understanding of family involvement is completely established. In some cases, a partner might allow an extended family member to supersede the needs of the couple. This only builds animosity.
Rule #3: They agreed to make the rules for the kids that work for both, and agreed to uphold the rules.
Parenting is tough! In this research, it was established to be the place where most couples had their greatest disagreements. No one has a playbook. When you add all the stressors of life, it is much harder to be consistent. In addition, couples are trying to hang on to a romantic relationship. We do know children respond better when there is consistency in the rules and expectations.
Rule #4: The family comes first; time together at home and during outside activities, was experienced as a family when possible.
It is very easy to get caught up in the busyness of life. Most couples are juggling work, family, and often both partners work outside the home. When they are at home, there are all the things that need to get done! When is their time to be tighter as a family? It is important to find that balance and the one that fits your family.
Rule #5: Understanding, accepting, compromising and conceding are positive in the relationship. The relationship was not about losing but preserving the relationship.
This is where couples often have the hardest time. With different ideas and beliefs that were established in our own family of origin, couples enter the arena of a relationship with differences that often pull them apart. It is easy to want to win, and often couples don’t see it about winning but being right. However, the relationship must have the foundation that it comes first and being right comes in second place.
The couples in this study often compromised for the good of the union — and not by submissive compromise, but by preservation of the union. Compromising was about winning and winning meant the relationship was safe and fulfilling. Compromising is not about giving in, but rather about choice. It is not about changing the other person, but about acceptance through tolerance. All couples have their own personalities and idiosyncrasies and the blend of awareness and understanding from each member of the union makes it possible to work through the disagreements and problems. And come out on the other side in one piece.
Rule #6: Remembering the past and how they came together as a way to accept their differences.
The major culprit in divorce is differences! Some unions need to end for good reasons, but so many end because of differences that have not been worked out or understood. These differences start the fire that ends the relationship.
Differences often breed anger, contempt, and the decision to leave. Differences are about who we are, what we believe, and what we learned before we entered the relationship. Often these differences can seem like a personal attack or a planned attack by your partner, but often it is just how YOU see things. The person you joined with in this union is often the person you have lost sight of when there is discourse. A quality you might have been drawn to now becomes an irritation rather than a difference.