Divorce and marital satisfaction are not in the stars or a matter of luck. They are highly predictable. In fact it is embarrassingly rare for clinical psychology to be able to predict much, but divorce and marriage satisfaction is are stunning exceptions. Jon Gottman’s research in particular has helped us understand every strong intimate relationship is made up of four basic factors. These are the basic anatomy of a healthy marriage: Friendship, Emotional Intimacy, Conflict Style, and Shared Dreams.
If your marriage has a strong friendship component, you enjoy and admire your partner. Spending time together is pleasurable and can be fun. You cooperate to negotiate daily living tasks fairly and with respect.
But friendship without emotional intimacy leads to living like roommates or – when children are involved – a joint venture in meeting responsibilities of parenting. These are worthwhile tasks but tasks that alone do not provide for a happy marriage. Emotional intimacy involves a daily and weekly connection at a deeper level, knowing the ebbs and flows of your partner’s emotional life over time. This knowledge and connection needs to be refreshed frequently to avoid it becoming stale and intellectual. And 15-20% of emotional intimacy depends on sexual intimacy.
Many people are surprised to learn marital conflict in general does not predict marital dissatisfaction or divorce but how you do conflict does. Emotional withdrawal, criticism/attack, defensiveness, and contempt or put downs have been dubbed the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse because they are so detrimental to marital health and happiness, like throwing acid on the relationship.
Lastly, shared dreams are the glue that holds it all together and gives the entire marriage direction over decades. It is the part that inspires us to look at the next horizon as chapters of the marriage pass. A portion of your individual and marital dreams need to intersect with your partners for the marriage to have direction and passion to last a lifetime.
Perhaps you want to learn more about your relationship or strengthen areas of weakness. Or perhaps you’re at a particularly low point and worried about the overall health of the marriage. Maybe your personal happiness is limited by high conflict or emotional distance in the marriage. All of these can be addressed by marriage counseling. If you have questions please call me or write to me. I’m Dr. John Petersen, Clinical Psychologist and South Bend Marriage Counselor. Relationship issues make up over half of my clinical pracice. Schedule an appointment online or contact me. My phone number is 574-280-8199, and my email is [email protected].