Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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New Years Resolution: A Good Marriage


As we start each new year the media usually suggests resolutions about exercise and weight control but rarely calls attention to the need to renew commitment to your marriage and family. For this new year, 2005, consider a resolution to enrich your marriage. This article will provide information about the lifelong challenges in maintaining a good marriage. After the initial romance fades in a new marriage some couples become disillusioned, feeling that a good marriage is a fiction. These couples may have judged their relationship from the fantasy that in marriage "two become one." In reality there are three primary entities in a marriage; each partner needs to maintain his or her own individual separate life while the couple joins together in the marriage relationship. More complexity is added when children are born. The needs and desires of all must be maintained. Half of all marriages eventually end in divorce, some couples simply struggle along resigned to their unhappy fate, but other lifelong marriages are deeply satisfying to the partners and children.

This brief article can only provide an overview of information to consider in your resolution to cherish the positives in your relationship and to deepen and strengthen the marriage to withstand the many challenges of modern American life. I call your attention to a book entitled "Good Marriage. How and Why Love Lasts" authored by Judith Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Houghton Mifflin, 1995. The name Judith Wallerstein may sound familiar and, indeed, Wallerstein is the psychologist who spent her career studying divorce. It is therefore fitting that she has turned her attention to researching the qualities which enable long-term marriages to succeed. In her book Wallerstein chronicles the results of an intensive study of 50 couples who describe their marriages as happy and long-lasting, 10 to 40 years in duration. The author notes that the study sample consisted of white, middle-class, well-educated California adults with children.

For ongoing happiness, Wallerstein's study describes the centrality of mutual respect, understanding and appreciation within the marital relationship. These couples felt that creating and cherishing the marriage and the family was the major commitment of their adult lives. This book provides hope that such marriages are possible for everyone despite the challenges and frustrations encountered and the compromises and sacrifices made along the way. Wallerstein's book describes both first and second marriages; one failed marriage does not preclude a second successful relationship. Wallerstein found the major difference between failed and successful marriages is that these long-term marriage partners created a strong foundation for the relationship and continued to reinforce the commitment despite the inevitable problems.

Wallerstein's book provides a perspective that a New Year's resolution is only a small part of a marriage contract. She describes nine tasks which emerge during the course of marriage, all of which must be encountered and worked through in order to maintain a successful marriage. As you think about this list you will realize that all marriages face these challenges from time to time. Because these issues recur periodically during the marriage, it is encouraging to understand that these challenges can be mastered. Briefly stated, the tasks include: separation from one's own parents; building togetherness while allowing each partner's autonomy; raising children while preserving the couple's relationship; confronting adversity and managing stress; expressing differences, including anger and conflict; maintaining a loving intimate relationship; sharing pleasure, interests and humor; providing nurturance and comfort to each other; keeping love alive while facing the challenges of time.

Wallerstein's book shares the stories of many very human individuals who made their marriages work. The study provides the insight that happy marriages are not perfect and that problems in your marriage can be resolved with mutual commitment to this goal. Marriage counseling is an important tool in helping couples cope with the nine tasks inherent in marriage as well as other life stress such as career and parenting problems. Sometimes one spouse will resist counseling, but the other partner can work on a marriage individually with good results.