Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Your Marriage in 2014



                                                   YOUR MARRIAGE IN 2014


With the world appearing in chaos, your health or finances precarious, the weather frightful, why should you bother to think about improving your relationship or marriage?  After a few years the importance of a marriage too often takes backstage to all the other problems and stresses in life. When battling stress you may often turn to popping pills or beers or other escape behaviors rather than looking inward and trying to improve your marriage, a source of comfort and support available 24/7 in your own home. I’m going to report on a new study with some interesting information and action plans for this purpose, and I’ll also reference other useful information. Help for your marriage is always around the corner if you look for it!


This new book, “The Normal Bar,” Northrup, Schwartz and Witte (Harmony, 2012)  studied the results of 1300 questions for over 70,000 individuals responding to internet surveys. This huge amount of data is reported and analyzed along with action plans for improvement in each section of the book.  Don’t let the numbers frighten you; the book is actually very readable and is interspersed with appropriate cartoons to maintain your interest.  But why would you even want to take this information off the bookshelf and into your home?  The divorce rate remains substantial. Marriage happiness slips over time and problems often go unresolved.  What do people select as the most important source of their personal happiness?  Over half select their marriage relationship, with children as a distant second (9% to 12%) and health comes in third (7% to 10%.) Although almost half of all people want to have unlimited incomes, happiness in marriage has almost no correlation to finances, with the richest tending even to be somewhat less happy in their marriages than others.  The book is full of ideas which work to sustain a positive marriage relationship.


It’s interesting to find out that it is normal for over half of marriage partners to pretend they are happier than they really are! Perhaps this is one reason why people avoid marriage counseling and also avoid self-improvement books on this topic.  The results of marriage counseling are less impressive than they should be because most people avoid this help until their marriages are filled with anger and arguments, almost irreconcilable.  So let’s start with information in this book. You can use it productively whether or not you seek additional assistance. In my articles I’ve been writing about the virtues of kindness, love and compassion, and so I’m thrilled to see many references in this material to this basic theme.  In happy relationships, most consider their partner a “best friend”! Marriage partners must choose to maintain positive relationships with each other. When your marriage partner is rated just as a “teammate”, these marriages were less happy and the individuals more dissatisfied.


In marriage counseling I work from two perspectives, increasing the positives through date nights  as well as dealing positively with communication and avoiding arguments. So I was thrilled to come upon this quotation, “The Normal Bar screams,’ Date night!’ The vast majority of couples who describe themselves as extremely happy also take care to spend time together alone, away from family and work routines. Even after marriage, in other words, they ‘date’.” Happier couples invest in romance, kissing, cuddling, complementing each other, using pet names, holding hands, giving back and neck rubs, intimate behavior, all positive gestures toward each other. The other main focus in couples therapy is conflict management. According to the Normal Bar, the happiest couples rate the most fulfilling things about their relationship as being good communication, friendship and affection. While a positive sexual relationship is ranked number four and certainly is important, the others are crucial.  Couples need to take time to enjoy each other, not interrupting, avoiding bickering, bossiness, yelling and criticism, and solving disagreements before they become more than occasional heated arguments.  Also important to couples is keeping up appearances for each other.  Happy couples support each other’s personal growth and their partner’s need to work. Unfortunately work pressures do strain even good marriages. Home chores are important also. Nearly half of extremely happy couples share household chores equally compared to just one third of couples who are not as happy in their relationships. The book also deals with issues which may occur in families such as secrets, lies, affairs, addictions such as pornography, alcoholism, video games, excessive shopping, abuse and intimidation and other serious relationship issues.


While this book is a great addition to resources for marriage counseling, another very helpful and classic book is “Seven Principles For Making Marriage Work” by Gottman and Silver, Harmony Books, 2000.  The book can be read by couples separately or together.  Gottman also focuses on positive relationships and points out the five to one principle (five positive interactions are needed to counteract every one negative interaction.)  Please note I have twenty articles on this website related to marriage counseling, seventeen in the Reading Room and three in this Advice Line section. 


Again, we want to remember the importance of love and compassion, to love your neighbor as yourself.  In this case the “neighbor” to be loved is your home partner!