What Makes Marriage Work

What Makes Marriage Work?

Consider the following statistics about marriage in the United States:

  • As of 2014, the average age of first marriage for women was 27.9, and for men it was 29.6, which has changed substantially over time (Anderson & Payne, 2016).
  • The average duration of marriages in 2015 was 8 years.
  • Men, on average, report being happier in their marriages than women. Similarly, married men report the highest life satisfaction, which is followed by married women, single men, and single women. In short, marriage is good for men!

Most of you have likely had the experience of being a guest at a wedding, or you may have even been a member of a wedding party yourself. Wedding ceremonies are often filled with hope for the new couple. On the other hand, attending weddings may also cause you to wonder what makes a marriage succeed or fail. A prominent marriage scholar who has examined this question in great detail is Dr. John Gottman, a professor at the University of Washington and one of the foremost researchers of marital quality. His body of research involves careful, systematic observation of couples in a longitudinal study. Through this work, which you examine this week, Gottman has been able to make conclusions about why some couples drift apart and why other couples not only stay together but also build strong unions.

Gottman made a key decision in his work not to use questionnaires as a tool to assess marriages. Why?

  1. Put simply, people can lie on questionnaires.
  2. People are often not aware of their communication style, so they have difficulty answering questions about it.

Instead, Gottman has chosen to use other research tools in his research lab, called the “Love Lab.” He conducts a Marital Interaction Assessment, which involves the couple having a 15-minute discussion about a recent cause of conflict. During this Marital Interaction Assessment, Gottman assesses the following:

  • Facial expression, voice tone, and body language
  • Positive affect, including humor, affection, validation, and joy
  • Negative affect, including disgust, contempt, criticism, belligerence, domineering, defensiveness, whining, tension, fear, anger, and sadness
  • Physiological measures, including heart rate, pulse, palmar skin conductance, gross motor movement, and blood assays (samples) to determine one’s immune response.

You can see a video of Gottman explaining the tools of the trade he uses when he studies marital couples in this week’s optional Learning Resources.

Gottman’s research allows him to be able to predict whether or not a couple will get divorced with 94% accuracy after watching them have a conflictual discussion (Gottman, Coan, Carrere, & Swanson, 1998). Gottman would say that the way a couple argues can tell you a lot about the future of their relationship.

In order to complete this Assignment, you watch a series of videos in which Gottman discusses his research findings. The purpose of this Assignment is to have you apply what we have learned about intimacy in developmental research to a specific romantic relationship that you know well.

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