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Defining Successful Marriages

What makes a marriage successful?  Is it when couples reach a certain milestone, like a 50th anniversary?  Or when they are able to raise well-adjusted children?  Or just when two people continue to want to be around each other most days?

As part of my Master’s thesis (Skutezky, 2013), one of my research aims was to better understand this concept of success in marriage.  I know that most people start to glaze over when they hear the word research, but bear with me!

 

Asking People about their Relationships

It was actually fascinating stuff – I was interviewing people (most of whom were strangers to me) about the juicy ins and outs of their relationships.  More specifically, I was asking participants, who considered themselves to be in a successful marriage of 10 years or more, what their definition of a successful marriage was.  I was also asking, what helped and hindered them in achieving this.  So in other words, what works in relationships and what doesn’t?

I conducted in depth interviews and then analyzed our conversations using the Enhanced Critical Incident Technique (Butterfield et. al, 2005).   Not that this is particularly relevant to whoever is reading this, but for those research buffs out there… I highly recommend it.

 

Findings

I wanted to share a bit about my findings, as they continue to inform both my personal and professional work today. Plus, I might as well put all that time and work to good use, right?

After months (which seemed like years) of listening to these interviews over and over, typing them all out, and ripping them into little bits of paper so I could move them between piles with ease, I tried to make some sense of what my participants had talked about.  

 

Relationships change over Time

Many people shared that their concept of successful marriage had changed over time, for example in the beginning of the marriage, there is more emphasis on romance and passion, and as time goes on, it’s more about companionship.  In general, they talked about a successful marriage not necessarily as one that just lasts.  Endurance may be the reward of a successful marriage, but does not necessarily define it.

 

Success does not mean Perfection

Rather, the emphasis was on having friendship at its core, being balanced, and consisting of respect, commonality, and commitment.  Another interesting observation was that a successful marriage was not considered one that is perfect where partners are happy all of the time.  Rather it is one that grows stronger through the process of accepting that it takes work and isn’t always easy.  I don’t know about you, but this gives me reassurance on the days when things aren’t going so smoothly.

These are all things to keep in mind either as you enter marriage or work through difficulties.  So… how would you define success in your relationship?  

 

I’d be curious to hear your ideas and feedback – feel free to post your comments below.

 

And if you’d like to learn more about the results of my research, including what I found helped and hindered in the development of successful marriages, I’ve decided to make the results of my thesis available here.  

I’ve spared you the 200+ page document, but if you’d like to see more, please contact me: counsellorruth@gmail.com

Thanks for reading!

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