What Does a Healthy Marriage Look Like?

June 16th, 2011

Recently, I read an article on CNN about how to fix “mediocre marriages.” The article goes on to give “tips” on helping your marriage by saying you should “change what marriage means” by sleeping in separate bedrooms, taking a marriage sabbatical, or practicing an open-marriage.

I personally thought the article was pretty ridiculous. I kept thinking to myself, “What’s the point of being married if you are acting like this?” My husband and I discussed it wondering what people were really thinking about marriage these days. My husband then said, “It really just comes down to what people’s definition of marriage is.”Researchers at Child Trends, a non-partisan, social policy research organization in Washington D.C., have helped answer my question about how to define marriage. They were asked by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services to figure out what it means to have a healthy marriage. They conducted a thorough survey of research on marriage to find out what characteristics are evident in healthy marriages and helps make them work.

They preceded their study by clarifying how healthy marriages are not an either/or thing. But instead every marriage has some strengths and some weaknesses. These can also change over time. If a couple is committed to the relationship, healthy qualities can be learned, changed, or modified.

With those key points in mind, the Child Trends researchers listed 10 important characteristics that are evident in healthy marriages. We have already discussed a few of these characteristics in previous Stronger Marriage blog posts but I thought it would be helpful to show a list of some of the characteristics they talked about.

  1. Commitment to the Couple & Fidelity: This means to have a long-term perspective about the relationship, being willing to persevere when difficulties arise and committing to care for the other person. It also means to have dedication to your partner and having the desire to invest, improve and sacrifice for a relationship. Being faithful is very important to making a marriage work (as we talked about in this post).
  2. Satisfaction: Individual satisfaction is important to a marriage. This doesn’t mean that one should have selfish motivations in thinking only their happiness matters. But each individual’s happiness is important to make a marriage work.
  3. Communication & Conflict Resolution: We have talked about communication a little bit here and here. The Child Trends report says that it is not so much the amount of communication a couple has but the quality and nature of the communication. They said, “Positive communication is respectful and has been characterized as involving compromise and humor.” This goes along well with conflict resolution since it also involves a lot of communication and compromise. Every couple will have disagreements but it is how the couple goes about problem solving that helps them create healthy relationships.
  4. Interaction and Time Together: Spending quality time together is also an important element to creating a healthy marriage. As we discussed when talking about Love Languages, quality time can be even more important to some individuals than others. It’s critical to have positive interactions with each other and enjoy time together.
  5. Intimacy and Emotional Support: An important foundation that relationships should be built upon is feelings of trust, caring, and love. By focusing on each other and expressing feelings of love, couples can draw closer together.

Other characteristics the report listed were commitment to children, lack of domestic violence, and duration and legal marital status. You can read the full article here. (Is that enough links for you?)

What do you think it means to be married? What else do you think makes a marriage stay healthy and strong? Tell us about in the comments!