What Makes Marriage Last - Older Adults in Long-Term Marriages

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What Makes Marriages Last: Older Adults and Long-Term Marriages

Studies about successful long-term marriages are important in assisting social and mental health professionals, theorists and researchers provide accurate data in order to develop successful counseling and instruction towards successful matrimonial unions. Couples who express satisfaction in their long-term marriage relationships are often found to have been successful in five particular areas of communication and support, including commitment to each other, deeply caring and great compassion for each other, focus on each other and shared values and goals, physical intimacy, and reliance upon each other (Connidis, 2010, p. 53). While marriages and the success or downfalls thereof are not always able to be defined in black and white, in reference to clinical research findings, research and family theories provide a valuable window into the building blocks of strong marriages. It is in this respect we examine some of the main points of successful long-term marriages.

Communication, Support, and Commitment

Systems theory explains that the parts of any system must be in communication in order for the system to function (Winek, 2010, p. 15) and that without good communication in a marriage the nurture and growth and thereby support of the relationship will not be successful. Communication is verbal and non-verbal. Signals that a spouse is listening and caring to his partner can include soft looks and touches while each are speaking, leaning in to listen to each other, and turning one’s body in the direction of the other person. These actions and the manner in which each relay information to the other is an important means of communicating that, regardless the topic, they are respecting and caring for the other person and valuing each other’s contribution to the relationship.

Support is a key ingredient in a secure relationship and is irrevocably a basic building block of strong marriages. There will always be conflict in any relationship, however major or slight, and the best of marriages has its ups and downs, but how they are discussed and handled can make or break the security and sense of support in the relationship. In a study of emotional behaviors in long-term marriages of middle aged and older couples, it was discovered that “. . . the resolution of important conflicts was less negatively emotional and more affectionate than in middle-aged marriages (Carstensen, Gottman & Levenson, 1995, p. 11).” The findings were that the older couples discussed negative topics in a more positive manner as they were more likely to intertwine loving and supportive remarks and comments among the discussion of the marital conflict item (Carstensen, 1995, p. 11). Humor and affection goes a long way when couples talk with each other. The style in which a husband and wife relay their information to each other can say much about how they see the other and how they respect one another, value each other, and display support to each other. Commitment to each other is a quality that builds a stronger and happier relationship. Being committed to the partner, not just the ideal of marriage, is the cement that allows other qualities to strengthen the couple’s relationship. Connidis (2010) references certain qualities that are distinct in long-term marriages: love; mutual trust, respect and support; loyalty and fidelity; mutual give and take; deep caring and compassion for each other, and other solid building blocks of happy marriages (p. 69).

Shared Values and Goals

Socioemotional selectivity theory tells us that with the passing of time, older adults perceive that with the lessening of time their attention shifts to more emotionally meaningful and positive experiences, in effect sculpting and regulating their social relationships toward a more meaningful set of goals and values (Carstensen, Fung & Charles, 2003, p. 104). This...
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