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by Lucy McCarraher & Annabel Shaw


How To Tell if your Marriage will last

Huston, a pioneer in the psychology of relationships, launched the Processes of Adaptation in Intimate Relationships (the "PAIR Project") in 1981. He followed 168 couples from their wedding day through 13 years of marriage looking at why so many marriages end in divorce. Past research suggested that newlyweds begin their life together in romantic bliss, and can then be brought down by their inability to navigate the issues that inevitably crop up during the marriage. Much of this previous research suggested that the best predictors of divorce are interactive difficulties, such as frequent expressions of antagonism, lack of respect for each other's ideas and similar interpersonal issues. But most of this research was done on couples who had been married a number of years, with many of them already well on their way to divorce. It came as no surprise, then, that researchers thought their hostility toward one another predicted the further demise of the relationship.

Huston's study was unique in that it looked at couples much earlier, before they got married and during the initial years of marriage, thus providing the first complete picture of the earliest stages of a marriage. Its four main findings were quite surprising.

First, contrary to popular belief, Huston found that many newlyweds are far from blissfully in love. Second, couples whose marriages begin in romantic bliss are particularly divorce-prone because such intensity is too hard to maintain. Believe it or not, marriages that start out with less "Hollywood romance" usually have more promising futures. Accordingly, and this is the third major finding, spouses in lasting but lacklustre marriages are not prone to divorce, as one might suspect; their marriages are less fulfilling to begin with, so there is no erosion of a Western-style romantic ideal. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, it is the loss of love and affection, not the emergence of interpersonal issues, that sends couples journeying toward divorce.

By the end of Huston's study in 1994, the couples fell into four distinct groups. They were either married and happy; married and unhappy; divorced early, within seven years; or divorced later, after seven years--and each group showed a distinct pattern.

Those who remained happily married were very "in love" and affectionate as newlyweds. They showed less ambivalence, expressed negative feelings less often and viewed their mate more positively than other couples. Most importantly, these feelings remained stable over time. By contrast, although many couples who divorced later were very affectionate as newlyweds, they gradually became less loving, more negative, and more critical of their spouse.

Indeed, Huston found that how well spouses got along as newlyweds affected their future, but the major distinguishing factor between those who divorced and those who remained married was the amount of change in the relationship over its first two years.

"The first two years are key--that's when the risk of divorce is particularly high," he says. "And the changes that take place during this time tell us a lot about where the marriage is headed."

What surprised Huston most was the nature of the changes that led to divorce: The experiences of the 56 participating couples who divorced showed that loss of initial levels of love and affection, rather than conflict, was the most salient predictor of unhappiness and divorce. This loss sends the relationship into a downward spiral, leading to increased bickering and fighting, and to the collapse of the marriage.

"This ought to change the way we think about the early roots of what goes wrong in marriage," Huston said. "The dominant approach has been to work with couples to resolve conflict, but it should focus on preserving the positive feelings. That's a very important take-home lesson."

In other words, there is more to a successful relationship than simply managing conflict - loss of intimacy appears to be the greatest predictor of a doomed marriage. When people first fall in love they also seem to fall out of reality - ignoring each other's - and the relationship's shortcomings. But after they tie the knot, hidden aspects of their personalities emerge, and idealized images give way to more realistic ones. This can lead to disappointment, loss of love and, ultimately, unhappiness and divorce.

TAKE THE MARRIAGE QUIZ - taken from the Pair projects website here

Choose the answer that best describes your level of agreement with each of the following statements:

Part 1: Our Relationship As Newlyweds
1. As newlyweds, we were constantly touching, kissing, pledging our love or doing sweet things for one another.
Strongly disagree (1pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
2. As newlyweds, how often did you express criticism, anger, annoyance, impatience or dissatisfaction to one another?
Often (1 pt.) Sometimes (2 pts.) Rarely (3 pts.) Almost never (4 pts.)
3. As newlyweds, my partner and I felt we belonged together; we were extremely close and deeply in love.
Disagree (1 pt.) Mildly agree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
4. As a newlywed, I think one or both of us were confused about our feelings toward each other, or worried that we were not right for each other.
Strongly agree (1 pt.) Agree (2 pts.) Disagree (3 pts.) Strongly disagree (4 pts.)

Part 2: Our Relationship By Our Second Anniversary
1. By our second anniversary, we were dlsappointed that we touched, kissed, pledged our love or did sweet things for one another less often than we had as newlyweds.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
2. By our second anniversary, we expressed criticism, anger, annoyance, impatience or dissatisfaction a lot more than we had as newlyweds.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
3. By our second anniversary, we fell much less belonging and closeness with one another than we had before.
Disagree (1 pt.) Mildly agree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)
4. By our second anniversary, I fell much more confused or worried about the relationship than I did as a newlywed.
Strongly disagree (1 pt.) Disagree (2 pts.) Agree (3 pts.) Strongly agree (4 pts.)

Scoring: Add up the points that correspond to your answers in Part 1. If you scored between 4 and 8, place yourself in Group "A." If you scored between 9 and 16, place yourself in Group "B."
Now add up the points that correspond to your answers in Part 2. If you scored between 4 and 8, place yourself in Group "C." If you scored between 9 and 16, place yourself in Group "D."

Your Results: Find the type of marriage first by considering your score in Part 1 (either A or B) in combination with your score in Part 2 (either C or D): If you scored A + C, read "Mixed Blessings"; If you scored A + D, read "Disengaging Duo"; If you scored B + C, read "A Fine Romance"; If you scored B + D, read "Disaffected Lovers."

Disaffected Lovers
The contrast between the giddiness you felt as newlyweds and how you felt later may cause disenchantment. While you and your spouse are still affectionate and in love, there are clouds behind the silver lining. You may bicker and disagree, which, combined with a loss of affection and love in your relationship, could give rise to the first serious doubts about your future together.

Food for Thought: Your relationship may be at risk for eventual divorce. But the pattern of decline early on does not have to continue. Ask yourself: Did we set ourselves up for disappointment with an overly romantic view of marriage? Did we assume it would require little effort to sustain? Did we take each other for granted? Did our disappointment lead to frustration and anger? Will continued bickering erode the love we have left?

A Fine Romance
You have a highly affectionate, loving and harmonious marriage. It may have lost a touch of its initial glow as the mundane realities of marriage have demanded more of your time. But you feel a certain sense of security in the marriage: The relationship's gifts you unwrapped as newlyweds continue to delight.

Food for Thought: You have the makings of a happy, stable marriage. The cohesive partnership you have maintained bodes well for its future. You will not always be happy--all marriages go through rough periods. But your ability to sustain a healthy marriage over the critical first two years suggests that you and your partner operate together like a thermostat in a home--when it's chilly, you identify the source of the draft and eliminate it, and when it's hot, you find ways to circulate cool air.

Mixed Blessings
Your marriage is less enchanting and filled with more conflict and ambivalence than Western society's romantic ideal, but it has changed little over its first two years, losing only a modicum of "good feeling." It seems to coast along, showing few signs that it will deteriorate further or become deeply distressed.

Food for Thought: This relationship may not be the romance you envisioned, but it just might serve you well. Many people in such relationships are content, finding their marriage a reassuringly stable foundation that allows them to devote their attention to career, children or other pursuits. Other people in these relationships are slightly dissatisfied, but stay married because the rewards outweigh the drawbacks. A few people may eventually leave such marriages in search of a "fine romance."

Disengaging Duo
You and your mate are not overly affectionate and frequently express displeasure with one another. In contrast to those in a marriage of "mixed blessings," the love you once felt diminished soon after the wedding, and you became more ambivalent about the relationship. You may already have a sense that your relationship is on shaky ground.

Food for Thought: Your relationship may be in immediate trouble. You may have married hoping that problems in the relationship would go away after the wedding, but they didn't. Ask yourself: Did I see our problems coming while we were dating? Did I think they would dissolve with marriage? What kinds of changes would I need to see in my partner in order to be happy? How likely are they to occur? How bad would things have to get before the marriage would no longer be worthwhile?

There is a great deal more research on the predictors of a good marriage and much of it from Huston and his team.

For one effective way of improving almost any relationship, check The Real Secret Step 8, "Richer Relationships". It is available in paperback and kindle format on and , most other online booksellers and can be ordered through bookshops.

Posted by Annabel

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