wedding ring small.jpgThe Science Behind Successful Marriage

Danielle Leavitt

2/11/13


It’s that time of the year—when love rings loud through the air and fills up hearts and grocery store aisles. So you think you’re in love? Will the relationship last?

While romantic relationships are hinged on the sometimes unexplainable feelings adoration and affection, they are also comprised of elements that can be analyzed and predicted.

The Relate Questionnaire, an online survey developed by the Relate Institute at BYU, provides a way to analyze potential strengths, weaknesses, and problem areas in a relationship, making it easier to talk about problems areas and improve ourselves.

Dean Busby, director of the RELATE Institute recommends the questionnaire as a first approach for couples. “It’s a beginning step to help identify what is working and what is not and to allow the couple to begin talking about that,” Busby said.

The RELATE Questionnaire analyzes five core areas that affect relationships (family of origin, values, personality, communication, and general relationship outcomes), assisting couples in assessing their own relationships, as well as helping individuals identify the strengths and weaknesses they will bring to a relationship. The questionnaire results have also helped BYU professors make new discoveries about how various factors affect marriage.

Take a moment, amidst the chocolate and love letters, to consider how the RELATE areas below influence, or will influence, your relationship.

Family of Origin

“Family of origin” refers to the quality of the emotional climate in the participant’s childhood home, particularly the participant’s relationship with their parents and the quality of their parents’ marriage. Researchers have found that the higher the levels of positive family background, the higher the levels of emotional readiness, kindness, and flexibility. People whose parents are divorced are more likely to have poorer relationships; however, resolving negative feelings toward divorced parents can help adults improve their relationships.

“It’s not so important what happens to you in your family of origin, but how you interpret adult relationships based on what happened to you,” Busby explained. “Bad things happen to all of us. Some people end up feeling relationships are dangerous. Others learn to trust and have the ability to come to terms with the bad experience.”

Values

Another issue Busby has found to be important is whether people have relationally oriented values. Those who tend to be more focused on the relationship and less on personal success make better partners. An individual’s beliefs about marriage, relationships, and gender roles all potentially affect the outcome of a relationship.

Personality

In the questionnaire, couples are asked about their own and their partner’s level of kindness, sociability, calmness, organization, flexibility, maturity, happiness, self-esteem, and religiosity. Based on results couples can discuss how similar personality traits can benefit their relationship and how to adjust to large differences in certain areas. Both kindness and flexibility have been shown to be important for effective communication and positive conflict resolution.

“Kindness and flexibility are the two most important personality traits you can possess,” Busby said.

Particularly notable, Busby said, is the wife’s view of her husband’s kindness. Females tend to take more responsibility for a relationship and are most likely the ones who will decide whether to get a divorce or not. If the wife’s view of her own kindness is significantly higher than her view of her husband’s kindness, it may be the beginning of an issue that needs to be addressed.

Couples also have more success when they have the same commitment level to one religion. In fact, couples who have different commitment levels to the same religion are often more distressed in their relationship than those who belong to different religions.

Communication

Elements of communication that are important include showing empathy and love, sending clear messages, showing respect, and soothing each other. Skills such as listening, communicating respectfully, and knowing how to deal with a conflict without escalating or avoiding the situation are important too. Busby explained that conflict tends to send people into pre-existing patterns that don’t help to effectively resolve the situation.

A Closer Look at Conflict

There are many ways to handle conflict, and often couples have different styles in confronting issues that arise. While this doesn’t necessarily mean the couple will be unable to solve a disagreement, some pairings of conflict styles can present a red flag for a relationship.

“There are several couples that work through it,” Busby said. “But we know that how couples manage conflict is one of those crucial factors that can lead to divorce.”

Which conflict style do you fall under? In the questionnaire, the RELATE Institute provides four conflict style options that couples can choose from in order to rate themselves:

  • Avoidant Style: I avoid conflict. I don’t think there is much to be gained from getting openly angry with others. In fact, a lot of talking about emotions and difficult issues seems to make matters worse. I think that if you just relax about problems, they will have a way of working themselves out.
  • Validating Style: I discuss difficult issues, but it is important to display a lot of self-control and to remain calm. I prefer to let others know that their opinions and emotions are valued even if they are different than mine. When arguing, I try to spend a lot of time validating others as well as trying to find a compromise.
  • Volatile Style: I debate and argue about issues until they are resolved. Arguing openly and strongly doesn’t bother me because this is how differences are resolved. Although sometimes my arguing is intense, that is okay because I try to balance this with kind and loving expressions. I think my passion and zest actually leads to a better relationship with lots of intensity, making up, laughing, and affection.
  • Hostile Style: I can get pretty upset when I argue. When I am upset at times I insult my partner by using something like sarcasm or put-downs. During intense discussions I find it difficult to listen to what my partner is saying because I am trying to make my point. Sometimes I have intensely negative feelings toward my partner when we have a conflict.

Research has shown the best conflict style pairings are those in which one of the partners is validating.

“Validating types make sure that their partner feels understood and that both perspectives are attended to,” Busby said. “They are more likely to create a positive connection around that conflict.”

While having a hostile conflict style is always negative for a relationship, research has also shown that couples with one partner who is avoidant and one partner who is volatile can also have problems handling conflict. Couples in this situation tend to misinterpret their partner’s actions, and attempts to resolve a conflict are often construed as nagging.

To take the questionnaire or learn more, visit www.relate-institute.org. The survey is $20 per person or $40 per couple and includes the questionnaire, a full color report available for download, and technical support while taking the questionnaire.