We know that only half of all first marriages make it. What we often don’t recognize is that the first four years seem to be important ones in shaping, making or breaking a marital relationship.
Research has long pointed to communication as core to a couple’s satisfaction and regulation of conflict. A study by Ronald Rogge and Tom Bradbury, uncovers another tipping point of early marriage survival.
One of the most recognized signs of relationship potential is someone’s interest in knowing us. They want to know about our past, our present, and our dreams for the future. They want our opinion of the movie and whether we like sushi or pasta. They look at us with rapt attention. When we resonate with mutual interest and delight, when we also want to know about them, we share an essential ingredient for falling in love- the desire to know.
In his latest book, Love Illuminated, Daniel Jones concludes, after culling over thousands of essays written to his Modern Love Column in the New York Times, that what most people really want is a loving and permanent relationship.
Evidence for this is the over 13.5 million self-help books addressing relationships and the interest by so many couples in improving and sustaining their love.
Given the deluge of information offered, I have siphoned out four essential ingredients that can be found in satisfied, long-lasting marriages.
Evolutionary theory, gender differences, stereotype, media myth and cultural expectations invite us to recognize that men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity, are wired to have many partners, have more difficulty with monogamy and that as such, married men are more likely to have affairs than married women. The reality is that while married men have more affairs than married women –The difference is not that great.
The other reality is that while extra-marital affairs by definition involve a romantic and emotional relationship that has a sexual or sexualized component, research suggests that sexual drive is not the primary reason married men have affairs.
Anyone is a relationship knows that partners have the uncanny ability to bring out the best and worst in each other. Accordingly, whether newly married or celebrating many years together, partners can find themselves overreacting in a way that rarely happens anywhere else in their lives.
If you have ever been in a long-term relationship or you are one of the 14 million people (3.7 married) who define yourself in a long distance relationship due to education, dual-careers, military, etc., you might well feel this to be true.
A recent study by L. Crystal Jiang and Jeffrey Hancock reported in the Journal of Communication offers supporting scientific evidence.
This study adds to an increasing body of research that has found that the relationship stability, satisfaction and trust reported by long distance (LD) couples appears to be equal or better than those reported by geographically close (GC) couples.
What is “Hooking-Up”?
Hooking up is defined as a sexual encounter including everything from oral sex to sexual intercourse, between two people who are strangers or brief acquaintances without commitment or expectations and usually lasting no more than one night.
According to a 2013 article, published in the Monitor of the American Psychological Association, between 60-80% of college students in North American report having had a hook-up experience. Research from different authors interviewing college men and women corroborate these numbers; but suggest that the misconception that “ everyone else” is doing it, media coverage, alcohol and fear of being left out of the social scene may actually fuel the trend.
The reasons for hooking-up and the benefits and risks involved, are a function of who is reporting and whether the disclosures by men and women about hooking-up are public or private.
A recent article by Kate Taylor in the New York Times, “ Sex on Campus: She Can Play That Game, Too” reports on hooking-up” by woman at the University Of Pennsylvania. Both the title and the tenor of the article suggest that women are choosing “ hooking up” as a functional choice to find sexual gratification without the hassle or time commitment of being in a relationship. Implied is the message that now women have taken back control of the sexual arena. They, like men, are free to choose uncommitted sex because their goal is a great resume—not a great relationship. The expectation is that when their career is all set, they will meet the right man.
The other side of hooking up is described by Laura Sessions Stepp in her book, Unhooked, Donna Freitas in her book, The End of Sex, and even by Kate Taylor in the end of her New York Times article. It is the personal and private disclosure by women and men of compliance, regret, discomfort, guilt, and opting out by many after hooking-up.
While most partners want someone to care if they run away with the neighbor, using jealousy to evoke a sign of love from a partner, or feeling jealous of your partner’s interest in something or someone other than you—takes its toll.
Often confused with envy which is the emotion you feel when you want something someone else has (car, wife, job) jealousy is the apprehension or fear of someone or something being taken away from you.
Helen Fisher, author of Anatomy of Love, describes jealousy as a combination of possessiveness and suspicion. She reports that studies of men and women find that neither is more jealous than the other, but that they react to jealousy differently. Whereas women will feel it, overtly showing indifference (often with verbal digs) but hold on to a relationship, men will leave a relationship to save face or become reactive. Male jealousy is a leading cause of spousal homicide cross-culturally.
Clearly, despite the anthropological consideration of jealousy as necessary for early man’s survival, or its equation with love in medieval poetry, in the day-to-day life of couples, jealousy threatens connection and reduces happiness. “A nationwide survey of marriage counselors indicates that jealousy is a problem in one third of all couples coming for marital therapy.”
Recognizing The Threat of Jealousy
Because some of what we do is not always conscious and we are often unaware of the impact of our feelings, words and behavior on our partner, it is worth checking out the role of jealousy in your relationships.
An extensive study by Tim Wadsworth, including 27,500 men and women aged 40-80years in 29 countries and using the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors, found a relationship between frequency of sexual behavior and happiness. The more sexual frequency—the more reported happiness.
While this study confirmed the findings of earlier large sample studies with regard to the correlation of frequency of sexual activity and happiness, Wadsworth’s study added another dimension. He found that when respondents compared their frequency to the sexual frequency of others, their happiness decreased or increased depending on whether their frequency was lower or higher than others in their reference group!
What Does this Imply?
If we consider statistics as starting points for thinking, than these findings invite self–reflection and mutual consideration of sexual satisfaction and social comparison for ourselves and with our partners.
The Frequency Factor
There clearly is evidence that when we control for age, physical health, gender, educational levels etc. sexual activity is associated with well being and happiness.
But is the happiness from sexual activity only a function of frequency?
Yes and No. When you work with couples and look at the findings from other couple studies it seems that active ongoing sexual connection does matter; but, it is more complicated than just numbers.
Most couples know the positive sounds of silence–the mutual experience of sharing time and space together without needing words. Be it walking the dog together, cooking side by side or listening to music–it is the silence of connection and love.
Many couples also know the silence that reflects tension, conflict or disconnection. Unable to speak beyond the necessities of daily life, these couples report, “ We just don’t talk anymore!”
If we recognize “ talking together” as a metaphor for the communication of confidantes, the special interest of partners and the pillow talk of intimates, then we understand that this is a silence that can start to feel emotionally deafening.
Why do couples who once had so much to say end up feeling this way? Is it inevitable as time passes in a marriage? Is there a way back?
Years together need not result in negative sounds of silence.
Yes, events can disrupt harmony and patterns can erode vitality, but if couples are curious rather than blameful about the silence between them, they may find some reasons and remedies to speak together again.
If we look closer at those partners who end up sitting in a restaurant with nothing to say, painfully aware of the couples happily chatting around them, we find that partners are often unaware of what they may be doing or what has happened to shut down the verbal connection.
Here are some possibilities: