The Science of a Happy Marriage Articles

Four Essential Ingredients in Loving and Sustaining Marriages

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

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.older couple

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.


“Hooking-Up”:Good Practice for a Bad Marriage

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

hooking upThe media, social scientists and a majority of young people report that “ Hooking Up” has replaced traditional dating relationships on college campuses.

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.

Why Hook-Up?

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.


Why Do Married Women Have Affairs?

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

We have once again been faced with a high profile marriage scandal. This time the lovers included the CIA director, a married and much decorated military officer and his biographer, a married women, herself an Army Reserve intelligence officer.

What is predictable is the media focus on the man. In this case the articles addressed the question of military code of conduct, possibility of security breaches, the explanation of male infidelity in terms of power and narcissism, and the apology and compassionate sentiments to the betrayed wife.

What is curious is how little focus was given to the married woman in this affair. Other than a redundant account of her school success and running time, she was rarely seen as more than the idealizing audience to the man. There seemed little interest in her motives and even less in addressing the broader question- Why do married women have affairs?

The Reality

Perhaps we don’t ask the question because culturally we prefer not to know the answer.  After all, with matters of infidelity, the stereotype is of the married man in an affair with an unmarried female. In the case of married women the presumption is that women are more monogamous then men. They are – but not as much as we may want to believe.

  • In the largest most comprehensive poll of its kind in 1994, Edward Laumann and colleagues found that 20% of women and just over 31% of men in their 40’s and 50’s reported having sex with someone other than their spouses.
  • Frances Cohen Praver, author of Daring Wives: Insight into Women’s Desires for Extramarital Affairs suggests that estimates of infidelity range from 30-60% of women and 50-70% of men.
  • Young and Alexander in their 2012 book, The Chemistry Between Us: Love, Sex and the Science of Attraction accept a rough estimate of 30 to 40 percent infidelity in marriage for men and women.

The Reasons

Having worked for many years with men, women and couples trying to hold on to marriages, recovering from betrayal or caught up in the pain and passion of an affair, I suggest …


Reducing Marital Stress Helps Children Return to School

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

marital stress, back to schoolWhen children head back to school this year, they should not be carrying emotional baggage from home.

When we worry about how our children will handle school- what they will face and how they will cope, we often overlook the impact of marital strife on their physical, emotional and intellectual functioning.

It is difficult to feel confident, curious or open to new school friends or ideas when you are a young person weighed down by exposure to adult conflict and issues.

While we know that the impact of most traumatic events on children can be reduced if parents remain calm & learn to manager their own feelings, marital strife poses a bigger challenge. In the case of chronic marital strife, the very people who are supposed to offer safety are the ones creating the danger!

Don’t All Couples Fight?

Yes, in fact if a child never saw any discord or disagreement, he/she would have no model for conflict resolution or regulating a broad range of emotions.

Marital strife that creates a potential emotional crisis for a child of any age is a different animal altogether. It involves expressions of anger that can include chronic but subtle verbal abuse, the silent treatment, bitter fighting and at the extreme, domestic violence that warrants a 911 call.

Unregulated marital discord demands too much of children and teens.

  • Some children run in to rescue the parents and reduce the tension by engaging either or both parents in something fun, interesting, or attention getting.

Do they need this extra job as they face new appropriate childhood challenges?

  • Some children will draw the fire to themselves (consciously or unconsciously) by misbehaving or acting out in order to shift the emotional tone.

Is this a learned pattern of survival we want a youngster to take with them in life?

  • Older children will learn to escape into their rooms, their phones, or their computers- sadly some may learn to escape into drugs and alcohol.

In their necessary avoidance they tragically lose not only the connection with their parents, but a world of knowledge, relationships and …


Sexless Marriages: A Closer Look

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Old Couple Hand in HandRecently the question was raised by some of my colleagues as to whether there can be happiness in a sexless marriage. An article on the subject refers to the research of Robert Epstein, a psychologist who reports that 10 to 20% of the romantic relationships in the U.S. are sexless.

According to Epstein, a sexless relationship is defined as one in which the partners have had sex less than once a month or less than 10 times a year. Others writing in the field take the word more literally – suggesting that many couples happy with that schedule would not describe their relationship as sexless.

Maybe the question of how sexual a marriage is and whether or not the partners are happy is a far more complicated one than the rate of sexual intercourse over time.

Work with couples would suggest that happiness from sexual relating must account for the trust and special connection partners feel for one another, the way they hold, touch, laugh, tease, celebrate, walk together, worry about, lean on, cry with, nickname, argue, text and call each other — the many dimensions of sexual intimacy.


Anger Management For Couples

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

couples anger managementIf you are human and you are in a relationship it is inevitable that at times you will be angry with your partner. I often suggest to couples that if you never hear the neighbors fighting, it probably means that they have moved or that you should call 911.

The goal in sustaining a vibrant and loving relationship is not to prevent authentic differences, feelings and disagreements but to express them in a way that does not escalate into anger that threatens the emotional or physical well-being of either partner.

Complying at all times, fear of making waves, hiding resentments, or equating every disagreement to the inevitable break-up is emotionally exhausting and anxiety producing. If it is not safe to be angry in a relationship – it is not a safe relationship.

Stephen Mitchell, author of Can Love Last, tells us that “The survival of romance depends not on skill in avoiding aggression but on the capacity to contain it alongside love.”


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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