What Keeps Marriages Together? It Depends on Your Gender! A landmark study digs deep into what keeps couples together and what breaks them apart. Here are 6 of them. BY TERRI ORBUCH, PH.D.
What makes a successful marriage depend on your gender.
“ When men are close to their mother-in-law and other key members of the wife's family, the couple is 20% less likely to divorce.”
For more than a quarter century, I've been observing and interviewing the same 746 individuals, who began as 373 newly married couples, all who got married in 1986. Over the years, 46% have divorced, which is consistent with the national statistics.
My landmark study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the longest-running study of its kind. It has yielded fascinating information about what keeps couples together and happy, and what breaks them apart. Some of the most interesting findings from the study pertain to gender differences.
Men and women have real differences when it comes to what they want and need in order to stay happy and together in the relationship. Here are six of them.
1. Men want less relationship talk. Unlike women, who love and need to "check in" about their feelings and the relationship often, for men, too much relationship talk causes real distress and is a predictor of divorce down the road. When wives say, "We need to talk," or "Let's talk about us," husbands automatically believe they're in trouble and feel upset.
2. Men want to be fussed over. Men crave frequent compliments, hand holding, attention, and validation, known as affective affirmation. Unlike women, who get this good stuff on a regular basis from girlfriends, family, co-workers, and even strangers, men get it mostly from wives. Husbands who report a lack of affective affirmation from their wives are two times more likely to divorce.
3. Men need to be close to their in-laws. When men are close to their mother-in-law and other key members of the wife's family, the couple is 20% less likely to divorce. Women want their husbands to have this connection. The same is not true for wives, however. When wives have a very close bond with their in-laws, the couple is 20% more likely to divorce!
4. Women need closure after conflict. Women get very distressed by conflict and need to feel that all loose ends were tied up before moving on. If this means picking up the discussion the next day to rehash, so be it. Men do conflict in a completely different way. They argue, then let go. In fact, men are often unable to recall what the argument was about the following day. When women report unresolved conflict, that couple is more likely to divorce over time.
5. Women thrive on prayer. The more religious a wife is, the less likely the couple is to divorce. The same is not true for men. There appears to be no significant link between a husband's religious practices and the couple’s stability over time.
6. Women do better with more education. The more education a woman has, the more likely it is that her marriage will last. In fact, the odds of divorce for a couple decrease 23% for every year of higher education she receives.
Bottom line: When we study husbands and wives, we discover that men and women are different when it comes to relationships. This is a small sampling of those differences. When we learn about what makes the other gender tick, particularly in terms of how it affects the marriage, we can find ways to accommodate or be more accepting of our spouse's differences.