Marriage — as anyone who has watched “House of Cards,” or actually experienced the giddy highs and devastating lows of a real, ’til-death-part-us union, knows — is complicated.
And, with the divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s reasonable to once again ask the question: What’s the secret to a successful marriage? Or, put another way, how can couples get enough relationship “oxygen” while climbing the mountain of marriage to avoid suffocating?
In a recent study, psychologists from Northwestern University present a new model of marriage in the U.S. that’s all about avoiding suffocation. (The full title of the paper is: “The Suffocation of Marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow Without Enough Oxygen.”) In the report, researchers say that Americans today are increasingly — and perhaps unrealistically — asking their marriages to fulfill higher-level psychological needs, such as those related to personal growth and self-realization. So, it’s not so much that we’re asking too much of our spouses, we may just be asking for the wrong things.
Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting earlier this month, the study’s lead author, Eli Finkel, a Northwestern psychologist whose research areas include “initial romantic attraction” and “conflict-resolution in established relationships,” said that married couples who support each others’ deep psychic, self-growth needs are pretty darn lucky.
“The level of satisfaction from having a spouse help you achieve your understanding of your core essence or your ability to come closer to the person you ideally want to be — that’s an immensely satisfying experience,” he said.
But, sadly, for many couples, such satisfaction is elusive. “Although some spouses are investing sufﬁcient resources — and reaping the marital and psychological beneﬁts of doing so — most are not,” the researchers report.
It wasn’t always this way. Marital expectations have evolved over time from subsistence needs — food, shelter, safety, sex and procreation — to higher-level psychological needs. But couples today often lack the time and energy needed to meet these expanding needs, which is contributing to a declining level of marital quality and well being, said the authors.
“Higher expectations can lead to greater disappointments, Continue reading