Successful Long-Term Relationships

The great novelist Tolstoy wrote, in the famous opening line of Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Dr. Nicholas Stinette of Oklahoma State University set out to determine the ways in which happy families were alike. He studied 100 families in which both the marriage and the parent-child relationships seemed unusually good. Happy families shared the following qualities:

1. The members frequently and spontaneously show appreciation of each other.

2. They communicate easily and well, facing conflicts openly and trying to solve them—not just settling for the dubious advantage of being the person in the "right."

What were qualities shared by happy families?

3. They have a high degree of spiritual unity, and share common values and goals.

4. They do a lot of things together (Mace, 1977).

Lauer and Lauer (1985) surveyed 351 couples who had been together 15 years or more. Of this group, 300 said they were happily married, 19 said unhappily married but staying together for other reasons, and in 32 cases one member was happy and the other unhappy. The 300 happy couples consistently stressed several themes:

What are common qualities of happy marriages?

1. The spouse was viewed as a best friend, a person who would be chosen as a friend if he or she were not a marriage partner.

2. The couples were committed to the institution of marriage and willing to work hard at maintaining it. They endorsed statements like "Marriage is a long-time commitment" and "Marriage is sacred."

3. There was great agreement and compatibility on major areas of concern, such as philosophy of life, sex life, how often to show affection, and aims or goals of the relationship.

4. There was a willingness to seek out complexities in the spouse. Many respondents said, "My spouse has grown more interesting." Others said, "I confide in my spouse" and "We laugh together" and "We have a stimulating exchange of ideas."


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