My husband and I just celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary. We have been overwhelmed by the support from friends and family. Social media and text messages flooded with messages: “What a great achievement!” https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2024/feb/03/first-things-first-gauging-marital-health-vs/ “A huge Achievements!” Success! ” https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/2024/feb/03/first-things-first-gauging-marital-health-vs/ “I have spent a whole ten years of my life under your leadership! “
While it feels good to look back over the years and record the milestones we’ve accomplished together, I can’t help but wonder: Is length of time the best measure of a successful marriage? How healthy is the relationship?
While it’s crucial for couples to celebrate their anniversaries and every milestone in their relationship, I sometimes worry that we (as a collective society) put too much emphasis on the number of years. It’s easy to assume that because two people have been together for a long time, their relationship is strong. But we’ve all been around those couples – they may have been together for a long time, but seem miserable and tired of each other.
What if collective support for married couples focused more on celebrating and encouraging healthy connections, rather than just praising their time “together”?
Decades of research, including recent research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, show that the quality of a relationship is a more accurate predictor of marital satisfaction than the number of years spent together. Longevity alone does not guarantee a fulfilling and harmonious environment for a couple. In other words, milestone anniversaries are certainly worth celebrating, but the length of a marriage is no guarantee of its success or happiness. Nor does it guarantee that future generations will have the skills and understanding needed to develop prosperous families.
Psychologist David Banks says couples should view anniversaries not only as a time to celebrate the longevity of their marriage, but also as a time to assess its quality. “When couples get together for another year, they should work on ‘leveling up.’ Think about what you can do to make your relationship stronger year after year. Length of time is not the only measure of success,” Dr. Banks said.
So what does a healthy marriage look like? How do we encourage married couples to focus on improving the quality of their relationship over time?
According to the Journal of Marriage and Family, there are five pillars of a healthy marriage.
1. Communication: Effective communication is the cornerstone of a healthy marriage. Couples who openly express their needs, concerns, and feelings lay the foundation for understanding and connection.
2. Emotional intimacy: Prioritizing emotional intimacy is critical to marital satisfaction and provides a strong foundation for healthy intergenerational relationships. It’s about vulnerability, trust, and deep emotional connections that stand the test of time.
3. Common goals and values: Couples who share common goals and values tend to handle challenges more successfully. Aligned desires and beliefs create a sense of purpose that strengthens the bond between partners.
4. Adapt and grow: Embracing change and supporting each other’s personal development is critical to long-term success.
5. Seek professional help: When challenges arise, seeking the guidance of a marriage counselor or therapist can provide valuable insights and tools to work through the difficulties. Proactive problem solving contributes to marital resilience.
First Things First has been championing the benefits of a healthy marriage for nearly three decades. In order for these benefits to be seen and experienced by our families, communities, and generations, we must shift our focus from years of connectivity to quality of connectivity. As we redefine marital success, let’s embrace the idea that a healthy, fulfilling partnership is the true measure of success, no matter how many candles there are on the anniversary cake.
Lauren Hall is president and CEO of First Things First, a family advocacy nonprofit. Email her at [email protected].