Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Summer 2000

Combating Marital Cynicism with Hope

As the age of first marriage rises, the marriage rate lowers, and the divorce rate hovers at 50%, American women and men are becoming less hopeful and op-timistic that they can find a good partner and have a good marriage.

A report from the National Marriage Project from Rutgers University published in June shows 20-somethings intend to have happy marriages eventually but do nothing to get closer to that goal. This study suggests women, in particular, have cynical views of marital success. The never-married women ages 21-29 are disenchanted and pessimistic about finding a good mate and are often distrustful of men.

Marital cynicism permeates pop-ular culture in email jokes, movie dialogue, and television sitcoms. It is easy to see how young people have become cynical toward mar-riage. In the majority of young adult couples, at least one partner has witnessed their parents' divorce, more likely, both partners have experienced the pains from parents divorcing.

Unfortunately, marital cynicism is preventing many young adults from getting the full benefits of one of the smartest life choices possible. Contrary to the pes-simistic conclusions about marriage, there is much evidence to support an attitude of hope towards marriage. In their book, The Case for Marriage, to be published in September, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher report demographic data that show marriage has great benefits. Married people live longer, healthier, and wealthier lives, particularly when they rate themselves and their marriages as happy.

Marriage researchers such as John Gottman at the University of Washington and Howard Markman at the University of Denver claim 90% accuracy in predicting happy and unhappy marriages from engaged couples. Ordinary people can create extraordinary marriages by attending a quality marriage education workshop and applying its teaching. An improvement in just a few areas will cut a couple's chance of divorcing in half.

We have started a marital op-timism research and education project. We will continue to study what happy couples know about making good marriages and then pass this information to our clients, readers, and audiences. Our recom-mendations so far: be the best partner, find the best partner, and do the best things together.

Love: Choice or Chance?

Many people believe that finding a partner and experiencing marital happiness depends on random events totally out of their control. You have more control than you think over your marital happiness.

Be the best partner. The US Army isn't the only one who wants you to be the best you can be. Your spouse (present or future) is hoping you will take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

One of the best ways to feel more optimistic about your marriage is to take good care of yourself. When you are physically and psychologically healthy, it is easier to focus on the blessings in life, draw positive experiences to you, spread optimism and hope to others, and inspire others to become the best they personally can be. You know you need better self care if you often feel over-whelmed with the responsibilities of life, feel a loss of your sense of self, and have no "down time" to think, relax, or imagine the future. In the movie, Hanging Up, Meg Ryan illustrates this problem by playing a daughter of a dying father who tries to be everything to everybody and needs to learn when to let go or "disconnect."

Good self-care means maintaining good health habits and unloading excessive baggage from your family of origin and other relation-ships. It means pursuing a meaningful life through good work, friendships, and spiritual practices.

Written by Christine Robison Gray

Find and keep the best partner.

Develop a search strategy. List the traits you would like in your ideal spouse. If you are single, brain-storm about where you might meet people with those traits. You will find more athletic people at the gym than at a singles bar, more re-ligious people at your place of worship than on a cruise.

Bring out the best in your partner. Your choices shape your mate's behavior. If you like your mate's athleticism, encourage a gym membership. If you are attracted to the spiritual dimensions of your relationship, nurturing it by prayer and worship?

Do the best things together. What do extraordinary couples do that gives them above average happiness?

Extraordinary couples make their dreams come true. A recent study of older couples revealed that a key to their success was continuing to set and meet their goals.

Extraordinary couples deepen their friendship and commitment by sharing conversation and activities. They do nice little caring behaviors every day, thank each other frequently, and set time aside to catch up daily.

Extraordinary couples use communication and conflict management skills such as making requests instead of complaining. They listen carefully, ask follow-up questions, and try to manage inevitable conflicts. They honor each other's requests instead of training each other to nag.

Extraordinary couples, protect their fun, friendship, and sensuality. According to University of Denver researcher, Scott Stanley, extraordinary couples take time out of their busy lives to play and to date each other.


Divorce Busters and the Women's Guide to Changing Her Man by Michele Weiner-Davis can show you how to have a better relation-ship even if your spouse won't go to marriage therapy or marriage workshops.

For renewing hope about the future of marriage are Scott Stanley's A Lasting Promise and see The Heart of Commitment for Christian couples.

Our tape series, Secrets of Extraordinary Marriages, covers the best things extraordinary couples do to stay on the high road to marital happiness.

Copyright 2000 Drs. Susan & Philip Robison. Feel free to copy and reproduce as long as you print with contact information:

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