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Predictors of Satisfaction in Marriage

Dr. Jeffry Larson explains predictors of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in marriage

Dr. Jeffry Larsen, professor and chair person of the department of marriage and family therapy at Brigham Young University and author of The Great Marriage Tune-Up Book, describes what researchers have called the “Marriage Triangle.” The Marriage Triangle comprises three factors that predict marital satisfaction:

  • Individual Traits
  • Couples Traits
  • Individual and Relationship Contexts

Individual traits
These are things like our ability to handle stress, control our emotions, or have a good sense of self-esteem. Each partner’s individual traits interact with the other’s in a systematic manner. So for your marriage to thrive, it is vital you and your partner be emotionally healthy.

If negative traits such as depression, anxiety, anger and impulsivity are a current challenge in your marriage today, be aware of them and take action. Whether it be through self-help books or programs or professional therapy, research shows that by using these methods emotional problems can be overcome.

Couple traits

Couple traits are just as important as individual traits. It is here where interaction takes place between you are your spouse—messages are sent, information is received, problems are solved, and so on. Communication skills, intimacy, and conflict resolution techniques are traits that predict marital satisfaction.

In addition, negative communication behaviors such as criticism, defensiveness and stonewalling are predictions of dissatisfaction in marriage. Dr. Larson gives two suggestions to improve communication: effective speaking and empathic listening. By communicating what you think, feel and want effectively and reflecting what your spouse is saying will help you to resolve conflict easier and become better communicators.

Individual and relationship contexts

Lastly, personal and relationship contexts denote the environment in which your marriage functions. Personal context refers to family-of-origin influences each spouse brings into marriage that form a backdrop for interaction in marriage. Relationship contexts include outside stressors that affect marriage, such as financial, work, parenting and in-laws stress. Together, personal and relationship contexts can put enormous stress on marriage or likewise enrich it if they are good. Most marriages have a mixture of both.

So which is most important? Larson said that while research cannot yet determine which one is most important, he would assume contextual angle would be the least predictive of relationship evaluation.

The model is not meant to indicate whether a couple can expect to fail or not. To the contrary, it “seeks to find your strengths and areas to work on,” Larson said. “Everyone has some of both.”

Dr. Larson’s program for evaluating and renewing your relationship with your spouse can be found in his book The Great Marriage Tune-Up Book.

The BYU Comprehensive Clinic also uses similar methods and tools for clients seeking marital support. To set up an appointment with a therapist, please contact our receptionist at 422-7759.