The Path to Marital Satisfaction

by James Rudy Gray

Surveys consistently suggest that over 90 percent of Americans will get married at some point in their lives. What kind of marriages will they have? Will they live happily ever after? Will they be satisfied in their marriages?

Marital satisfaction is a decidedly subjective experience. It differs in content and experience from couple to couple. Studies do, however, indicate that people are generally happier and healthier when they are married. Statistics also show that marital satisfaction is difficult to achieve and even more challenging to maintain.

Today, over half of all marriages end in divorce. Within five years of a divorce, 77 percent of women and 84 percent of men remarry. The waiting time between divorce and remarriage appears to be shrinking from five years to three years. Of those who do remarry, 60 percent are likely to divorce again.

All of this reveals that martial satisfaction is not being achieved by most couples. Why? There are many reasons given by people as to why their marriages failed, but almost no one seems to be able to pinpoint why satisfaction was not experienced in the marriage. 

There are a number of research projects that have tried to focus on marital satisfaction (Fenell, 93; Collins and Coltrane, 91; Lauer, 90; Craddock, 91; Kurdek, 95 and more). Surprising to some is the fact that faith in God was a major factor for experiencing marital satisfaction. There were other factors that also surprised some readers. For example, the presence of children was positively related to satisfaction in marriage-though marital conflict is also most severe during the childrearing years.

Some of the most important keys found in satisfying marriages are:  respect, forgiveness, romance, support, and sensitivity. Current findings (Rosen-Grandon, Myers, Hattie, 2004) confirm the importance of several interesting traits of satisfying marriages:  lifetime commitment, loyalty to one's mate, strong moral values, desire to be a good parent, faith in God, religious/spiritual commitment, and the willingness to forgive and be forgiven.

What does this growing body of research tell us about building a satisfying marriage?  While there are many commonly shared traits in a satisfying marriage, God is both the designer of, and power for, finding marital satisfaction.  Psalm 127:1 says, "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it."

Finding contentment and satisfaction in marriage-in which the potential for conflict and disagreement may be greater than in any other type of relationship-means finding the ongoing energy and wisdom to work toward building satisfaction. In the end, the answer is the same it has been ever since the first marriage: God. From the perspective and strength of faith, a couple can both find and grow in marital satisfaction.

Furthermore, when people are satisfied in their marriages, they are happier and are likely to be better witnesses to the Christ who gives them strength and ability to build healthy relationships.

Scriptural principles are never out of place in marriage counseling. Sometimes we must be sure we have heard the pain or problem, but we cannot afford to neglect the greatest resource for building good marriages.

When it comes to marital satisfaction, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is a good idea to host marriage enrichment retreats, classes, etc., for those who would never come for counseling. An experience such as this, especially where marital satisfaction is emphasized, can be a relationship-saving experience for many couples.

James Rudy Gray, who pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors.

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