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Couples Share What Keeps Love Sweet

Tips from successful marriages for how to create long-term happiness

Creating and maintaining a loving relationship can be challenging, but the right communication can lead to successful long-term relationships. Judy Pearson, Ph.D., from North Dakota State University, identifies several characteristics for successful, long-term relationships through interviews of couples married for more than 40 years, to find out what made their marriages work.

Pearson found the couples continually mentioned communication, in addition to other characteristics, as an important aspect of their successful relationships. Each relationship is unique and there is no secret formula for long-term relational success; however, the following characteristics can be distinguished in successful long-term relationships.

· Having realistic expectations about their partners and the relationship. Satisfied couples had reasonable expectations about their lives and relationships. If couples enter into a committed relationship believing that their partner will fulfill their every need, or the relationship will be perfect in every way, their relationship is doomed. The couples Pearson interviewed expected and experienced difficulties, but they supported each other through tough times.

· Shared identity. Many couples stated the need for a shared identity. Frequently, this was accomplished through sharing information with a partner that would not otherwise be available to them. Because compatible couples frequently develop their own special way of communicating with each other, they frequently do not need to disclose their emotions to each other.

· Accepting each other unconditionally. The partners in successful long-term relationships loved, respected, empathized with each other without reservation. Although it was expressed in different ways, each couple also frequently communicated their acceptance of each other.

· Using positive distortion. Choosing to positively interpret experiences and each other is another trait of successful marriages. All long-term relationships experience conflict, but members of contented couples did not interpret their disagreements and arguments as destructive conflict, but rather, took the inevitable disagreements in stride, and were confident in their ability to resolve them successfully.

· Persistence. In their interviews, the couples stated that they were committed to relational success, no matter what. “Many of [the couples] spoke of their absolute determination to stay together, their positive can-do attitude, and their unswerving belief in long-term relational success,” says Pearson. Successful couples consistently put the success of their relationship ahead of any other consideration in their lives.

“What distinguished happy couples from unhappy ones were their realistic expectations for each other and their relationship, their unconditional love and acceptance of each other, and their ability to communicate in a positive, empathic and supportive way as they successfully negotiated the storms and bright days of their marriages and their lives,” says Pearson.

Access the article and read about more of the characteristics.

Judy Pearson, Ph.D., is the Associate Dean in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, Director of the Doctoral Program, and Professor of Communication at North Dakota State University.

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