Marriage Relationships and Their Healthy Characteristics


If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced a few ups and downs in your relationship.  But do you ever wonder about the health of your marriage?  In his book, “The Science of Trust,” Dr. John Gottman discusses that, even though healthy marriages can vary greatly in how they look, they share a few common elements.

At its core, a healthy marriage has a strong friendship.

This friendship is reflected in several ways:

  • Spouses know one another’s inner world.
  • They reflect fondness and admiration.
  • Spouses work to notice and are responsive to one another’s needs.
  • The couple maintains a positive perspective. In fact, Dr. Gottman found that in healthy relationships, even during conflict, couples tend to use five positives, for every one negative action or comment.

The benefit of this foundation of friendship is that it helps the couple to manage conflict well and accept influence from one another. When things go wrong — and they will—healthy couples repair.  They apologize for their transgressions and oftentimes even use humor during their conflicts.  Healthy couples also have a strong sense of “we-ness” and work together to make their life dreams come true.

And through all of these elements, healthy couples trust each other and are committed to their marriage.

While healthy marriages have these core elements in common, they can look wildly diverse.  Healthy relationships come packaged in a variety of shapes and sizes.  How one couple expresses fondness and admiration to one another may not be the same as another couple.  But if each works, that’s all that matters.  How they work together can be very different.

One of the hallmarks of a marriage in trouble is an increase in negativity.

In fact, it is fairly common in troubled relationships for the negativity to become so permeating that even neutral and positive interactions are viewed through a negative lens. Partners become less receptive to one another’s attempts for connection and either ignore them or express irritation in response.

Unhealthy couples have difficulty managing conflict.

Much of this is due to the increased negativity in the relationship. It’s also common for one or both partners in a troubled relationship to become flooded easily. Conflicts usually escalate into destructive arguments fueled by what Dr. Gottman calls the Four Horseman: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. The most destructive of the four Horseman is contempt.  Contempt happens when one partner takes a position of superiority over the other. When contempt is present, one or both of the partners is not respecting the other. Contempt is the clearest predictor that a couple is likely to divorce.

You have many different options when it comes to seeking help for your marriage. Finding the options that are the best fit for your marriage is the key.

Most couples find it helpful to participate in or use more than just one option.  There is one caveat, you have to be willing to do things differently to experience change.

  • Marriage self-help books: There have been many books written on how to improve your relationship and they often work well when combined with one of the more hands-on interventions listed below.  Here are three of my favorites:
  • Peer-led marriage groups and mentor programs: Many churches offer programs to strengthen marriages. These are usually led by a member and not necessarily professionals. These programs usually follow a structured format. This option is ideal for marriages needing enrichment. However, marriages that are experiencing crisis may need professional intervention in the form of marriage counseling.
  • Marriage workshops or retreats: These programs are generally led by professional counselors or therapists. They are normally more intensive than a peer-led program, but they generally do not provide one-on-one counseling with a couple. Therefore, once again, for a couple experiencing crisis, the next option may be a better fit.
  • Marriage counseling: Marriage counseling is conducted in a one-on-one setting with a professional counselor or therapist. While each couple may have slightly different goals with regard to therapy, an overarching theme of marriage counseling is to help the couple break through the dysfunctional patterns and reconnect with one another.
  • Couple’s Intensive: With intensive counseling, the couple works individually with a therapist in extended sessions in the office, usually over a couple of days. In two days, the couple has the opportunity to do the work that would normally take weeks or months to complete.  The extended sessions allow couples to dive deep into the issues that are most important to them without the starting and stopping of a traditional structure of marriage counseling.

Are you getting married soon? Having trouble finding time in both your busy schedules to fit in pre-marriage counseling? Want to prioritize the health of your marriage? We have several counseling options that might be a great fit for you and your partner!

Written By: Jackie Dunagan, LAMFT

2 Comments on “Marriage Relationships and Their Healthy Characteristics”

  1. Hey, і’m for the first time here. I found this article is very interesting and helpful.
    Thanks, fіnd It reaⅼⅼy useful & it helped me out a lot.

  2. Hey Anjali! Thanks so much for stopping by. We’re so glad you found us, and happy to hear this blog was helpful to you! -the GROW Counseling Team

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