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Feature Article


Building strong marriages

Adapted by Diane Kerns, former Human Development Specialist, Livingston County, University of Missouri Extension

illustration of two figures forming a heartMost Americans consider marriage an important goal in their lives. In fact, more than 90 percent of adults will marry at least once in their lifetime. About half of these marriages will indeed last a lifetime. Almost all marriages start with adults who are committed to making the marriage last, but relationships change as life pressures become greater.

Research indicates that most successful marriages have key characteristics in common, namely high levels of positivism, empathy, commitment, acceptance, love and respect.

Successful marriages are based on positive thoughts and actions. This does not mean that marriages are void of any negativity. Feelings and thoughts that are not discussed and resolved can lead to frustration and hostility. There must be a balance between positive and negative actions. Positive interactions may include being affectionate, taking pride and joy in each other’s achievements, and listening attentively to each other.

Empathy means understanding and identifying with another’s feelings and seeing another person’s perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes.

Both spouses must commit to the relationship for a marriage to thrive. To find satisfaction in a marriage, spouses need to be concerned for each other. Sometimes this may mean that one has to sacrifice some of his or her own needs for the sake of the marriage.

Everyone needs, and wants, to be accepted and to feel valued and respected. Change is often resisted when force is used. However, if spouses respect each other’s differences and accept each other, marriages have a better chance of success.

All marriages will experience some type of conflict. Common areas of conflict include money, in-laws, sex and children. The success of any marriage depends on how skillfully couples handle these conflicts.

Ideas for effective marital communication:

  • Try to understand what your spouse is feeling when he/she talks to you.
  • Let your spouse know that you understand what he/she means by giving both verbal and nonverbal feedback.
  • Be aware that nonverbal communication can be very powerful. Facial expressions or body posture should be positive.
  • Try not to make judgmental comments or jump to conclusions before the other person is finished speaking.
  • Be respectful of the other person’s perspectives, even if you do not agree with them.
  • Really listen to your spouse to show that you value his or her opinions and ideas.
  • To make conversation easier, make sure there are no distractions. Talk when the children are gone, turn off the television and do not answer the phone in order to avoid interruptions.
  • Communicate clearly and directly so you are understood.
  • Focus on your own feelings when speaking and try not to guess what your spouse is thinking.


Creating a strong marriage is challenging, but a lifelong commitment is worth the hard work and determination.


This article was adapted from:
Clark, Janet A. and Leigh, Sharon J. Creating a Strong and Satisfying Marriage (Guide GH6610). University of Missouri Extension, 2000.


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Last Updated 09/10/2013