By Thesigan Nadarajan
It is the hope of the author that this article will be of theoretical and practical use to the readers (especially those who are married) to understand that marriage stability is not only possible but attainable. However, it requires couples to work together as partners to make their marriage a stable and life-long experience. Stable marriages are not made in heaven but are developed here on earth with passion, intimacy and decision for commitment.
What is marital stability?
Marital stability is not the absence of marital problems but the presence of passion, intimacy, and commitment that keeps the marriage intact until its dissolution through natural causes like death of one of the spouses (Sternberg, 1986). It is to be noted on the onset that the principles in this article are applicable to men also. The description of marriage stability lists three vital components for marital stability namely passion, intimacy and decision for commitment. Let’s examine them one by one.
Three Components to Marital Stability
Passion: physical attraction.
The component of passion includes physical attractions, romance, and sexual satisfactions. What attracts a man to a woman like a honey bird to honey? What is the honey in women? The answer is simple. Physical attractions! Physical attractions are subjective and can range from attractions to body parts (shapely torso, big breasts, and rounded buttocks) to other criterias like foxy facials, angelic smile, and fragranced body smells. Physical attractions draws even the most dreamy and listless men into complete attention. Even in collective societies that practices arranged marriages, physical attraction is one of the criterias for bride selection.
This is supported by empirical research that says that attractive women are perceived “as more occupationally and interpersonally competent, better adjusted, and more socially appealing” (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972). Attractive women do also receive differential treatment such as “more attention, cooperation, and help and tend to have more positive interactions” (Langlois et al., 2000). So attractive women are not only perceived in a positive light but given preferential treatments. So marital stability is guaranteed to all attractive women, is this so? If it was so, the gossip blogs won’t be carrying the latest separation and divorce news among the beautiful people (women and men). In other words, physical attraction alone does not guarantee marriage stability. Physical attractions only draw the potential mates to the next experience.
Romance can be conceptualized as a form of attachment between two persons that comprises qualities like “intense fascination with the other person, distress at separation, and efforts to stay close and spend time together” with possible sexual contact (Hazan & Shaver, 1987).
To analyze a romantic couple, ask the following questions: 1) Are they fascinated with each other? 2) Are the distressed at even short separations? 3) Do they make efforts to stay close and spend time together? 4) Do they have sex (optional)? Even if the answers to these four questions are positive by three, than what you have is romance in full blossom.
As a woman who is married, besides being physically attractive (not compulsory), are you in a romantic relationship or experience with your husband? If the answer is yes, than your marriage still has passion in it. If no, than the answer to the next question would determine whether passion is completely dead in your marriage.
Passion: sexual satisfactions.
Do you have sex frequently? If the answer is no and at the same time you don’t have a romantic relationship, the passion in your marriage is dead. Which means your marriage is headed for problems. It must be remembered that couples who are physically unable to have sex (due to age or sickness) still can have a romantic relationship in their marriage. It is only when even romance is absent in a marriage that marital problems develops.
Do you enjoy having sex? If the answer is yes, then your sexual cognition is healthy. But let’s say in the absence of physical discomfort, pain or physiological restrictions, you do not enjoy sex – the chances are, you are suffering from cognitive distortions. A cognitive distortion (erroneous thinking or perception) affects decision making and behaviours. Let’s say your cognitive distortions perceives the enjoyment of sex as not spiritual, you might be having a religious cognitive distortion. Let’s say your cognitive distortions perceive that a committed marriage does not need sex to sustain it, you might be suffering from severe puritanical misconceptions. Whatever your cognitive distortions, you must understand that the enjoyment of sex in a normal couple is natural and healthy. Any suppression or prohibition to sexual satisfaction will lead to marriage instability (Young, Luquis, Denny, & Young, 1998).
Do you experiment while having sex? If the answer is yes, that indicates that you are enjoying your sexual experiences. If the answer is no, than chances are you are suffering from sexual prejudices. As with all prejudices, sexual prejudices are negative attitudes developed from negative beliefs and values. When you are confronted with questions like, can we have oral or anal sex? Can we make love on an open beach? If you’re immediate and automatic answer is a no, than there is a need to explore your core sexual beliefs and values. The reason is your core sexual beliefs and values can be in conflict with your spouse. What if your spouse is open to experimentations and you are not, will you at least be open to examine your differences to arrive at a collaborative arrangement? If the answer is yes than the problems of sexual dissatisfactions may not arise. If the answer no than it is highly probable that sexual dissatisfaction will arise. Any unresolved sexual dissatisfactions in a normal couple affects the passion in their marriage. By the way there is no taboo in a mutually consented sexual relationship of lovers or married partners.
As an attractive (not compulsory) woman whose marriage is passionate, you will experience a feeling of closeness, connectedness and bondedness. What do these feelings mean?
Feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness.
Feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness in marriage are not just feelings of physical proximity but are psychological feelings. Let’s assume that your husband travels abroad frequently which means you experience frequent physical separations. But does that mean you experience a psychological separation also? Yes, if you had not used previous times when he was present by your side in an atmosphere of intimacy.
If while he is around, you had been spending intimate time with him, two things would happen. First, your husband and you would be so primed by each other’s closeness, connectedness, and bondedness that you will be in each other’s minds and feelings even when you are physically separated. This priming would cause you both to anticipate for each other. This is how you develop psychological proximity priming that remains even in physical separation. If while he was by your side, you prioritized the precious time on all other matters except spending intimate time with your spouse, than there will be no development of psychological proximity priming that creates an anticipation for each other.
If stated crudely, an intimately primed husband wants to return for more intimacy, while an intimacy starved husband will not be in a hurry to return as there is nothing to look forward in returning. These techniques have been both knowingly and unknowingly employed by mistresses to keep their men returning to them. In responding intimately to their men, mistresses create the following psychological feelings in them: 1) Feelings of being valued and highly regarded, 2) Feelings of being cared for, 3) Feelings of mutual sharing including time, attention, love and sexual satisfaction, 4) Feelings of receiving understanding and emotional support, and lastly, 5) Feelings of being listen to in anything they have to disclose without the fear of betrayal. Now, these feelings projected by mistresses and perceived by their men can be real or an illusion. But the feelings (1-5) are that any close, connected, and bonded relationship should have in order for it to be intimate. In short, psychological closeness, connectedness, and bondedness involve feelings of intimacy and not just sexual satisfaction only.
If wives after and in marriage behave like mistresses, the actual mistresses will be losing out to the wives. It is because wives lose their intimacy and become mere wives (without feelings of intimacy) that husbands look for mistresses who seems to fill the intimacy vacuum. So if before marriage you were a lover, it would be in your interest to continue to be a lover first and then a wife. This is the first ingredient to having feelings of closeness, connectedness, and bondedness
Decision for Commitment
A passionate and intimate relationship leads to the decision for commitment in marriage. What does the decision for commitment in marriage means? There are two stages in the decision for commitment in marriage. The first is when a couple deliberately and consciously decide independently and together to build a marital relationship. This is the intention stage. The second is when the couple deliberately and consciously decides to maintain the marital relationship and endure any hardships, obstacles or problems that they may encounter to make the marriage last. This is the commitment stage.
So if as a woman you want a stable marriage that lasts a life-time, work with your partner to develop passion, intimacy and the decision for commitment in marriage. Be a passionate, intimate and a committed lover first and wife second. You will realize that your stable marriage is developed by you and your spouse here and now on earth, while waiting to go to heaven later.
The author would like to conclude by leaving this self-report questionnaire for the reader’s assessment of themselves and for reflecting upon their own answers.
1. Do you want a stable marriage that lasts a life-time?
2. Do you believe that marriages are developed on earth and not made in heaven?
3. Do you accept that the principles in this article are for both wife and husband?
4. Do you believe in physical attraction?
5. Do you want romance?
6. Do you have and give sexual satisfaction?
7. Do you have sexual taboos?
8. Do you practice a passionate relationship?
9. Do you value and highly regard your spouse?
10. Do you care for your spouse?
11. Do you mutually share time, attention, love and sexual satisfaction with your spouse?
12. Do you understand and emotionally support your spouse?
13. Do you listen to anything your spouses have to disclose without betraying him /her?
14. Do you practice an intimate relationship?
15. Did you deliberately and consciously decide both independently and together with your spouse to build your marital relationship?
16. Did you deliberately and consciously decide to maintain your marital relationship and endure any hardships, obstacles or problems that you may encounter to make your marriage last?
17. Are you ready for passion, intimacy and decision for commitment in your marriage?
Dion, K. K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285–290.
Hazan, C., & Shaver, P.R. (1990). Love and work: An attachment- theoretical perspective. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 270-280.
Langlois, J. H., Kalakanis, L., Rubenstein, A. J., Larson, A., Hallam, M., & Smoot, M. (2000). Maxims or myths of beauty?: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Psychological Bulletin, 126, 390–423.
Sternberg, R. J. (1986). A Triangular Theory of Love. Psychological Review, 1986, Vol. 93, No. 2, 119-135.
Young, M., Luquis, R., Denny, G., & Young, T. (1998). Correlates of sexual satisfaction in marriage. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 7, 115–128.
Thesigan Nadarajan is a counseling psychologist. He is available for consultation and training. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org