David Olson, in his exhaustive research on marriage, has found that marriages fall into one of five types.
The Five Types
Partners in these marriages tend to agree on most things and have excellent communication and conflict resolution skills (the two skills without which couples cannot adequately address other problems in the relationship). They report being very satisfied in marriage.
Partners agree on many things and have good communication and conflict resolution skills, but have slight problems in other areas such as parenting, sex, financial issues, etc. They report being quite satisfied in marriage. Interestingly their divorce rates tend to still be quite high. They seem to have higher (often unrealistic) expectations for marriage to begin with and often do not deal well with the reduction in marriage satisfaction that nearly always presents itself in the first few years.
Partners in these marriages usually struggle with communication and conflict resolution and have disagreements in several other areas of the marriage. They report being fairly satisfied in marriage and are the most likely group to remain married for religious reasons or for the children.
Partners in these marriages struggle substantially with communication and conflict resolution, and tend to disagree across many other areas of marriage. They report low satisfaction in marriage. Conflict is common and often intense.
Partners in these marriages have very little ability to communicate effectively and resolve conflict. They disagree on most areas of marriage, may have no strengths in the relationship, and report very low satisfaction in marriage. Conflict may be intense, or partners may have stopped fighting for the marriage altogether and may be living separate lives.
Identifying Your Marriage Type
How can you know what kind of marriage you are in? Partners in conflicted or devitalized marriages may find that:
- They are not satisfied in marriage
- Arguments are frequent and intense
- Problems rarely or never get resolved
- Disagreements frequently lead to arguments where one or both partners are insulted, harmed emotionally and/or physically, humiliated, disrespected, or blamed
- They are “walking on eggshells.”
- One partner fears the words or actions of the other. One or both partners may have resorted to avoiding conflict at all costs which, ironically, may reduce the intensity of conflict but greatly increases the likelihood of divorce.
- One or both partners tend to emphasize being right rather than hearing and understanding one another’s perspectives.
What can you do if you realize you may be in a conflicted or devitalized marriage? I will address that in my next post.