Some Points on Marriage

Some interesting points from a recent lecture at school, as well as from John Gottman:
  • 60% of males have sexual contact outside of marriage (45% of females). What about extensive extramarital “emotional contact”? Some researchers have suggested that it can be more damaging than sexual contact. Thoughts?
  • 85% of couples in marital therapy will get divorced within a year (what I think needs to happen is: couples need come in before their problems get too bad, and couples who come in to soften their divorce should not be counted in these stats).
  • The ratio of positive to negative interactions between couples who eventually divorce is about 1:1.  For those who are surviving, it is about 5:1.  For couples doing really well, it is about 20:1.
  • About 70% of our marital problems existed long before the marriage, and will probably last until we die.  How we talk about them is more important than solving them.  Gottman suggests a kind and gentle approach to conflict.
  • About 2/3 of wives experience a decrease in marital satisfaction after a new baby arrives.  Even less shocking, it’s usually the husband’s fault.  He often does not join her on the new adventure.  About 1/2 of husbands experience a decrease, but it comes later…maybe after the wife’s satisfaction decreases?

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"Patience is not learned in safety." View all posts by shenpa warrior

27 responses to “Some Points on Marriage

  • M.A

    Gosh, Gottman is the bomb. I love his “reality is our friend”, research-based approach. His microanalysis of interpersonal interaction is being used in other areas in psychology…very cool stuff.

  • adam

    I love it. He and his wife are doing a level 1 couples therapy training in San Francisco in November… And N and I may be going to Seattle in May to hear him speak again. So cool. His is the stuff that I think about when I don’t have anything else to think about.

  • George

    I think about working in wood, building a boat or finishing my desk or something.

  • Anonymous

    While “sexual contact” is often easily quantifiable, I am curious as to what the comparable statistics are with regards to extra-marital “emotional contact”.

    I imagine that quantifying “emotional affairs” or “emotional betrayals” is rather difficult, especially considering that unlike with “sexual contact” a spouse may very well have an emotional affair with a friend of the same-sex, when there may normally exist a sexual boundary. Gottman aside, it seems all rather shallow for our culture as a whole to be hung-up on those extra-marital “sexual contact” statistics when the extra-marital “emotional contact” is equally [un?]important.


  • adam

    q – that is an important point, and Gottman and others have talked a lot about “emotional” affairs. In fact, emotional affairs are more damaging than sexual ones. The worst, by far, involve both (emotional issues and sex). As you were getting at, quantifying emotional issues is not an easy task. And sex sells.

  • adam

    “a spouse may very well have an emotional affair with a friend of the same-sex”

    This is an interesting thing to think about. When one spouse becomes overly involved emotionally with a friend, how does that affect the marriage?

    Thanks for the research question! 🙂

  • Papa D

    The problem with discussing “emotional affairs” is the definition used. I could construct a definition that would discourage even simple platonic friendships, or I could construct it such that it would take quite intimate “sharing of things best left unshared” (especially in a setting of privacy). I favor the second definition, especially since it is so subjective and individualized – which “emotional affairs” are, imo.

    Iow, I think it is illegitimate to define it such that “such and such” *always* constitutes an emotional affair for *every* person – unless those things are so egregious as to make it a no-brainer. Any questions could include scenarios of varying intimacy and privacy, but they also should include open-ended opportunities for descriptive, narrative input – including questions about any feelings of guilt or excitement.

  • adam

    I agree, it would not be easy to simplify this type of research in terms of narrowing it down to quantitative categories. Qualitative research could be done for sure, but as for providing statistics on the issue, that may be more difficult. Perhaps there is/will be some way to measure attachment between romantic partners… maybe with some sort of reliable instrument to measure something like that, “emotional affairs” could have stats that are more clear. Or maybe that’s already been done and I haven’t read it yet.

    Thanks for your comment!

  • M.A.

    I’m not jiving with the term “emotional affair”. What does that mean? The whole idea of “extramarital emotional contact” seems ridiculous to me. Of course you’re going to have extramarital emotional contact. And with (most) women having a greater emotional range and facility than (most) men, I should hope that women will share emotional closeness with each other, even if it’s emotional closeness they can’t share with their male partner. That’s not betrayal — that’s just normal human relating.

    I used to chuckle at those men’s interpersonal process groups, but more and more I think they need a revival. But that’s a comment for another post.

  • adam

    “That’s not betrayal — that’s just normal human relating.” Of course. We have emotion-laden interactions all the time with a lot of different people. I don’t think ANYONE suggests that is being unfaithful–i.e. pretend we’re Spock with everyone but our partner. There is a big difference between “normal human relating” and an emotional affair, however. As an example: a spouse looks forward to being alone with the boss every evening where they share all their hopes and dreams, and intimate feelings. The spouse finds more excitement and trust and and companionship in the boss than they do in their own partner. Basically, the spouse becomes more attached to the boss than to their own partner. That is a (somewhat) better definition of an emotional affair.

    To say that we can feel whatever we want with whomever for however long, and yet be in a committed relationship with someone else, is putting that relationship at risk.

  • Anonymous

    “That’s not betrayal — that’s just normal human relating. “

    So is sexual promiscuity for (most) men. And with (most) men having a greater libido than (most) women, I should hope that the wife will be understanding to the husband’s necessity for a mistress or two.

    I am right, right?


  • adam

    “I am right, right?”

    Is it about being right? I think the bigger issue is what works for a couple, and on a larger scale, what is keeping relationships together and what is driving them apart. So-called “emotional affairs” do pretty big damage. Lesser damage is done by “sexual affairs” but it is still significant. If a spouse is finding more emotional emotional fulfillment with a 3rd party, or if their bond trust of intimacy/sex is breached, then there will be problems. That is pretty clear.

  • Papa D

    “Cleave unto” doesn’t have to include only sexual activity. It means “come or be in CLOSE CONTACT with; stick or hold together and resist separation” – and there are many ways that this can occur.

    There is a huge difference between “normal platonic relationships” and “resisting separation”.

  • M.A.

    Being a single person, it takes more energy for me to imagine what an emotional affair would entail. But your definition helps me envision such a thing, as well as how damaging it could be.

  • M.A

    “a spouse may very well have an emotional affair with a friend of the same-sex”

    Now that I’m thinking about it, in the days when marriage was more a socio-physical contract, I’d wager “emotional affairs” between nonsexual, nonromantic same-sex friends was so common as to border on silliness. If a woman had to marry, and her spouse was not emotionally capable (which, considering gender role proscriptions, was likely quite common), let’s hope she had a good gal friend or two. Quilting circles, anyone? Or that she was so focused on surviving that emotional needs were not so salient.

    Good thing things have changed a bit and most of us have quite a bit more choice when we’re making decisions about compatibility. And I agree with papa d — varying definitions based on the particular relationship will usually work better than one that is universal.

    Cultural and religious views on relationships seem important here, and personal experience. I can’t imagine being in a relationship in which I did not rely very heavily on friends and other figures for emotional sustenance (but, admittedly, I’m also a mite jaded about *most* men’s capability for a depth of emotional relating). I also don’t have the belief that my partner will necessarily be “it” for all time and eternity (nor that *I* will “be” for all time and eternity). That could be an interesting research question…do beliefs about the afterlife influence one’s views and expectations about marriage/lifetime partnership and the proper behavior therein?

    Adam, there’s a self-report attachment assessment called the ECR-R that can be used to make an “attachment hierarchy”, i.e., to whom one is attached, and what sort of attachment for each. It won’t souse out “emotional affairs” though, unless you’d consider having a secure attachment to one’s best friend and an insecure attachment to one’s partner an emotional affair. I don’t think you could make a convincing argument in favor of that though. I think you’d have to start with qualitative research to get to useful quantitative questions about same-sex, nonromantic, “emotional affairs”.

  • adam

    m.a. – thanks for your input! It is both erudite and personal.

    “do beliefs about the afterlife influence one’s views and expectations about marriage/lifetime partnership and the proper behavior therein?”

    I don’t know enough to have a real hunch about this, but as far as I do know, other forms of Christianity do not believe in any kind of eternal marriage, although I’m sure they have an emphasis on “proper” behavior within marriage. As for my own marriage, I think the “eternal” belief does have some influence, although it’s not constant–I would guess maybe 10-15% of my motivation for a good relationship stems from that belief.

    As for “same-sex, nonromantic, “emotional affairs”” – What I am curious about is if these types of things are happening, are they causing damage to relationships? If so, is the damage equal or greater than an “emotional affair” with someone of the opposite sex (and we’re speaking in hetero terms here). The comparisons interest me the most in this case. We can all agree or disagree about what a term means, but it is easier and more interesting to compare differences.

  • M.A

    Yeah, the sexual orientation piece confuses the possible research questions a bit.

    If we’re talking about folks who fall more on the hetero- side of the continuum, it seems feasible to suggest that opposite sex emotional intimacy has the potential to be more damaging to the marital relationship, where same sex emotional intimacy would be expected and acceptable. Only because it seems more likely that a person would start comparing their marital partner to their emotionally accessible opposite sex friend, imagining more-than-friendly interactions with the male friend, etc. Same thing (conversely) for folks who fall more on the homo- side of the continuum. I don’t know what to say about the poor, poor middle-of-the-roaders. I suppose they are in danger of committing emotional affairs at every turn. 😉

    I suppose the validity of the question itself rests on the condition that the friendship is a substitute for, rather than an complement or adjunct to, the marital relationship (or a separate entity unto itself) (as you were suggesting earlier). What position & function does the extramarital relationship serve in comparison to the marital relationship? And are those functions/roles patent and agreed upon within the marital (or partnered) relationship? And is the couple willing to tolerate the inevitable and persistent ambiguity of unavoidable lack of awareness and inevitable disagreement in definition. Clinically, this is obviously a difficult issue, as we all have different expectations and beliefs about what relationships mean and what is acceptable.

    I think what is really sticking me about the term “emotional affair” is it’s basis in a judgment model, i.e., if you do this, you are bad. I’d prefer a holistic, contextual approach. For example, let’s say I have an “emotional affair” with my pal, Josie. I’ve damaged my relationship with Bob. I’ve done a “bad thing.” However, my “emotional affair” has occurred in a context of years of Bob’s emotional stonewalling. Which is more damaging? I don’t think you could quantify that, so perhaps it would be best to understand the dynamics of the relationship over it’s course. In most cases, I don’t know that blame is justifiable in reality (nor is it useful). This only further confuses the research picture, but would make for some rich couples’ work.

  • adam

    Re: blame – who’s really at fault in an affair? I think you’ve hit an important point here–in many cases both spouses contribute infidelity. I’m sure there are some rare cases where the wife, for example, is a kind and generous partner, and the husband cheats with the secretary anyway, but more often than not I think the actually “affair” whether sexual, emotional, or both, is only an obvious symptom of the relationship’s pending doom.

    re: “middle-of-the-roaders” – that’s an interesting topic as well! I wonder what a bisexual partner feels when their partner is out with a friend…

    As for the topic in general, what is important to me is what causes distress in relationships? What causes satisfaction? What are couples who are satisfied doing?

  • Anonymous

    re: Blame
    Well, that is an easy one!

    If there is a delta in my personality then that is personal *growth* and if that causes distress to my partner then (s)he has failed to *grow* with me.

    If there is a delta in my partner’s personality, then that is because (s)he *changed*, and why should I be expected to *change* with hir when I am perfectly fine?


  • adam

    “a delta in my personality”

    Not quite sure what you mean here. Please inform me what “delta” means–I’m feeling a little ignernt.

    Also, “why should I be expected” – what do you mean here? Who is “expecting?”

  • adam

    Re: “personal *growth*” – While personal growth is a very important part of my life, it is not always easy on a relationship. If can be detrimental of the partner is not growing also. Or in the very least, constant communication and negotiation is necessary to keep the relationship strong, imo.

  • Papa D

    adam, I’m not 100% sure, but I read Anon’s comment as facetious:

    “If I have grown, it’s her fault; if she has grown, it’s her fault.”

  • adam

    The whole “growth” issue in the context of a relationship is pretty interesting, I think. What is growth, really, and what is one growing towards? One spouse may see their change as growth, while the other may just see it as threatening change.

  • Anonymous

    re: delta (=change)

    Adam, your last comment is a fair interpretation of my ‘growth versus change’ comment.

    There may exist within a relationship a perception of personal infallibility (i.e., “I did no wrong”) which may express itself in a defensive manner.
    So I may use “growth” when it applies to me because it has a positive connotation (e.g., “I am growing!”), while I may use “change” in an accusatory tone when directing it towards my partner (e.g., “I am the same, you are the one who has changed!”).

    Ultimately, I agree with you Adam that constant communication in a relationship is required, but I think that while negotiations may help to keep a relationship strong, I also think negotiation results may indicate that the relationship has come to its terminus.

  • Allie

    I think that a relationship only comes to a terminus when either or both partners decide to let it.

    Regardless of the outcome of negotiations.

  • Anonymous

    Adam, the late Dr. Shirley Glass* (a researcher whom John Gottman praised) has done research on non-sexual infidelity. Perhaps there is stuff published on the impact of emotional infidelity with a friend.


    *The mother of Ira Glass from This American Life

  • adam

    q – A prof. of mine actually has that book “Not Just Friends.” This is a new area for me that I would like to explore. Not just something that could be called an “affair” but what about other relationships that may not go that far but still take away from the primary one? Thanks for the link.

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