Marital satisfaction is the result of a positive, successful marriage.
Although research has found that marriage can result in mental and physical
well-being (Johnson, Backlund, Sorlie, & Loveness, 2000), it is the “quality” of
the marriage that results in these benefits (Dush, Tylor, & Kroeger, 2008).
Recent research studies have identified several factors associated with marital
satisfaction, i.e., demographic and belief similarities, personality qualities,
communication, sexual satisfaction, love, and partner attachment.
Demographic and Belief Similarities:
The tendency to choose partners who are similar to one’s self is called
“homogamy”. Homogamy has been reported for many characteristics including
similarity in socioeconomic status (Chu, Hardaker, & Lycett, 2007), religious
beliefs (Asmari, Solberg, & Solon, 2008), years of education (Greitemeyer,
2007), physical attractiveness (Penton-Voak, Perrett, & Peirec 1999), and age
(Buss & Shackleford, 2008). Even in culturally-diverse settings, individuals
lean more towards partners with similar and visible qualities (e.g., racial
characteristics) (Blackwell & Lichter, 2004). In general, studies have found that
similarities between couples are related to marital satisfaction and the stability
of marital relationships (O’Rourke, Claxton, Chou, Smith, & Hadjistavropoulos,
2011). Because homogamy may serve to reduce marital friction, spouses who
have similar attitudes, personalities, or backgrounds may be less prone to
engage in maladaptive conflicts with one another (Arrindell & Luteijn, 2000).
Marital Satisfaction is a dynamic of romantic relationships which has
been associated with certain personality qualities (Deal, Halverson, & Havill,
2005; Rouke et al., 2011). Neuroticism, for example, has been found to have
negative impact on marital satisfaction in that high levels of neuroticism are
related to lower levels of marital satisfaction and stability in relationship (Fisher
& McNulty, 2008; Schmitt, Kliegel, & Shapiro, 2007). Neuroticism in one’s
personality might cause them to have less satisfaction in life, possibly because
they interpret the events of life more negatively (Fisher & McNulty, 2008).
According to Costa and McCrae (1992), “people high in neuroticism are prone
to have irrational ideas, be less able to control their impulses, and to cope
more poorly than others with stress” (p. 14) this might be the reason that
neuroticism tends to be related to negative outcomes in a marital relationship.
According to some research, extraversion is related to marital
satisfaction (Watson et al., 2000) in that extraverts are usually happy, positive,
and interested in social interactions (Watson et al., 2000). According to a study
by Bono and colleagues (2002), participants who had higher scores on
extraversion reported fewer problems in their relationships (Bono et al., 2002).
Marital satisfaction for husbands may be positively correlated with wives’
extraversion (Chan et al., 2007), while extraversion in husbands has been
found to be related to lower levels of marital satisfaction (Belsky & Hsieh,
1998). (There is no clear explanation for this gender difference).
Finally, based on the findings of some studies, decreased partner
conscientiousness, openness, and agreeableness during the early years of
marriage are related to diminished marital satisfaction (e.g., Watson &
Communication skills have been identified as “key” to successful,
satisfying marital relationships (e.g., Bienvenu, 1970; Gottman, 1982). With
effective communication skills, couples spend more time sharing their personal
emotions and less time in conflict (Kirchler, 1989). According to studies, the
main factors associated with positive communication include active listening,
self-disclosure, and conflict resolution.
First, active listening is a particular way of listening and responding to
others that entails paying respectful attention to the content and feelings
expressed by another person (Pfeiffer, 1998). It is a process of hearing and
understanding, and expressing to the other that he or she is being heard and
understood (Amato & Rogers, 1999; Pfeiffer, 1998). During active listening, a
partner responds “actively” to another while keeping her attention focused
completely on the speaker (Amato & Rogers, 1999; Pfeiffer, 1998). Active
listening is also the most common and useful technique recommended for
resolving conflict (Espinosa, 2003). Benefits for those individuals who have
been “listened to” include becoming more emotionally mature, being less
defensive, and being more democratic and less authoritarian (Rogers &
Farson, 1987). Active listening builds deep, positive relationships and alters in
a constructive manner the attitudes of the person being listen to (Rogers &
A second key factor of positive communication is self-disclosure, i.e.,
when one partner purposely reveals personal information to another (Derlega,
Metts, Petronio, & Margulis, 1993). Self-disclosure is an important aspect of
relationship dynamics as it contributes to the development and maintenance of
marital satisfaction. According to Laurenceau et al. (2004), two people cannot
be in an intimate relationship if they cannot express their emotions and if they
don’t share some personal, somewhat confidential information with each other.
Fitzpatrick and Sollie (1999) state that the level of self-disclosure can predict
marital happiness over time, with couples who are able to share their emotions
with their partners and talk about their difficulties being more satisfied with
their relationships (Finkenauer & Hazam, 2000). Curiously, studies suggest
that couples shouldn’t necessarily discuss everything. While moderate levels
of self-disclosure are associated with high levels of marital satisfaction, both
low and high levels of self-disclosure are associated with low levels of marital
satisfaction (e.g., Schumm et al., 1986). It is suggested that couples
productively discuss those problems that can have a resolution or can result in
a change in behavior (e.g., Mackey, Diemer, & O’Brien, 2004).
A third factor related to positive communication is conflict resolution.
Hocker and Wilmot (1978) define conflict as a situation where two or more
parties have conflicting goals which cause one partner’s goals to interfere with
the other being able to achieve their goals. Gottman (1999) has found that the
quality of communication (including being respectful and/or using humor)
between couples when they try to resolve a conflict (e.g., over money, sex,
in-laws) is associated with changes in marital satisfaction and divorce. In
addition, a couple’s sense of satisfaction within a marriage can be linked to the
ability to successfully manage conflict more than most other variables within a
relationship (Greeff & Bruyne, 2000). If couples don’t have the skills to resolve
their problems, new problems will build up, old ones will become chronic, and
marital satisfaction will deteriorate (Espicosa, 2003).
In sum, studies indicate that poor communication skills are a key
reason why unhappy couples suffer from marital dissatisfaction and distress
(Litzinger & Gordon, 2005), with distressed couples reporting more destructive
communication behavior and conflict avoidance (Stephan, 2005). Frequent
use of negative communication styles e.g., criticizing, complaining, and
making sarcastic comments, are related to marital distress and dissatisfaction
(Gottman & Krokoff, 1989). With poor communication skills, couples are
unable to express their emotions to one another which can cause them to be
defensive or withdraw from a conflictive situation, which can lead to marital
dissatisfaction. According to a longitudinal study by Amato and Rogers (1997),
couples who later divorced vs. those who remained together were found to
communicate less clearly, listen to their spouses less thoughtfully,
self-disclose less often, express negative emotions (and few positive
emotions), and spend less time together.