Climbing divorce rates and the redefining of traditional relationships in the latter half of the twentieth century have put a spotlight on the ideal of marriage. Adjusting gender roles, greater disposable income, globalization, and the acceleration of technology and social change have contributed to the way individuals engage in relationships, and consequently marriage. The increase in divorce rates has provoked researchers and marriage counselors to investigate and consider factors predicting marital success or failure. As the context and roles within relationships continue to evolve, the determination of contributing factors to the success or failure of marriage will continue to become more complex.
In the present, one key predictive factor for a successful marriage is based on premarital relationship quality. One study, conducted by Fowers and Olson, observed 393 couples over a 3-year period and found vitalized couples had the highest level of satisfaction and success (Fowers et al., 1996). There are three types of courtship that also allude to the success or failure of future marriage: Rocky and turbulent courtships, sweet and undramatic courtships, and passionate courtships. Each courtship is distinguished by different characteristics that will influence their marital outcome (Strong et al., 2011). Marital happiness and satisfaction is an obvious predictor of a successful marriage, and certain background factors are important to predict happiness. Examples of background factors are level of education at the time of marriage, individual traits and behaviors, and couple characteristics (Strong et al., 2011). Another factor indicating the success or failure of a marriage is how one navigates transitions within and between relationships. These transitions allow for individuals to experience personal growth, which will translate into the strength of a marital relationship (Ferguson, 2004). Premarital relationship quality, courtship types, background factors, and relationship transitions play contributing roles to the overall success or failure of a marriage.
While committing to marriage is associated with an array of positive benefits, the dissolving of a marriage harbors negative connotations. The concept of marriage, and its dissolution, finds its way into economical, political, psychological, and religious arenas as a source of debate, intrigue, and speculation. In recent decades, the definition of marriage, its image, and meaning have all come into question by sociologists, human rights activists, and psychologists. The traditional sense of marriage, in which two people commit to an unbreakable lifetime bond, is being challenged by instances of impulse marriages, high profile matrimonies lasting only a matter of hours, and a steep divorce rate. Social context has changed -- marriage is no longer a necessity or a matter of livelihood. In heterosexual marriages, the conventional gender roles have been blurred. Two income households and greater financial independence regardless of gender have created an opportunity for people to pursue, and abandon, relationships as they choose (Charny, 2006, p. 21-36). Factors predicting marital success or failure have emerged as a consequence to changing social roles and expectations.
In countries like the United States and Australia, the divorce rate is almost 50% - one out of every two marriages will end in divorce. The National Survey of Family Growth conducted a survey in the United States to examine the developing trends in marital breakup, divorce, and remarriage, to study if the trends differ by race or ethnicity, to consider the existence of unmarried cohabitation, and to inspect demographic, economic, and social factors that affect the chances that a marriage will succeed or fail (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). At the time of the study, the survey showed there is an increased chance for a first marriage that began in the 1950s-1970s to end in separation or divorce. The characteristics of one's community also shared a relationship with the success of a marriage, indicating community prosperity had greater incidence of successful marriages and cohabitations (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). The study noted that marriages existing in areas of poverty have greater likelihood to experience marital failure. According to the survey, demographic, economic, and social factors are closely associated with chances that a marriage will succeed or fail. Considering the wife alone, a first marriage is most likely to succeed if she "grew up in a two-parent home, is Asian, was 20 years of age or over at marriage, did not have any children when she got married, is college-educated, has more income, or has any religious affiliation" (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995).
The National Survey of Family Growth also examined the rate of first marriages considering race, age, religion, and socioeconomic status, the probability than an intact first premarital cohabitation will become a marriage, and the probability of remarriage. The probability of a first marriage is lowest for non-Hispanic black women than for other women, and the likelihood of getting married by one's eighteenth birthday is greatest for Hispanic and non-Hispanic white women, and the least likely for non-Hispanic black and Asian women (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). Women who report their religion as not important are less likely to engage in a first marriage, and early marriage is more likely for women in communities with higher male unemployment, higher poverty, more welfare recipients, and lower median family income (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). Indicators an intact first premarital cohabitation will become a marriage are: higher among white women and lower among black women, more likely for couples with higher incomes, higher for cohabiting women with any religious affiliation than those with no affiliation, and more likely in communities with lower male unemployment and poverty (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). The probability for remarriage is highest among white divorced women and lowest among black divorced women, and is more likely among women who were under age 25 at the time of their divorce (Bramlett, & Mosher, 1995). The survey adequately specified racial, age, socioeconomic, and community trends in probability of first marriages, cohabitations resulting in marriage, incidence of divorce, and likelihood of remarriage.
Increasing divorce rates have encouraged researchers to study elements of marital stability, and recent studies indicate premarital relationship quality is a significant factor used to predict the success or failure of a marriage. Marital and family counselors encounter a gamut of relationship types, and interact with clients struggling with relationships, marital dissatisfaction, and divorce. This has triggered a number of premarital counseling and education programs to address factors that can cause marital failure. The identification of predictive factors for marital failure, stability, and satisfaction, has led professional responders to develop relationship models that explain different types of relationships which can reflect marital health. Researchers Fowers and Olsen examined a sample of 393 couples to observe premarital relationship quality. The team gauged couples on the premarital inventory PREPARE, which has 11 scales to assess the quality of a premarital relationship. From their findings, Fowers et al. responded with the realization of four types of premarital couples: vitalized, harmonious, traditional, and conflicted (1996, p. 3).
As described by Fowers et al., vitalized couples experience a high extent of overall relationship satisfaction, and expressed comfort in their ability to discuss problems and resolve conflict (1996, p. 3). These couples also indicated satisfaction in their affectionate and sexual qualities, agreed on financial and parenting matters, and enjoyed how they spend free time together (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 3). Harmonious couples shared a moderate level of overall relationship quality, advising they felt understood by their partner, satisfied with each other's personality, could share feelings, and were comfortable around one another's friends and family (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 4). Fowers et al. distinguished harmonious couples from vitalized couples as they tended to be unrealistic, to a degree, about their view of marriage and had not reached agreement on child-related issues (1996, p. 4). The study also noted harmonious couples indicated religion did not play an integral role in a couple's relationship.
Fowers et al. described traditional couples as those experiencing moderate dissatisfaction with interaction areas of their relationship, their partner's personal habits, and difficulty or discomfort discussing feelings and achieving conflict resolution (1996, p. 4). These couples exuded strength in decision making, future planning, and have a realistic view of marriage. Traditional couples viewed religion as a vital component of their marriage, and were least likely to have cohabitated prior to marriage or be pregnant at the time of marriage (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 4). Couples categorized by Fowers et al. As conflicted showed the greatest relationship concern. These couples expressed dissatisfaction with their partner's personality, habits, and struggled to effectively communicate and discuss problems within the relationship. Conflicted couples reported a lack of ability to communicate regarding leisure activities, their sexual relationship, and interaction between each other's friends and family (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 4).
Three years later, Fowers et al. followed up with the couples that participated in the study. The results showed the highest percentage of divorced couples, as predicted, were conflicted couples. Conflicted couples accounted for 40% of divorced couples from the sample group, and were three times more likely to divorce than vitalized couples (Fowers et al., 1996, p. 11). Harmonious couples were twice as…