I remember a reality show from years ago where couples whose marriage was in trouble were sent to a deserted island with other troubled couples. And not just any couples. We’re talking model-esque goddesses and chiseled Greek gods in their barely-there bathing suits complaining about how their partner “just doesn’t get me anymore.” So hey – how about we throw you on island with other hot couples…to help you save your marriage…even though you have every opportunity cheat on each other…on a deserted tropical island…with lots of booze and Jacuzzis. Did I mention the dress code was bathing suits? I did? Yup. Who needs couple’s therapy?
So, one need only tune into the latest reality shows to discover what couples fight about these days. Celebrities are no different. Even the true-to-life Simpsons sitcom catches characters Homer and Marge arguing over how to raise their children, their difficulties with money, or their lack of intimacy. Every couple has its touchy issues. Relationship satisfaction in the end is much like spinning fragile plates on a narrow pole – you’ve just got to keep working on all issues until everything is spinning in harmony.
When we analyzed data from our Relationship Satisfaction Test, we looked for insight into common issues that impact a couple’s happiness, including feeling appreciation and love, support and security, communication and sharing, dividing responsibilities and decisions, conflict resolution, sex, goal compatibility, quality time together, socializing as a couple, freedom, dependency issues, financial issues, and parenting issues.
For couples with children, the average score for overall relationship satisfaction (on a scale from 0 to 100) was 59 (Note: the higher the score, the more satisfied they are). For couples without children, the average score was 71. Couples with children were most satisfied with the degree of support and security their partner offered, and the degree to which their life goals were compatible (score of 66 for both). Perhaps not surprisingly, the least satisfying aspect of their relationship was the lack of time spent together. Couples without children were most satisfied with the amount of love, support, and security they experienced in their relationship, and were least satisfied with how decisions and responsibilities were divided. Interestingly, money issues overall were rather minor for both samples, although slightly higher for those with children (score of 45).
Gender comparisons reveal that for couples with children, men and women most differed on their level of satisfaction with the division of decisions and responsibility (score of 50 for women, 57 for men) and their sex life (score of 58 for women, 52 for men). For couples with children, men and women most differed on their level of satisfaction with the degree of freedom or independence they are “allowed” in their relationship, with men being less content than women (68 vs. 75).
So while there is a noticeable difference in level of satisfaction between couples with kids and those without, it seems to be linked to the need to shift priorities. Parenting issues were actually quite minor problems for couples with children, indicating that they generally agree with how their children should be raised. However, other areas that tend to fall by the wayside when kids become a priority, like quality time as a couple and sex, are more likely to suffer.
There may also be some bit of truth to the idea of the “honeymoon phase.” For both test groups (those with and without children), couples who have been together for five years or less were more satisfied with nearly every aspect of their relationship in comparison to those who have been together longer. Queendom’s sample of parents who have been married between 6-11 years (around the proverbial time of the “7-year itch”) were least satisfied with the division of decisions and responsibilities in the relationship, the degree of freedom/independence, and socializing as a couple, and were more likely to have difficulty with conflict resolution and incompatibility of life goals. There is one ray of hope, however.
We isolated people who stated that fighting is a major problem in their relationship and who have admitted to seeing a couple’s counselor. Those who experience a high degree of conflict with their partner and who have also sought counseling were the least satisfied with their relationship (score of 43), indicating that they are likely still working through some issues. Those who experience a high degree of conflict but have not sought counseling yet scored only slightly higher on satisfaction (score of 47). However, for those who have sought counseling and who indicated that fighting is no longer a problem in their relationship, the overall satisfaction score shoots up to 64. While we can’t say with absolute certainty that counseling is the sole cause of this improvement, therapy may help improve the way partners relate to each other and hopefully, how they deal with the more thorny aspects of their relationship.
There is still, of course, the option to go to a dessert island. By the way, did you know that “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts?” That being said, here are some tips to help improve relationship satisfaction:
- Work on your self-esteem. You can learn to take charge and gain control of your life by challenging this internal critic and building your self-esteem. Such inner strength would certainly come in handy if you decide to confront your partner about a matter that is bothering you. If you come across as composed and self-assured person who is not afraid to stand up and deal with a problem as well as accept your part of the responsibility, your partner will be more likely to take you seriously.
- Loves me or loves me not? While the occasional doubt in a relationship is normal, if it happens too often it can lead to tension or feelings of rejection. Does your partner know how you’re feeling? Talk to your partner about your concerns and explain why you sometimes feel unappreciated. Love is a two-way street, so make sure you’re meeting him/her halfway – you’ve got to give what you want to get.
- Bring the love back to life. Think back and find a beautiful moment with your partner that you truly enjoyed. If you are able to conjure at least a little bit of the magic, passion, or warmth that you felt at the time, you can use that to bring the affection back to your relationship. Consciously remind yourself of your partner’s qualities. Remember why you got involved with him/her in the first place. Simply put, dig out the positive aspects, even if it’s hard to do.
- Create some parenting rules. These can include what to you do if you disagree with your partner about a parenting issue, what to do when one parent isn’t around when a particularly important decision needs to be made, what is acceptable/unacceptable behavior as a parent, etc. Remember that disagreements about parenting issues, especially if fights ensue in front of children, can cause a lot of confusion and may even escalate into problematic behaviors.
- Dealing with different social lives. Look at it as a mathematical equation. You can spend part of your free time (let’s say 50%) with each other, doing things you both enjoy. Allocate some time to do activities your partner likes but you don’t, and vice versa (15% each). The remaining 20% could be your personal time, which each of you can spend as desired. With this method, both of you can be happy, you’ll get to do what you love and have your partner share it, and neither of you will end up spending too much time doing “boring” things.
- Be ready to compromise. Unless it is a real make-or-break issue (in which case, the help of a therapist may prove useful), you should be able to reach an arrangement that satisfies both of you. You may not get exactly what you want, but the situation will be improved. If you give something up in one disagreement, it may make your partner more likely to cut you some slack on an issue that’s important to you.
- Admit your own mistakes. Take responsibility for your own actions. It can be hard to face your personal shortcomings but your partner will likely appreciate your honesty. Your partner will become less defensive when he or she sees that you are not blaming everything on him or her.