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5 Questions to Ask for a Happy Marriage

November 30, 2017 | by Rabbi Efrem Goldberg

Five conversations that should take place over the course of dating and even within marriage itself.

What are the critical things to look for in dating to determine if someone is suitable for marriage?

Drs. John and Julie Gottman have been scientifically studying healthy relationships for four decades and have emerged as authorities on the factors that contribute to a successful marriage to the point that they can predict with greater than 90% accuracy if a couple they observe will still be married in five years.

Their research shows that kindness is not only an admirable trait, but it glues couples together. In fact, it is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. Kindness makes each partner feel cared for, understood, and validated, all which combine to feeling loved. Kindness is not only practiced during good times, but happy marriages practice kindness even in the way a couple fights by making sure that communication never includes condescension, aggression, or name-calling and focuses only on the issue that needs to be resolved.

Kindness and compassion are indispensable in marriage and should be qualities we are unwilling to compromise on for ourselves or our children. But there are other factors which can make or break a marriage and while some answers to questions are not objectively right or wrong, discussing them and understanding the different approaches to them, will go a long way to make a happy marriage.

Here are five examples of conversations that I submit should take place over the course of dating and courtship and even within marriage itself, if they didn’t occur sooner:

1. How did your family fight?

Disagreements are inevitable in marriage. How those differences are navigated is the driver of the success of the marriage. Did your family put things on the table, have it out, did they sweep them under the carpet, or did they silently shut down when issues arose?

2. Affection

Did your family prioritize and show verbal and physical affection with one another or was it assumed and not expressly provided? How often do your family members say “I love you” or offer praise?

3. Articulated Roles

Do you have a more traditional outlook on gender roles and responsibilities regarding children, income and caring for the house, or is there an expectation of sharing all responsibilities equally?

4. Money

Did your family spend money freely or are they more calculated and frugal? Do you like high end brand name clothing, furniture and cars or are you satisfied with inexpensive or generic alternatives?

5. Transparency

How do you feel about privacy and personal space within marriage? Do you expect to have access to all of my passwords, accounts and spend most free time together or do you prefer having personal space and sometimes doing things apart?

In large part there are no right or wrong answers to these five questions and they are certainly not a comprehensive list of the type of issues that truly make or break a marriage. Nevertheless, they are a sample of the types of ways I believe we should be thinking about evaluating a prospective mate and focusing on the critical things in marriage.

Gottman’s research has shown that 69% of relationship conflict is about perpetual problems. All couples have them – the problems that are grounded in the fundamental differences that any two people face. They are the issues that create the fights that happen over and over again with both sides thinking this will be the time I convince the other that my way is right, though it never happens. Gottman says that with every fight there was a conversation that needed to take place, but a fight happened instead. Rather than revisit the same fights over and over, we can eliminate almost 70% of the conflict in marriage, by simply identifying our fundamental differences and devising a strategy of how we will navigate them with the spirit of compromise and partnership.

Rabbi Chaim Vital said: “A person’s character traits are primarily measured based upon how they are to their spouse.” If we learn to ask the right questions and emphasize the most important things, perhaps we can improve the process of finding a mate, as well as the health of our marriages themselves.

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