While the vast majority of American youth desire to be married, many are not optimistic they will have a “good” marriage (Popenoe & Whitehead, 1999). This may reflect the statistic that marital dissolution rates continue to linger around 50% along with the sad reality that domestic abuse and infidelity affect as many as one-fourth of all marriages (Christopher & Sprecher, 2000). Less than optimistic attitudes may also reflect ambiguity in the marital process.
For example, for many couples, the old European-American model of dating leading into formal courtship followed by a honeymoon period, has been largely replaced by an abbreviated dating stage, followed by a cohabitating period, with eventual marriage and a honeymoon delayed until the couple can accumulate enough “flex time”. Moreover, marriage continues to evolve. The trends for individuals to marry later, have fewer children, and work more outside of the home continue. Additionally, fathers have become more active in terms of raising children and increasing involvement in domestic chores, although women continue to shoulder more of these responsibilities (Marsiglio, Amato, Day, & Lamb. 2000).
While optimism about marriage may be declining somewhat, research has identified many variables positively affecting marital quality. For example, Gottman, Coan, Carrere, and Swanson (1998) analyzed process variables in marital interactions and found that couples who utilized a softened start-up to disagreements, practiced physiological soothing techniques in arguments, had a five-to-one positive to negative ratio, and accepted influence from one another, tended to have lower rates of divorce. Epstein & Baucom (2002) propose that healthy marriages involve an amalgam of positive attributions, fulfillment of personal needs, prosocial behaviors, and affective considerations at both the micro and macro levels of interaction.
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