Marital Intimacy Essay

Marital Intimacy

A look into the factors affecting marriage

Abstract

With the evolving trends redefining the basics of marriage, it is no wonder that marriages are increasingly failing. The issue is of such proportions today that the government itself has become involved to bring a change in the deteriorating marriage and family life. Researchers have contributed a lot to the understanding and addressing of the issue. The paper attempts to look into the factors that threaten a marriage, and ways to improve the situation. The role of love and faith, communication and counseling are crucial in sustaining relationships. Exclusive programs have been developed too, to improve marital life and reduce conflict. The current marriage scenario definitely holds harsh implications for the future. Children, also victims of failed or conflict ridden marriages, face a bleak future. People need to rededicate themselves to the cause of their families, be more willing to share and accommodate partners, and meet the challenges successfully, to retain their marriage.

The influence of the changing economic and social scenario on family life was an important topic of concern, during the early twentieth century. Marital research focusing on marital problems and solutions, gained importance. Scholars and psychologically trained marital researchers contributed to the literary development of marriage and marital issues. Although the emerging literature on the subject had immense conflict of opinion, it nonetheless contributed to the needs of a more scientific and rational understanding of the subject. Identification and evaluation of the parameters contributing to marital satisfaction and marital conflict are very important.

It is not possible to predict the marital outcome, purely based on marital conflict. The influence of conflict in marital life has to be seen from the perspective of the behavior exhibited by the partners. The complexities associated with measuring marital conflict are also evident from the demand-withdraw pattern (Fincham, Stanley & Beach, 2007). It was observed that the demand-withdraw pattern no way affected marital satisfaction in highly affectionate partners (Fincham, Stanley & Beach, 2007). However among the low or average affectionate partners, it had an immense bearing. Another important aspect to be considered while studying marital conflict is the need to distinguish marital distress from marital discordant. With the emerging literary and intellectual inputs on the marital sphere, marital conflict and dissatisfaction would be better understood and approached.

For many years researchers have been capable of predicting with considerable accuracy as to which marriages would be successful and which if these would fail (Fincham, Stanley & Beach, 2007). These predictions based on earlier relationship studies, emphasize newer knowledge on marriages at risks. It is however not possible to predict the success or failure of a marriage, although many claim to be capable of doing so. Since the risk factors are clearly evident, it is the level of confidence and certainty, an assessor attaches to his opinion that is vastly varied. It is unethical for a marriage counselor to provide feedback to couples, particularly negative feedback on their future (Stanley, 2003). Such understandings however help to provide support to couples to keep their relationships intact. Couples that fight in their marriage may be alerted to these prediction studies to perceive the risks their marriages have, over time.

The need to promote spiritualism and discipleship in the marriage partner is a requirement of Christian ideology, although it is very difficult to accomplish (Worthington, 1999). A partner’s relationship with God cannot be strengthened when the individual is already occupied with feelings of hurt, anger, sadness or fear. Sometimes people cannot care for their partner because they themselves may be demoralized and worried, requiring them to concentrate more on themselves than their partner. Promotion of Christian values like love, forgiveness, faith, commitment etc., among Christians and non Christians can help in developing personal attributes or qualities which are the foundations for a cherished relationship. It is when these factors become irrelevant to an individual; he or she fails to value or attempt to hold on to a marital relationship.

When marriage partners do not love each other, they fail to value each other. (Worthington, 1999). Marriage is a commitment till death, and therefore to sustain that marriage, partners need to value each other, throughout life. Several issues may crop up, on which the married partners may differ; however such occasions can be used for increasing their love if they value each other. On the other hand, such situations can further injure their relationship when the element of value is missing. The couples also need to have faith in their relationship, that it would stand the test of time. (Worthington, 1999). Negative transactions which earlier would have been ignored would now be only expected and magnified. When there are more negative interactions than the positive ones, the partners begin to perceive their marital relationship as being fundamentally negative (Worthington, 1999). Countering the loss of faith, by emphasizing its importance to the couple, can help salvage the marriage. Like most other things, sustaining a marriage also requires effort and work (Worthington, 1999). When love and faith cease to function between the partners, they are automatically drawn away from maintaining the relationship. Similarly when attempts to improve marriage don’t work, such attempts are not taken further. Some partners believe if they don’t enter into a confrontation or conflict, it could help heal their relationship. Unfortunately, it requires work and effort to rekindle a relationship and refraining can only do more harm (Worthington, 1999).

In many ways marriages are comparable to our bodies. Just like the complex functioning of our bodies, where every system is interconnected and when a particular system is affected, the entire body is not at ease; marriages too can be similarly shaken by issues. Common issues and problems like in-law problems, sexual troubles, financial disagreements etc., can interrupt the promotion of love, faith and love. There are about nine basic aspects of life in which the promotion of love, faith and work can improve marriage among the partners. These nine areas or the 8C’s are summarized as: (Worthington, 1999)

1. Central beliefs and Values:  The core values are generally strongly held by people. Apart from the core values, people also hold other beliefs and opinions in high esteem, which may not be dear to them as their core values. It is these values that are susceptible to erosion. The values that are more prone to modifications under marital counseling are love, self and commitment. (Worthington, 1999)

2. Core vision of marriage:    The core vision of the institution of marriage is recognized in three different ways. Each one perceives their marriage in his or her own way, while also having an individual perception of an ideal marriage, which is evaluated against their perception of the existing marriages. People generally look at the negative sides of their marriage, and believe their perception to be perfectly right. Counselors can help partners perceive their marriage in an encouraging and beneficial manner. (Worthington, 1999)

3.  Confession and forgiveness:   Although pain is an unavoidable aspect of marriage, confession and forgiveness can contribute to healing. (Worthington, 1999)

4. Communication: Problematic communications can escalate conflict. Misunderstandings arise due to the gap in what was said and what was intended to be said. Counselors help in adopting appropriate communication styles together with speaking and listening skill development. (Worthington, 1999)

5.    Conflict resolution:    It is difficult for troubled couples to resolve their differences. Most of them have chronic conflict, of varying styles. Conflict is the biggest reason for couples to seek counselors. Counselors can help couples to adopt faith, love and work, even during conflicts. (Worthington, 1999)

6.  Cognition:  When marriages are going the wrong way, the partners perceive everything negatively. It becomes almost impossible for them to see their relationship having love. The couples need to be brought back to look at the positive aspects of their relationship. (Worthington, 1999)

7.  Closeness:   Closeness is very essential for a happy married life. Closeness may be different from one partner to the other. Sexual intimacy, social intimacy and emotional intimacy are all types of closeness. (Worthington, 1999)

8. Commitment: Commitment joins the partners into a single unit. When commitment is eroded by dissatisfaction, anger or resentment, then the relationship breaks down. (Worthington, 1999)

Researchers have often recognized the relationship maintenance mechanisms people adopt to sustain their married relationship.  Desired actions by happy and content partners have been noted by communication specialists while certain behaviors have been identified as role models by social psychologists. (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007) Partners, who want to sustain the relationship, think and act in ways different from those who do not care about their relationship. These relationship oriented partners do not consider themselves as individuals but rather as a part of a team, a team that includes their partners too (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). They acknowledge an overlap of their life with that of their partner’s. Their talk and actions would reflect more of ’we’, ‘us’ and ‘ours’ than ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine’. In such relationships, many actions of the partner are perceived in ways that suit the relationship, unlike in uncommitted relationships where these are perceived negatively. For instance a partner’s mistakes are not taken serious and any misconduct is thought of to be an unintentional action or a temporary and reasonable action (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). The very perception that their relationship is a special one and better than most other relationships, itself makes the relationship a strong one (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). Satisfied partners are not lured by attractive rivals, because they are not attentive to alternatives (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). Contended partners do not consider the prospects of alternative relationships. On the other hand, people who are not committed to their present relationship, pursue their options with curiosity and eagerness. They are constantly in the lookout for better partners. People committed to a relationship are very willing to make personal sacrifices like doing things they don’t prefer doing, for the sake of their partners or their relationship (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). For instance watching an uninterested movie for the sake of your partner, go a long way in strengthening relationships (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). It is very important for people to help their partners achieve their aspirations, to help them become what they want to be. (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). Partners need to support one another in their pursuit of skill developments, self growth and acceptance of new roles and responsibilities.

People take innumerable efforts and care to ensure the security of their relationship. The partners promote positivity in their relationship by trying to be cheerful and making their interactions really enjoyable (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). They promote humor by using funny nick names. They ensure proper conflict management by apologizing whenever they are wrong and be willing to forgive their partner (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). For assurance, they reiterate their commitment to their relationship and emphasize that their relationship has a future. (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). The partners share tasks by being willing to do at least their share of the work (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). Thus, there are many strategies which people take to, in their everyday activity, to ensure the well being of their relationship. However, despite efforts to have the relationship intact and running, it can break up requiring repair. Sometimes the repair can be done by the partners themselves or otherwise require professional help.

Among the innumerable factors leading to marital unhappiness and divorce, researchers have found some to be very difficult to change after marriage (Stanley & Markman, 2003). Situational factors like parents being divorced, having children from earlier marriage, being together before marriage, or having different religious backgrounds are some of the affecting factors that cannot be changed (Stanley & Markman, 2003). There are other factors too that affect marriage, which can be altered if worked on it. These include communicating properly even during disagreements, confrontational attitudes like fighting and talking negatively, untrue perceptions about marriage (Stanley & Markman, 2003). Failing to see marriage as a long term relationship and being attentive or be attracted to other people, are some of the other factors that can be overcome with efforts.

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Heejeong Choi and Nadine Marks (Choi & Marks, 2008) studied whether marital conflict could lead to functional impairment. The studies showed that marital conflict could lead to increased depression and impair normal health condition. Among the middle aged and older adults such marital conflict was seen as a major risk factor affecting their psychological and physical health. Marital relationship has an important bearing on the health state of adults. Married people were seen to experience better health and longer life compared to single people (Choi & Marks, 2008). This is mainly because marriages can provide greater emotional and social support, give a meaning and purpose to their lives, which in turn contribute to physical well being. High levels of marital conflict lowers life satisfaction levels or produces depression, leading to decline in mental health (Choi & Marks, 2008).  The link between physical health and marital quality is more relevant among the younger people while its effect on mental health is more prominent in older people (Choi & Marks, 2008).

It is therefore no surprise that President George Bush had extended the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families Program to $100 million annually in February 2006 (Dush, Taylor & Kroeger, 2008). The programs are directed at sustaining marital relationships, emphasizing that health and well being are promoted through successful marital relationships. The marital quality indicated by marital happiness is again associated with marital interaction, problems and divorce susceptibility. Marital happiness has also been found to be associated with household income, whether children are in the household, religious attitudes and traditional attitudes towards marriage (Glen, 1989). This marital happiness interpreted by various factors, is subject to pattern type changes over time. Earlier work has established that happiness follows a U curve, decreasing during early married life and increasing in the later years (Glen, 1989). However this shouldn’t be taken very seriously as other studies have showed that happiness declined at all measured periods. The marital quality too was interpreted to be generally declining with time. In their study of marital instability over life period, Kamp Dush and Taylor used a scale to measure marital happiness through measurement of the understanding received from spouse, love received from spouse, sexual relationship, faithfulness of spouse and spouse as someone to associate with (Dush, Taylor & Kroeger, 2008). It was observed that people with high levels of happiness in life have more chances to experience high marital happiness with time. Likewise low levels of life happiness are likely to result in lower marital happiness over time.

The opportunities for intervention and prevention strategies are very limited when dealing with couples. Couples have no need for intervention and awareness programs when they are happy. There is also no point of the prevention program when the couples are immensely distressed since it’s too late (Stanley & Markman, 1997). Preventionists have identified important transition periods in life as the ideal time for working with the couples. (Stanley & Markman, 1997). These are the transition period to marriage and transition period to parenthood. Couples are more likely to seek the services of a preventionist during these transition times. Preventionists use several educational strategies to counter the negative symptoms of marital distress. They raise awareness among the partners with respect to certain negative patterns, cautioning them to put a check. (Stanley & Markman, 1997) When couples become aware of the factors putting them at risk of damaging their relationships, the effect of an intervention is achieved.

The Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) is a program intended to impart communication and conflict management skills to couples for present and future marital success. (Markman et. al., 2004).  The program incorporates ideas and procedures from behavioral marital therapy (BMT), while also imparting problem solving skills. The latest version of PREP incorporates current research understandings in the fields of commitment, intimacy, communication, conflict management, expectations and gender differences. The program includes investigation for danger signs in interactions, promotes speaking and listening techniques, while also reviewing core beliefs, expectations and forgiveness. (Markman et. al., 2004). It also demonstrates on ways to sustain and increase fun and friendship. The PREP is directed to providing preventive interventions at early stages of conflict or even while the couples are seemingly happy. Such efforts can reduce divorce and marital distress at later life. The foundations PREP may be attributed to researchers of mid 1970s who studied marital distress, its causes and consequences of marital distress. Researchers were interested in knowing how communication occurred within unhappy unions, compared to happier couples (Markman et. al., 2004). The program today is the result of over two decades of research and refinement on the subject.

The effectiveness of a PREP program was analyzed by Markman, Renick and Floyd through a four and five year follow up. The PREP program was spread into five sessions over a three to four month period. The intimacy and conflict levels among the couples were assessed using the Interaction Dimensions Coding System (ICDS). The ICDS evaluates four positive aspects of communication and five negative aspects (Markman et. al., 2004). The positive aspects are communication skills, support skills, problem solving skills and positive effect. The negative aspects are denial, dominance, conflict, withdrawal and negative effect. The ICDS has emerged as a global coding system for interaction (Markman et. al., 2004).

The results of the PREP showed that couples that experienced interventions showed higher levels of marital satisfaction than their control couples (Markman et. al., 2004). Intervention couples also reported lower levels of physical violence and showed improved use of communication skills, greater problem solving skills and a positive effect. The intervention couples are very unlikely to break up their relationship, showing that they had much confidence in their relationship (Markman et. al., 2004). Although marital distress has several limitations and challenges for prevention approaches, the problems can be addressed by developing conceptual and empirical prevention strategies.

A close link between marital distress and sexual activity was observed to be present, which was more pronounced among men than in women. (Rust, Golombok & Collier, 1988). Sexual dysfunctions in males like impotence and premature ejaculation contributed more to the distress than female disorders like vaginismus and anorgasmia. (Rust, Golombok & Collier, 1988). Extra marital sex was also determined to be a cause for depression and decline in commitment in marriages. (Beach, Jouriles, and O’leary, 1985). It was also determined that the partner involved in extramarital sex showed higher depression and lower commitment (Beach, Jouriles, and O’leary, 1985). The sexual organs are intended to bring pleasure when partners engage in acts of love making. However, when one is addicted to masturbation, there isn’t a bond of love with the partner, but only a bonding with ones own fantasies. Addiction to masturbation generates sense of guilt and shame too, apart from making one feel unconfident in the presence of their partner. Although research on the impact of pornography on family and community life, is very limited, studies have shown that pornography addiction can lead to lowering of sexual satisfaction and loss of family values. (Associated Press, 2004)   People also take to porn, when their partner’s refuse to cooperate or are disinterested in providing their needs. For instance a person who loves oral sex and has a partner who hates it, would like to look at pictures of oral sex. Sex therapy and appropriate counseling can improve sexual gratification among couples.

Marital distress and divorce is increasingly felt as a burgeoning social problem, which is evident from the projected statistics and expert opinion. According to the US census Bureau, young couples marrying for the first time have a 40 to 50% chance of ending up in a divorce (Stanley & Markman, 1997). Researchers have revealed that a big percentage of married and apparently stable couples could actually be chronic distressed couples. (Stanley & Markman, 1997). Adults and children are prone to mental and physical affects, due to marital conflict or distress. A ‘triple threat’ constituted by marital conflict, divorce and children born out of wedlock’s has resulted in the creation of a generation in US where children are more likely to see poverty and take to antisocial behavior (Stanley & Markman, 1997). Researchers, policy drafters, ministers and the government itself has been increasingly drawn to the issue of mental distress and divorce. Newer research would no doubt provide scientific reasoning and logic with each new approach on the issue. The church and the government would continuously strive to propagate happy married life in the interests of God and man. However if these efforts are to gain fruit, people should rededicate themselves to marriage and family life, be more willing to share, sacrifice and accommodate each other. This is very essential for the well being of the future generation, if not for the couple themselves. The need for successful marriage and family life in the society, is more felt today than at any point of time, earlier. Unfortunately despite the vast understanding on the subject, the road to change is very difficult today due to, the developing new trends. The basic definition of marriage as an union between man and woman itself has been challenged with the development of same sex marriages. The road ahead for improving marriages and family lives is uncertain, however hope exists.

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