Research has seen marriages 'typed' -- and discusses their success rates depending upon the nature of the relationship. Illustration: Dominic Xavier
A new book has once again enlivened the debate over marriage and marital life.
A 30-year study on divorce in the US by E Mavis Hetherington identifies five types of marriages, says the book entitled For Better (For Worse): The Science of a Good Marriage.
The cohesive marriage and the traditional marriage were most likely to be stable over time.
However, Hetherington identified three styles of marriage -- the pursuer-distancer, the disengaged marriage and the operatic marriage -- that put couples at high risk for divorce, writes author Tara Parker-Pope.
The cohesive/individuated marriage had the second lowest divorce rate.
According to Hetherington: "The marriage functions as a refuge the husband and wife return to at the end of the day for renewal, support, affection, and companionship."
Surprisingly, a traditional marriage, which recognises the male breadwinner/female homemaker roles, had the lowest divorce rate in the study, reports the Times.
The success of a traditional marriage means both partners are happy with their role, perform it well and feel respected by the other partner.
In pursuer/distancer marriages, Hetherington found that in 80 per cent of cases, the pursuer is a woman.
She is keen to confront and discuss problems. The man typically is the one to withdraw, avoid confrontation and assume the 'distancer' role.
In a common pursuer-distancer conflict, the wife will bring up a problem. The husband will try and avoid the discussion by reading the newspaper, turning on the television set, or just staring into space or at his food.
Eventually, the distancer gets tired of the 'nagging' and loses his cool. The pursuer also gets fed up and withdraws into herself.
Contrastingly, disengaged marriages unite two self-sufficient individuals, "who fear or don't need intimacy to achieve a sense of well-being".
Disengaged couples don't argue a lot; they usually don't need each other on a daily basis.
The problem lies in the fact that partners in these marriages would have pretty much led the same life even if they were single: they lack mutual affection and support.
By contrast, the operatic marriage is characterised by dramatic highs and lows.
Here the pair is emotionally volatile and quarrelling often ends in bed.
Hetherington says people in operatic marriages reported the highest level of sexual satisfaction among all of the marriage types analysed.
Often these relationships end when one partner, typically the husband, decides the passion isn't worth the constant conflict.
Another study analysed married couples over a three-year period.
At the beginning of the study, the couples who rarely argued had the highest levels of marital happiness. They equated a happy marriage with low levels of conflict.
But things changed after three years.
The couples who argued a lot at the beginning of the study reported big increases in marital satisfaction.
They had resolved many of their differences and were enjoying a contented, productive partnership.
But many of the initially peaceful couples were headed for divorce. By staying quiet and avoiding conflict when things bothered them, they had missed important opportunities to cultivate and grow their relationship.
A University of Texas at Austin study of 156 newly married couples revealed that disillusionment in the early part of the relationship was a powerful predictor for divorce.
For Better (For Worse): The Science of a Good Marriage will be published by Vermilion on June 3.