How to know if you have a healthy marriage

From the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center
(Click here to download PDF version)

Like people, marriages come in many different varieties.

Despite the different approaches that couples collectively have to marriage, the elements of a healthy marriage share some common characteristics. These common characteristics do not imply that a marriage will be free of conflict but rather that couples with these elements have the “glue” that keeps them together. If your marriage does not include all these positive elements, it also doesn’t mean the marriage is doomed to failure. Use these characteristics as a “check-up” to help you and your spouse explore together the areas that are working well and those that may need some extra attention or nurturing.

Maintaining a Friendship
A deep friendship is the foundation for a happy marriage.1 This friendship cultivates the intimacy between husband and wife, an intimacy that can sustain a marriage, even beyond a romantic connection.2 Maintaining a friendship is a continual process of learning the other person’s likes, dislikes, fears, hopes and dreams. It involves practicing showing respect for one another, and quite simply, the continual enjoyment of each other’s company. It is this friendship that allows the couple to become an expert at when and how to repair hurt feelings as well as how to apologize and keep inevitable conflict from getting out-of control.3

Practicing Kindness, Respect and Nurturing
Doing things that please and uplift your partner typically occur naturally during the dating phase of a relationship. The need to continue “courting” your spouse beyond the dating phase and throughout the marriage is essential. Couples that take time to nurture their spouse also create an emotional safety net that protects their closeness even during conflict. This way, each person feels secure bringing up issues or problems without fear of ridicule. Even through the potential boredom of your daily routines, you and your partner can still find ways to show each other that you are worthy of admiration and respect.4

Doing Your Part
Although marriage is a partnership, it involves the active participation of two people. Both individuals need to do their part to address personal issues and achieve personal growth.5 You can not control what your spouse does, or how they react, but you can begin addressing the ways in which you respond or react in certain situations. Stay motivated to take good care of yourself, both inside and out. Stay committed to doing your part, even if your spouse behaves poorly or their actions are seemingly unfair. If physical or emotional abuse is part of your spouse’s poor behavior, make an effort to remove yourself from the situation and seek outside help.

Managing Conflict
Conflict is a natural part of relationships. It is not the frequency that conflicts occur that matters most but how couples address them. In marriage there are two primary types of conflicts: 1. those that are solvable, and 2. those that couples learn to live with.6 Couples learn to identify the differences between the two and to develop healthy ways to manage them as they arise. Together, couples can problem-solve the conflicts that are resolvable, while finding ways to manage the irresolvable ones. This can keep them from impacting their relationship in unhealthy ways.

Staying Committed to the Commitment
When both husband and wife remain committed to staying together, not only are they more likely to stay together, they reaffirm a sense of permanence and stability that will block conflict from destroying their commitment.7 In other words, their actions can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy—if they believe they will be together long term, they are more likely to stay together.

Upholding a Shared Purpose
Like businesses and corporations with mission statements, couples in healthy marriages work to uphold their shared sense of meaning—where they are headed, the dreams they want to accomplish and the values that develop and evolve during the relationship. Couples support their shared purpose by enabling each other to achieve individual happiness and goals—these individual goals become a part of the overall concept of what marriage is about.8

After looking at this list, you may discover that there are areas in your own marriage that could use some improvement. Furthermore, you may notice that there are areas that you are unsure about how to improve. If that is the case, don’t worry. Having a healthy marriage doesn’t just happen—it takes work and commitment. There is no magic formula to create a healthy marriage, but there are skills and approaches that can help you build those areas in need of attention. Learning the skills and techniques for a healthy marriage does not necessarily require counseling or therapy, it can be as simple as learning how to better manage conflict by developing and practicing more effective ways of communicating. It can also include learning more effective ways of recognizing and responding to the dynamics of a relationship through marriage education. Because it is not therapy or counseling, it is a less expensive and less intimidating way to work on your relationship.

There are a few key points you should take from this tip sheet. The first is that all marriages function in different ways. There are however certain aspects that are present in every healthy marriage. Amongst the most important of them are maintaining a positive bond based in true friendship and maintaining your commitment. These two aspects will impact how confident and motivated you and your partner are to moving forward together. By communicating well and proceeding with purpose you can increase your chances of building and developing your healthy marriage.

Reprinted from National Healthy Marriage Resource Center. Learn more at

Lifestyle/Leisure News RelationTIPS

PAIRS Foundation View All →

What is PAIRS?

Intimacy is critical to the process of developing and sustaining close relationships, now a major concern in our culture. Modernization has shifted the primary function of marriage from providing security, stability, and raising children to developing a lifetime of love and intimacy. In previous generations successful marriages depended upon duty and role competence. Modern marriages require greater interpersonal competence as well as equality between partners. Relationships are sought that not only create stable families but also provide partners with a lifetime of love and companionship.

The PAIRS (Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills) programs, developed by Lori H. Gordon, Ph.D., provide a comprehensive system to enhance self-knowledge and to develop the ability to sustain pleasurable intimate relationships. Gordon's approach integrates a wide range of theories and methods from psychology, education and psychotherapy and presents them in an educational format. PAIRS acts to bridge therapy, marital enrichment, and marriage and family development.

Programs: Courses and Workshops

PAIRS offers programs to the public led by PAIRS Trained Professionals (licensed health care professionals), and PAIRS Instructors (certified clergy and educators), trained under the auspices and supervision of Gordon and the PAIRS Foundation, the organization that officially oversees PAIRS programs, products and licensing worldwide. There are PTPs and facilitators around the world. Check “Finding an Educator” to find one near you or near one you love who may need PAIRS.

PAIRS is effective in all populations for which it has been adapted. PAIRS has relationship skills training programs for children and youth, PAIRS for PEERS, that are taught in schools, churches and agencies. PAIRS has programs for the Military, for use by chaplains and family service workers. PAIRS has faith-based programs for the Jewish, Catholic, and Christian church communities. PAIRS is currently developing programs and program delivery systems for disadvantaged youth, unmarried families, single parents, domestic violence, prison parolees, and related groups who can benefit from relationship skills training. PAIRS provides a vital ingredient to build stable marriages and healthy families with more hopeful futures for children. These programs for special groups will be taught by local agency workers and by specially trained community teachers and mentors. Research on PAIRS has demonstrated that PAIRS works for all groups under all circumstances evaluated. PAIRS is a modern technology adapted to our rapidly changing society in behalf of creating a saner, safer more loving world.

What you will learn in PAIRS

Sustaining a pleasurable intimate relationship does not work by magic. It depends upon a set of skills and understanding that can be learned. We learned most of what we know about intimate relationships through our early experiences in our families. Our personal history has a great deal of influence on what happens in our current relationships - on our behavior, our feelings, our expectations. We can change these influences if we become aware of them and wish to. It is well worthwhile to sort through what we inherited, keeping what fits for today and changing what does not.

PAIRS Competencies are specific skills that you will learn from PAIRS. These competencies focus in three areas: 1) emotional literacy; 2) conjoint partner skills for building and maintaining intimacy; and 3) practical knowledge, strategies and attitudes for sustaining positive marriage and family life. You may click on the above links to see a listing of the skills taught in PAIRS.

The Goal of PAIRS is a relationship that both partners can live with joyfully. For this to happen, each partner must become able to identify his or her own feelings and needs, and learn to communicate them in such a way that they can get met. This means communicating one's needs and desires without making the other partner feel resentful, smothered, burdened, manipulated, or inadequate. Easily and fully meeting each others' needs is the foundation of intimacy, fulfillment, and happiness.

PAIRS teaches specific easily learnable tools for successful communication such as confiding, complaining, and clarifying and for effective problems solving such as managing anger, expressing anger safely, fighting fairly for change and eliminating dirty fighting. PAIRS also guides the vast deepening of self-knowledge and develops emotional literacy. PAIRS addresses pleasure and satisfaction by teaching skills to enhance bonding, sensuality and sexuality in marriage. PAIRS teaches a profound but simple model, the Relationship Roadmap, to understand relationship success and to understand relationship mishaps and know what to do about them. PAIRS teaches over 60 skills that, after PAIRS, become the participants' PAIRS Tool Box for ongoing relationship maintenance.