The following is an interview with a real couple about what makes their relationship work. Their names have been changed as well as any other identifying information to protect the anonymity of the couple.
Peter remembers after meeting first meeting Everdeen: "This is a woman. She had her shit together." He commented on how he felt captivated by her service in listening to God as well as her integrity; characteristics she carries with her to this day. Everdeen left Peter with a glimpse of how thoughtful, considerate, and utterly pleasant she was - she had made an impression. Everdeen remembers taking note of his fun, outgoing, and playful nature - something she attributes as innate to him as a man. She distinctly remarked on how she found in him a "carefree, lighter, good feeling" further stating that she "felt better to be around him." Peter appreciated the way she valued Christ centered service through a life of integrity. Everdeen appreciated his fun, loving, carefree ability to make her feel as though all the good in her was affirmed. Both commented, "we are not the same person" and as such they are able to celebrate those differences and envelope the most of every moment together.
Peter spent a large part of their dating relationship living in Germany. Thus much of their communication happened via e-mail and scheduled phone calls. They commented that they "dated without actually dating." They spent time talking to one another about what was happening in their lives, their families, and in the two very different worlds that kept them apart. Overall the interactions were short and fun. In these times of short, faraway conversations, Peter and Everdeen learned how to learn one another. Continually learning how to learn one another is the second rich quality of this couple. It is incredibly crucial to the couple to "fight the urge of complacency" in most every area of their marriage. When asked what he thought made for a good marriage, Peter stated: "It is important to me to learn about her - new ways to continue to love her. Even now I am relearning old things I love about her." They also mentioned that "those who don't take the time to communicate love - are doomed to miss out on what marriage is all about." The ability to learn one another and continue learning one another is tantamount to Peter and Everdeen's marriage.
In discussing what they see as bad aspects of marriage, both Peter and Everdeen agreed that they did not see many successful couples who did not want to be friends. It is important to make the distinction between being friends and the desire to be friends. The emphasis in this difference is the desire to continue being part of each other's lives in a fulfilling way. Many couples reach a point in their marriage where they feel as though they simply exist with one another, as in any other relationship. Peter and Everdeen would argue that to find true fulfillment, couples must be willing to work at enjoying the friendship of one another. They find utter enjoyment in the presence of one another. This is the third rich quality that makes this an exemplary marriage. The enjoyment they take in the presence of their other satisfies their relationship beyond that of what some would call a 'best friend.' The marital relationship uses the attraction of friendship to strengthen the bond towards a connection of communion between spouses. Not necessarily something every relationship has.
At various moments during the interview Peter and Everdeen both mentioned how the other person made them a better individual. Everdeen spoke about the beginning of their relationship: "He made me feel like marriage material; he was not afraid of his feelings for me." With Peter, she embraced how he was "reckless with his feelings and it didn't scare" her. He was able to see the mature, pleasant woman who was worthy to be loved with a reckless love and wanted to make that known to her from the beginning. For Peter, Everdeen continually bestowed to him a "non-anxious presence of maturity." In thinking about their wedding day, he said, "For an anxious person who worries, it was a day of peace. It all came together in a day of 'us.'" Everdeen soothes the anxiety Peter feels. Her presence speaks to the still parts of who he is and allows him to access moments of tranquility in the midst of anxiety. The other of their spouse creates a space for them to each employ the seemingly distance parts of who they are as individuals.
Literature states that marriage dissolution involves largely destructive patterns of behavior resulting in marriage satisfaction determined by constructive patterns of behavior: "Destructive behaviors include overtly negative reactions to marital problems such as yelling, insults, criticism, belligerence, and contempt. Constructive behaviors involve overly positive reactions such as saying nice things, calmly discussing the problem, and actively listening...destructive behaviors in marriage result in negative evaluations of marriage and declines in marital satisfaction and stability, whereas constructive behaviors lead to improvements in evaluations of marriage and increases in marital satisfaction and stability" (Birditt, Brown, Orbuch, & McIlvane, 2010, p. 1189).
Regardless of the position a couple takes on having a successful marriage, research says that "marital satisfaction is a strong predictor of life satisfaction and well-being" (Fincham & Beach, 2010, p. 634). The overall well-being of individuals largely depends (for those in a marriage) on the level of satisfaction in the marriage. Overall health of the individual demands more than simply avoiding negative interactions: "health is not merely the absence of illness, some marital researchers have explicitly focused on the need for more attention to positive marital processes and the emergence of a thriving literature on forgiveness in marriage suggests that this shift is underway" (Fincham & Beach, 2010, p. 635).
Marriage research is beginning to consider the corollary between healthy relationships and forgiveness in relationship. In the past "family researchers have paid too much attention to conflict and too little attention to positive interpersonal processes, such as forgiveness and sacrifice, in understanding martial quality and stability. A shift away from a focus on poor communication and conflict to positive aspects of marital interaction appears to be a promising for future research" (Amato, 2010, p. 653). Learning how to offer forgiveness necessitates a new way of doing relationship. Therefore "when spouses have poor relationship skills, couples experience negative relationship outcomes, but only when few expressions of positive affect are exchanged between partners" (p. 651). The process of learning how to forgive and accept transpires through the initial positive characteristics of attraction.