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Below are interesting research findings from our survey of 50,575 couples creating stepfamilies conducted by Life Innovations and Smart Stepfamilies. Couples took the PREPARE-MC relationship profile as part of premarital education or counseling. An analysis was conducted to discover the qualities of couples with the highest satisfaction and to discover what qualities best predicted high quality or low quality remarriage relationships. A practical book assimilating what we learned has been written to help couples grow their relationship and beat the odds of divorce. The book authored by Ron Deal and David H. Olson is entitled The Remarriage Checkup and is due out in January, 2010.

For your reference, the following terminology is used in the discussion below:

  1. Couple Checkup - this online relationship inventory is very similar to the survey we gave to our study participants; couples can take it on our site here.
  2. Vitalized couples - these couples have the highest quality relationships in general. Very rarely do these couples ever consider divorce.
  3. Harmonious couples - these couples have many strengths but aren't has high as Vitalized couples.
  4. Traditional or "Conventional" couples - these couples have a few strengths, especially those "external" to the couple's relationship (e.g., spirituality, finances, family & friends), but not many internal ones (e.g., communication, resolving conflict, sexuality). They have the lowest divorce rate (i.e., spiritual values often keep them together), but often one or both partners is dissatisfied.
  5. Conflicted couples - these couples have few relationship strengths and are often unhappy or distressed. Over time, many of them separate or divorce.
Dating & Courtship:
  • How long couples date before marriage is not as important as we once thought. For years conventional wisdom suggested that couples should date two to three years before deciding to marry. Our research discovered that how long couples have dated is not predictive of the quality of their relationship. What matters is the actual quality of the relationship (i.e., the number and type of relationship strengths), not how long they've dated. Among Vitalized couples: 22% dated less than one year; 36% dated one to two years; 19% three to four years; and 23% five or more years. In other words, couples who have dated a short period of time are just as likely to have a high quality relationship as those who date a longer period of time. Again, what matters is the actual quality of the relationship, not how long they have dated. One interesting finding, however, is that couples who date more than five years often have more issues in their relationship than those who have dated less time (which could explain why they are delaying marriage). One-third of Conflicted couples had dated five or more years. One final thought: just because couples can have strong, healthy relationships in a year or less does not mean their children will. Adults should expect children to adjust to a parent's serious dating partner or wedding announcement slowly. Because of this, couples are encouraged to slow down and not rush to the altar in order to give children sufficient time to emotionally prepare for a new stepfamily.
  • Vitalized couples had the lowest percentage of "never married" partners. We wondered if persons who had never been married had higher expectations for the relationship and, therefore, were less satisfied. We did not find that to be true. They are no more idealistic and have generally the same expectations as do "previously married" individuals.
  • Vitalized couples were twice as likely to include two divorced partners (66%) than one divorced and one never married partner (30%).
  • One of the best background (e.g., socioeconomic status, living arrangements, education, age, religious affiliation, etc.) predictors of couples with significant difficulties is whether or not they had ever broken up with each other during courtship. A full 41% of Conflicted couples had compared to only 13% of Vitalized couples (four times more likely).
  • Premarital satisfaction is highly correlated with later marital satisfaction (r=.61) but only accounts for 36% of the variance (i.e., other factors contribute to two-thirds of what makes up marital satisfaction).
Couple Strengths:
  • Shared spiritual beliefs are important to relationship satisfaction, but in and of themselves are not enough to create a high quality relationship. The shared spirituality scale was able to predict with 76% accuracy (moderate) whether couples had high quality or low quality relationships suggesting that spirituality is significant contributor to couple health. However, compared to all the other scales spirituality is only the 13th highest predictor of high/low relationship satisfaction in remarriage. In other words, couples can have high shared spirituality, but without more critical scales like communication, conflict resolution, leisure, and flexibility they will likely be dissatisfied with their relationship. Put another way, shared spiritual belief is a significant contributor to overall marital satisfaction, but is not a powerful discriminating factor between high and low quality relationships. Couples can have high spiritual agreement and still be dissatisfied. Shared spiritual values without intimacy skills might result in marital stability (i.e., staying married; see Traditional couple description above), but in and of itself, shared spirituality is unlikely to create a satisfying marriage.
  • Stepfamily issues become more salient after marriage and are more important to marital satisfaction for both men and women after marriage. Before the wedding, couple satisfaction is based more on the couple's relationship; after the wedding satisfaction is more heavily influenced by the stepfamily as a whole.