5 Types of married couples… and which one you want to be

married couples
They say that love is unpredictable. And they, whoever they may be, are wrong. The likelihood of a married couple staying married is and can be predicted by mathematical modeling, with 94% success rate. If you think 94% is far too small to be accurate and scientific, please talk to your local meteorologist who “forecasts” weather. I live in Seattle, where any given day is 94% likely to be rainy, and yet, even here, the weather forecasters are only 30% right! That’s right, your relationship is much easier to predict than the weather, take that KOMO-guy-who-ruined-many-of-my-weekend-trips.According to a study spanning over a decade conducted by James Murray, a Professor at the University of Oxford, there are only five types of couples, two of which are stable and will survive, two which are unstable and will likely divorce, and one in the middle that is volatile and unpredictable. The professor and his team conducted interviews of almost a thousand couples. They classified them by their answers to questions about sex, money, in-laws and etc, carefully counting couples negative responses (disgust, sadness, contempt) vs positive (affection, humor or happiness) responses. Then they made predictions and tracked the couples over twelve years. At the end of the tracking period, there was a 94% success rate of using the couples responses to predict their permanency.  The professor said “I am still absolutely amazed that human emotions can be put into a mathematical model and that a prediction can be made.” While at some level, most of us should realize that this is common sense, people who hate are bitter at each other’s, are far less likely to survive than those filled with happiness and affection, there is much to learn from this study.

As you read though these descriptions ask yourself what couple you are and which one you want to be. I strongly believe Jesus can change your relationship, to bring you from the bottom of our list to the top. Yet, often we are too hard-hearted and stubborn to want to change. I urge you to pray about your relationship and your husband or wife, that Christ would help them where they are lacking. Don’t give up on them, but don’t enable them to continue this way either. And if you are single, be aware of these types of relationships, don’t commit to marry someone if both you and they are not willing to live as the first couple on this list.

1. Validating (stable)

This is the couple with the best success rate, and usually the best experience in life. They are calm towards each other and validating of each other. Instead of putting each other down emotionally, they care deeply for one another and persist in actions to make that known. Instead of seeking out individuality, they seek to create shared experiences. Prof Murray said “The most stable relationships are those which take a more old-fashioned view and see marriage as mainly about companionship.” This couple best embodies the Biblical ethos of a “one flesh” relationship. The man places priority on togetherness with the wife, not in his own independence. Hunting and fishing trips do not take precedence, but time spent with the wife. Likewise she also places priority on an evening out with the husband, rather than with “the girls.” While both persons may have had dreams, goals, ambitions, when they were young, these goals are now in submission for the greater good of the family. The man does not neglect his wife to “follow his dreams” by becoming a pilot. Instead, they find shared activities and dreams to work on together. Instead of building up their careers as the hinge on which their separate lives swing, these couples build a family they are both equally and joyfully invested in. They may, of course, spend time apart and pursue separate hobbies, but at the core of their relationship is a priority commitment to pursuing togetherness, not individuality. Ultimately this is the ideal relationship, it is a true joining of two hearts as one, each part caring deeply for the other and prioritizing the life, well-being, health, and joy of the couple, rather than the individual. This couple is often seen as two eternal lovebirds that are always seen holding hands. Whether the wife is young, middle aged with four kids, or an older grandmother, the husband will always smile and call her “sweetheart” and she will respond in like.

2. Avoiders (stable)

This pair is also stable in maintaining a marital relationship, yet I would argue, not as successful in the quality of the marriage. According to the research, those that fall into this category do their best to shun confrontation and conflict. They only reply  to their partner with positive ideas and emotions. Usually these types of people assume that if you don’t talk about negative emotions, feelings, and idea, they will simply disappear. While there are plenty of concerns that both could engage each other on, they usually either know what makes the other partner angry, and avoid it, or forgo exploring deep seated issues altogether. My natural inclination is to feel that this would create very detached couples that have very little intimacy, and thus a high divorce rate. However, the research states otherwise, at least about the divorce rate.  My own personal experience reminds me of the many married couples I have seen that precisely fit this mold. They are still together, and unwilling to divorce, largely because of their faith, family, and children, yet they are always doing things apart, and don’t appear to be prioritizing shared experiences. This is most obvious in couples that have built up a safe and comfortable life and are now raising children, they will often hide any of their negative feelings or avoid conflict because of their children, of their finances, or what their church and friends would think. Ultimately these pairs commit to staying together, for better or worse, and do it, not out of the internal deeply rooted connection to each other, but based on external influences from family, faith, and fortune. This couple is often viewed by others as good parents or good Christians but they are usually not seen as sweet romantics, though sometimes they pretend to be, but in any case they stay together for someone (children or church) or something (obligation or guilt) other than each other.

3. Volatile (in between)

Volatility by its very nature shows instability. Most of us have had friends like this, whom we have always had mixed feeling about. This couple is the type that is so uncertain that many in the audience at their wedding quietly crossed their fingers as the vows were being read. Partners in this relationship are like microwaves, their emotions, positive or negative, can quickly heat up, and just as quickly cool off. They can be profusely romantic and passionate, having intense emotional and sexual events, and as quickly getting into loud heated arguments. In his research Murray found that these types of couples can go either way, when it comes to divorce, however, usually have more unhappy moments rather than happy. Most of these couples follow some sort of cycle, constantly moving between anger, fights, and disappointment, to making up and making out, and then again finding a way back to the negative end of the spectrum. Ultimately these duos are unpredictable, and if partners are unwilling to change, for better or worse, their chances of staying together can depend on any number of external factors. From opportunities for alternative partners, to religious views, to financial stability. These relationships are often visible for what they are, and are too emotionally driven to be able to aptly hide everything. This is the type of couple that one day sends one partner running to their parents or siblings, or finds the man complaining in the pub to his friends, and the next day sees them smiling and holding hands.

4. Hostile (unstable)

This type of relationship is very similar to the ‘avoiding’ type discussed above. There is a marked difference, however, in the first case, couples commit to pushing out negative feelings and only speak positive, for some greater purpose. In the second case, “hostile” couples will avoid speaking positive things, and neglect to push out negative emotions, they will simply allow them to simmer. Often this takes on the following form, there is a conflict or issue that can bring about resentment, and one partner refuses to talk about it, so the other agrees. And then both begin to quietly build up walls of bitterness in their hearts. In many cases these couples contain one person who is an avoider, and feels things will go away when ignored, and a second partner who is a confronter, who needs to deal with everything completely upfront. Then the two will constantly conflict because the avoider refuses to talk, and the confronter feels neglected and grows bitterness. The avoider sees this bitterness, and also allows it to culminate in their heart, refusing to deal with it. While many other types of couples may experience this in some small allotment, the hostile couple is completely defined by their refusal to deal with deep issues of the heart. They don’t often experience loud and angry arguments, instead they grow and nourish something even more frightening, a cold indifference. They simply avoid each other, living very quiet, closed off, and distant lives, until one morning the husband tells the wife “I don’t love you anymore” or he finds a letter on his desk upon returning home, addressed from the wife, telling him she has moved on with her life apart from him.

5. Hostile Detached (unstable)

This type of couple is by far the worst combination. As defined by Murray’s research this type of pair usually contains one partner who is fiery and wants to argue and fight, and a second who is a hostile avoider, not caring enough to discuss the issues. Yet there are other similar variations that would fit this category. The main difference between the regular hostile couple (above) and the hostile-detached, is that in addition to the hostility and inability for two to openly and honestly discuss conflicts and deep issues of the heart, there are also two radically different personalities involved that culminate in fights. The wife is a rage filled maniac who always initiates fiery conflicts, while the husband is quietly angry and prefers to keep everything inside, or vice versa. Often taking some people out of the categories above and mixing them together will produce a hostile detached couple. For example taking a validating wife, one who eagerly intends to make everything about the couples health, and mixing her with a volatile husband will create a toxic mixture. The wife will often be emotionally abused, and in some cases physically abused, while the husband flies about in fits of emotion. Other mixtures, regardless of which gender takes what role, can create equally unhealthy concoctions. Ultimately this couple is very likely to get divorced. The main exceptions include those women who are so abused by their husbands they are scared to leave, or other situations where the greatest factor in keeping this couple together is fear, manipulation, or intimidation. From the outside, these couples can vary a great deal, from the marriage in which the woman bears many bruises to the house where dishes regularly fly. In one case, I know of an abusive husband who constantly emotionally harasses his wife, yet in public calls her all manner of loving names. This couple builds deep emotional scars in at least one partner, if not both.

One response

  1. You credited the wrong researcher. I longitudinal study was done by J. M. Gottman in 1993 outlining these 5 types. He originally thought of them and wrote a paper about it in 1979.

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