As a professor of psychology at the University of Utah, Victor B. Cline was involved in research that concluded there are 127 key variables that affect a marriage's success.
"There is no way you can find a person with whom you are a perfect match on 127 variables," he said during a telephone interview from his home. "You may have a good match in many areas, but there will always be some issues to work through."
So it should be no surprise that people will find differences they have to confront.
"Sometimes a couple will reach a point where there is quite a bit of disillusionment; they didn't realize marriage has bad days," he said.
He believes that people who know they will encounter difficulties may be better prepared to face the rough patches and then work through them.
The variables include temper, selfishness, sexual compatibility, spending quality time together and finances.
"Finances can be challenging. One of the partners is a spender and they spend more than they have. That gets them into constant trouble," he said.
Communication also can be problematic. The husband may not be good at communicating but the wife is, which becomes a source of frustration to her because she wants to talk to him for hours and he is not a talker, Cline said.
Or "some people have a temper. They're wonderful people, but they may explode or have an issue in that area."
How can couples manage their disagreements before they become a problem? They need to have the commitment and willingness to work on them in a kind and loving way, according to Cline. They should also use positive affirmation with their spouse. Criticism is a killer. "It has the power to really create problems in a relationship," he said.
If what you're doing doesn't work, get help. "What you need is a little mentoring," he said.
According to Cline, divorce is not necessarily the answer. "I see many couples who have solvable problems (yet) they get divorced. A lot of people throw in the towel at the first sign of trouble. What I know but they don't is if they would be a little more patient and a little more flexible, they could solve the problem. I can't tell you how many people I've seen on their second or third marriage, and they say they are far worse than their first marriage." When divorced people marry again, the chances of getting divorced are much higher, he said.
Particular hot spots in marriages these days are power struggles and selfishness. There are people who are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to make a relationship work and a family work, Cline said.
In a power struggle, one person has to have his or her way. "Sometimes it's the wife, sometimes it's the husband. They're really decent people, good parents, but they are obsessed with power and the other person won't put up with it," Cline said. He remembers one man who confided many marriages later that he had been arrogant, selfish and had wanted everything his way.
Cline offers two suggestions that can help any marriage:
(1) Let your spouse have one fault you don't even bring up. "Instead of picking away at them ... don't give them a bad time about it. Love them in spite of the fact they have flaws. Just like they love you."
(2) Invoke the "I change first" rule. "If you're having a power struggle or whatever, you break the deadlock by doing something first.... You can choose to change even though the other person may not want to at that moment."
Cline is now a professor emeritus at the U. and maintains a part-time private practice. And he and his wife, Lois, are involved with a non-profit organization that offers marriage-enrichment seminars. They help couples who sometimes get bogged down in a relationship to improve their skills in learning to work with their children, learning to negotiate as parents and as spouses, Cline said. In the seminars, leader couples share their own experiences in how they overcame difficulties and worked through to joy.
"Most couples have solvable problems, and that's what we're about. The whole purpose of our seminar is to help couples learn these skills for rebonding ... As they see other couples who have a lot of joy, they say 'hey, we can do that, too.' We give people hope." (The Clines and leader couples offer their services free. The $350 cost covers a two-night hotel stay, meals, handouts, etc. The seminars are consistent with LDS values, but couples from all faiths are welcome. The next seminar is scheduled for Jan. 24-26; information is online at marriage-enrichment.org.)
Success stories include a couple that divorced, but the husband didn't give up. He continued the courtship and the couple remarried.
In cases of abuse or severe addictions, Cline advises couples to seek "a more intensive level of care from a professional counselor."
IN BRIEF ...
• There are 127 key variables related to success in marriage. In no way can you find a person with whom you are a match on all 127 variables. Every couple will have issues to work through.
• If you're committed to making your marriage work, you'll do whatever you have to do to make it work.
• Criticism kills a marriage. It has an eight-to-one power ratio over praise.
• In most cases, couples have solvable problems.
—Dr. Victor B. Cline