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The 3 most important elements of a successful marriage

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The art of marriage is typically thought of to be exactly that — an art form.

With numerous variables and the complexity of human emotion on full display, marriage has long held a reputation as something to be examined with wonder and fear often reserved for the paintings of Jackson Pollock. Though they may seem identifiably similar on the surface level, no two people are the same, making the union of two souls a delicate game.

But what if that “game” was less complicated than its reputation lets on? Maybe marriage really is more of a science, not an art. That seems to be the implication of a new study published by Cornell University.

According to the study, recent research into “happy marriages” shows that, despite the countless variables that certainly exist in every relationship, there seems to be a few identifiable traits found in most successful marriages. The press release for the study goes so far as to claim a “formula” for success when it comes to marriage.

To better understand this “formula,” researchers surveyed close to 400 Americans who had been involved in a romantic union for 30 years or more. All participants were Americans age 65 or older. The researchers inquired into what makes a relationship last, and compiled the answers to form the Cornell Marriage Advice Project.

From that research three major themes emerged: communication, knowledge and commitment.


According to the researchers, communication is key to making any relationship last. The majority of those surveyed said they believed “most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication.”

As I wrote in February, good communication can go a long way in calming the waters of arguments that naturally arise during any relationship.

“Keep yapping at one another,” one responded reportedly told the researchers. “If you can’t communicate, you’re just two dead ducks.”


Knowledge plays many important roles in marriage. Understanding what lies ahead for you and your partner is vital to charting a successful life together, for example. But one of the most important types of knowledge, according to the survey, is an intimate understanding of the person you’ll be marrying. How they think, what they love and what they want from life can all be make-or-break issues for compatibility. That’s why it’s so important to know exactly who you’re marrying.

Those looking for a successful marriage should “wait to marry until they have gotten to know their partner well and have a number of shared experiences,” the researchers said, summarizing the responses.

“Their strongest recommendation is to marry someone who is generally similar to you,” they explained elsewhere. “Marriage is difficult for anyone, but it’s much easier with someone who shares your interests, background and orientation.”


It’s no secret that despite recent declines, high divorce rates remain an important part of the public dialogue around marriage. While there’s certainly no surefire way to eliminate divorce altogether, the researchers found that those in successful relationships think marriage is as much a state of mind as anything.

“Rather than seeing marriage as a voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does,” the researchers found “the elders propose a mindset in which it is a profound commitment to be respected, even if things go sour over the short term.”

“They see marriage as a discipline,” one of the researchers found. “Like becoming an athlete or a musician — you never reach perfection, you are constantly learning, and you sacrifice short-term gain for something more rewarding later on.”

But in the end, one of the most poignant lessons the researchers found in the wisdom of the elders, is that marriage is indeed worth it.

“It is a sublime experience,” they said. “A connection to another person unlike any other relationship.”

JJ Feinauer is a writer for Deseret News National Email: jfeinauer@deseretdigital.com, Twitter: jjfeinauer.