Finally, sociocultural and contextual factors that affect the quality of marriage include age at time of marriage, level of education and income, and occupational stability. Being similar (homogamy)in race, socioeconomic status, religion, intelligence, and age are factors that affect a new marriage in a positive way. Individual characteristics such as physical and emotional health, lack of neurotic traits, conventionality, and level of self-esteem contribute to the quality a couple can achieve in their new union. Also, having similar values, attitudes, and beliefs seems to bring out the best in both spouses.
When it comes to interpersonal dynamics, good communication and conflict-resolution skills bring strength and quality to the marriage (Gottman 2011). Not having cohabited and low participation in premarital sexual intercourse also contribute to a couple’s quality of marriage and sexual satisfaction (Larson and Hickman 2004; Strait et al. 2015).
Research regarding the effects of the family of origin demonstrate that one’s family of choice is significantly influenced by one’s family of origin. When parents have had a high-quality marital relationship, the couple has a better chance of developing quality in their own marriage. When both sets of
parents have achieved a long-lasting marriage (no divorce), are relatively free of mental illness, demonstrate positive conflict-resolution strategies, and provide a warm, caring, and nurturing home environment, chances for high quality in the newly formed marriage increase. Also, when families are supportive and refrain from pressuring the couple, marital quality is more likely. The new couple needs time and space to develop their relationship. In the next section, we will consider in more detail the family-of-origin dynamics.
Resolving Issues Related to the Family of Origin The influence of families of origin on the family of choice is generally referred to as intergenerational transmission (Bowen 2004; Kerr and Bowen 1988). This is one of the most important contributions from Bowen Family Systems Theory (BFST). Intergenerational transmission refers to the communication patterns and strategies children learn from their parents as well as the emotional tone of the family. The main ways that communication and relationships merge with emotional experience occurs via differentiation of self (DoS).
DoS is a key component in the adaptability of families. It allows each individual family member, with the sure identity of belonging to their family, to understand his or her values and beliefs and engage in family relationships based on these beliefs. Further, as stressors arise within the family and children develop increasing competencies, parents need to support these competencies by increasing parental expectations for the children. Stressors outside the family demand the family to adapt to pressures as well. Taken together, DoS provides the psychological and relational strengths needed to respond to these challenges in a values-based manner.
DoS provides the individual with the tools to manage emotional experience while maintaining one’s relationships with others. DoS should be conceptualized along two dimensions (Frederick and Dunbar 2019). First, intrapersonal DoS focuses on one’s ability to be attentive and responsive to one’s emotional experience while not being overwhelmed by that experience. Individuals with high levels of DoS are able to acknowledge their emotions while responding to them in a values-based manner. Second, DoS has an interpersonal dimension focusing on the balance of individuality and togetherness (Bowen, 2004; Kerr and Bowen, 1988). Interpersonal DoS
enables individuals to maintain their values commitments while remaining in relationships with others. Both these aspects of DoS are transmitted in one’s FOO as described above.
Parents as Role Models Parents are powerful role models. They teach through verbal
communication, but their nonverbal behavior is probably even more influential. Children learn important lessons about marriage by observing how their parents communicate with each other—how they express their feelings of love, affection, and anger. Everything that parents do in their role as marriage partners will profoundly influence their children’s behaviors and attitudes as marriage partners. Although true for both husbands and wives, there was a stronger correlation between wives’ positive experience in their family of origin and reported marital adjustment. On the other hand, more negative FOO experiences had more negative effects on conflict resolution and marital satisfaction for women as compared to men (Dennison et al. 2014).
Research indicates that regardless of whether or not we agree with the way our parents handled their marriage or parenting responsibilities, when a similar situation arises in our own family, our spontaneous reaction will be to behave as our parents did. The young wife who witnessed her mother’s temper whenever her father was running late may be determined to give her husband the benefit of the doubt rather than lash out in anger. However, when a similar situation arises, she finds herself scolding her husband before he has a chance to explain his tardiness. The husband, who remembers that his father was less than considerate in not calling home about being detained, nevertheless forgets to call his wife. In many ways, relationship partners replicate relational patterns from their families of origin.
Spouses must make an effort to recognize and correct faulty attitudes and behaviors they unthinkingly bring into their marriage. It is imperative to avoid the fatalistic attitude that denies responsibility for one’s own behavior by saying, “My parents have been such a strong influence on my behavior that there is nothing I can do about it!” To make excuses of this nature is tempting. A husband may say, “My wife wants me to be more open in communicating my feelings to her; she just doesn’t realize that we didn’t do that in my family.” A wife may say, “I can’t help worrying about you when you go on a
trip; my mother always worried about my father.” These defeatist attitudes do not facilitate needed change.
Equally detrimental is the naive belief that one’s family of origin does not affect one’s marital life. Such thinking leads to a denial of behavioral patterns that have similar negative outcomes in one’s marriage. Without personal awareness of these patterns, change is unlikely.
Parental Support As noted at the beginning of this chapter, research indicates that social,
emotional, and financial support from parents and other relatives—what is known as family climate—is very important in helping a newly married couple establish a solid marriage. In fact, more positive experiences in family climate are associated with better self-regulation (Hardy et al. 2015). Children with more supportive and warm family climates internalize the ability to regulate anxiety and anger in these early relationships. RSR is cultivated in supportive families and translates to increased marital satisfaction.