The Hard Data Behind Strong Relationships

Featured on the front page of The Washington Post last weekend, was a piece on a recent survey done by the Pew Research Center that included statistical findings on the factors that couples cite as most important to a happy relationship. There were a few surprises…and then, there weren’t…

Faithfulness came out on top- not a surprise -and agreement on politics came in as least important of the variables rated. What is surprising is that overall children came in second to last as important to a happy marriage. Whites came in strongest on their feelings that kids are not essential to happiness, blacks were in between- and Hispanics ranked them as more important than the other two groups. Yet, averaged out- they were still second to last. Maybe this is why divorce continues to be strong even though we have been in a baby boom period for a number of years. Kids don’t hold a marriage together, make it better if it has major flaws- or provide the glue that keeps the family together through all the stress, hard times and distance that can come between two people and the future they had envisioned together. So the notion of having a baby to fix a relationship must be close to extinction by now- or one can only hope,

Things like having a good sexual relationship, sharing chores, an adequate income, good housing and shared religious beliefs all came before children. Another surprise was that shared interests ranked only one above children- or third from last. It seems that so much emphasis has always been placed on a need for sameness in interests as a strong factor in compatibility- yet those in the know say “no,” not so.

As I read between the lines I saw a couple of important things to note from this survey. The first is that compatibility seems to be most determined by lifestyle choices, physical chemistry, mutual support and an ability to work together and share the responsibilities of daily life. I see the need for shared values poking out- as our values dictate our priorities, how we view family roles, responsibilities, how we manage and share money, and overall future goals and direction for our lives.

This study is very useful because the information comes from married people who have a firsthand experience with what has been important/not important to their relationships. Whatever their expectations or beliefs were when they made the decision to marry- this information comes from having been there, in the trenches.

For all of you out there who have yet to marry, take another look at your “mate shopping list.” If shared interests, agreement on politics and desire for kids are at the top- you may want to re think your overall priorities and think about a “real life” in the future- with someone who shares your interests but is doing them alone because you are handling most of the child care and/or household and other chores- and are too exhausted to even think about what you would like to do for yourself- if you had the space and support necessary to do it. In other words, put some extra thought into your vision of that future life and what kind of partner you will want beside you when the inevitable challenges, disappointments and heartaches come. Listen to those who have been there, and allow yourself to learn a little from their experiences.

To view the full study go to:

Author: Toni Coleman

Toni Coleman, LCSW, CMC is an internationally recognized dating and relationship expert and founder of Her expertise is sought frequently by local and national publications and top ranked dating and relationship websites and she has been a guest on a number of radio and TV programs. She is the featured relationship coach in “The Business and Practice of Coaching,” (Norton, September 2005); the author of the forward for, “Winning Points with the Woman in Your Life, One Touchdown at a Time;” (Simon and Schuster, November 2005) - and her popular relationship articles can be found in several magazines and a number of self- help, personal growth and dating/relationship websites. Toni holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work, is a licensed psychotherapist in the state of Virginia, and earned a certification in life coaching.

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