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Marital Quality

Measurement Issues, Trends In Reported Marital Happiness, Bases Of Marital Quality, Consequences Of Marital Quality

When people are asked to rate or rank their life goals, having a happy marriage is usually among the most important. People in most other modern societies seem to be somewhat less enamored of marriage than those in the United States, but with the possible exception of Scandinavians, who have often chosen nonmarital cohabitation over marriage, most adults throughout the modern world devote much effort to striving for a happy and satisfying marriage. Given the prominence and prevalence of this goal, family social scientists and psychologists could hardly avoid trying to assess the extent of its attainment and to identify the conditions under which it is likely to be attained. These efforts have been extensive, and the academic and clinical literature that deals with marital happiness and/or satisfaction is huge, with the number of relevant books, articles, and chapters published in the United States alone since the 1960s numbering in the thousands.

The terms marital happiness and marital satisfaction are closely related, but not synonymous (Campbell, Converse, and Rodgers 1976). Both refer to positive feelings that a spouse derives from a marriage, and both happiness and satisfaction are broader and more global in their meaning than such concepts as enjoyment, pleasure, and contentment. According to Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, and Willard Rodgers (1976), marital happiness is based on an affective evaluation, whereas marital satisfaction seems to have a more cognitive basis that involves a relation of one's circumstances to some standard. They found that marital happiness varied positively with formal education, while the most highly educated persons reported somewhat less marital satisfaction than those with less education. However, marital happiness and satisfaction are highly correlated and generally have been found to bear a similar relationship to other variables; thus, the common practice of using the two terms interchangeably in literature reviews is sloppy, but not a very serious error. This entry uses marital quality as a blanket term to cover either or both of these terms (see Lewis and Spanier 1979).

Marital quality is often used in a sense that includes marital adjustment as well as happiness and satisfaction. However, it is better to conceive of marital adjustment as something that may affect marital quality but is not part of it, since adjustment is an aspect of the relationship between spouses rather than a feeling experienced by each of them. Such indicators of adjustment as conflict, communication, and sharing of activities may relate differently to the spouses' feelings in different marriages, or even differently to the husband's and wife's feelings in the same marriage. The literature on marital adjustment is quite closely related to that on marital happiness and adjustment; the two literatures cannot be cleanly separated, since some marital quality scales (e.g., the widely used Dyadic Adjustment Scale) mix elements of adjustment with spouses' evaluations of their marriages (Spanier 1976). However, the focus in this entry is only on marital quality, as indicated by husbands' and wives' evaluations.

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Marriage and Family EncyclopediaRelationships