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silhouette of coupleLOVE IN EARLY ADULTHOOD

LIVING WITH SOMEONE: Is it a good idea?

Click here to read the latest research on cohabiting couples.


Over 90% of American adults will marry at some point during their lifetimes. We tend to describe people we know on a continuum as "happily married" or " a disastrous marriage" and act as if there is a single dimension known as "MARITAL HAPPINESS" . According to some researchers, David H. Olson being predominant among them, this view is not true.

Personality issues
Conflict Resolution
Financial Management
Leisure Activities
Sexual Relationship
Children and Parenting
Family and Friends
Religious Orientation

Depressingly, in a large scale (over 3,000 couples) study Olson and Lavee(1993)  found that 40% of couples scored low on all nine dimensions! I guess this should not be too surprising, though, given that 40-50% of marriages end in divorce. Less than 10% scored high on all nine dimensions (Olson called these Vitalized marriages), and the other 50% fell somewhere between the two extremes.

    In between the two extremes, they identified a number of types. These included the "Financially-focused" couple who were satisfied with financial matters and little else. They seem focused on their careers and outside relationships, such as with bosses, neighbors, etc. rather than the marriage itself. Three other types, "Balanced", "Traditional", and "Harmonious" scored high on some measures and low on others.

    I liked Olson's classification of marriages because these seemed to pretty well describe my own observations. It seems as if we all want that perfect marriage but rarely find it. I have also witnessed (as many of you probably have as well) couples who are primarily focused on their careers or their parenting role, or who are focused on themselves and consider their children an inconvenience.

    Traditional couples, I thought were an interesting group. They seemed to interest Olson in that they were moderate to low on many of the nine scales, but were not very critical of one another, did not seem distressed about their marriages and had relatively high marital stability. I think the word traditional really says it. As my grandmother explained of her era:  

"Nowadays, people expect their husband or wife to be their lover, best friend, and therapist. We didn't think that way in my day. My husband provided for us, he made a good living, he didn't beat me or the children, didn't drink or go out with other women. What more do you want? Young people these days want everything. I just canít believe it when I listen to these young girls talk! You canít talk to your husband so you want to divorce him? For heaven's sake, find a friend to talk to! People in my day didn't expect to find everything in one person!"

    Olson has written a great many articles and a couple of books. Most of them are pretty research-oriented and, I think, would be rather difficult for the average college freshman or sophomore. His book, Families: What makes them work is probably the easiest to read if you are interested in reading more about his theory and work. He has also written a textbook, Marriage and the family, which you might like if you are interested in this topic. I also found it to be easy to read and interesting.

    Go to the next page on work in early adulthood

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