Lasting Love: Influences on Marital Quality and Stability

A variety of factors contribute to a stable and happy marriage. For example, couples who attend church together, have a strong commitment to marriage, and receive premarital education services are more likely to stay together. On the other hand, factors such as living together before marriage decrease marital quality and stability.

  • Religious Attendance. Women who regularly attend church with their husbands tend to be happier in their marriages. Wives who attended religious services weekly with their husbands reported higher levels of happiness with their husbands’ love and affection than women in marriages in which neither the wife nor the husband attended services weekly.1
  • Commitment to Marriage. Women who share a strong commitment to marriage with their husbands have greater marital satisfaction. Women in marriages in which both spouses reported a strong commitment to the institution of marriage (e.g., agreed with statements such as, “Marriage is a lifetime relationship and should never be ended except for in extreme circumstances,” and disagreed with statements such as, “It is all right for an unmarried couple to live together even if they have no interest in marriage”) report, on average, higher levels of marital satisfaction than women in marriages in which neither the wife or husband said they were committed to the institution of marriage.2
  • Parenthood. The marital quality of older married couples with children tends to be more stable than peers without children. Older respondents began the study with higher marital quality than younger respondents. Over time, parenthood status among older married couples appeared to be associated with the quality of their marriages, in such a way that those with adult children who lived away from them reported relatively stable marital quality, while older married couples without children tended to experience significant declines in marital quality over a period of eight years.3
  • Leisure Time. New parents who spend more time together before the birth of their child report greater closeness after the child is born. New parents who spent more leisure time with each other before their child’s birth reported higher levels of “feeling close” to their spouses or “belonging to” their spouses one year after the birth of their first child. Wives also report less marital conflict.4
  • Premarital Education. Spouses who receive premarital education services report stronger marriages. In a large, random sample, couples who received premarital education had, on average, higher levels of satisfaction with their marriages, less conflict with their spouses, more commitment to their marriages, and lower odds of divorce than peers who did not receive premarital education.5
  • Family Background. Marriages in which both spouses come from intact families tend to be the most enduring. Compared to marriages in which neither spouse experienced parental divorce while growing up, marriages in which one spouse experienced a parental divorce were nearly twice as likely to end in divorce. Marriages in which both spouses experienced a parental divorce were more than three times as likely to end in divorce as marriages in which neither spouse experienced parental divorce.6
  • Cohabitation. Individuals who cohabit prior to marriage report, on average, lower levels of marital satisfaction. Respondents who cohabited prior to marriage tended to report lower levels of marital happiness and higher levels of marital conflict than individuals who did not cohabit prior to marriage, even when controlling for gender, marital duration, age, parental divorce, marriage order, education attainment, family income, and recent welfare aid receipt.7
  • Cohabitation. Cohabitation prior to marriage is associated with greater likelihood of divorce. Compared to women who had not cohabited prior to their first marriages, those who cohabited with the men they married were more likely to divorce. (Premarital cohabitation was associated with a 29 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce.) Those who had cohabited with at least two partners were even more likely to divorce. (Premarital cohabitation with two or more partners was associated with an 86 percent increase in the likelihood of divorce.) The effect cohabiting with two or more partners on the likelihood of divorce was 44 percent greater than the effect of cohabiting only with their eventual husbands.8
  • Perceived Marital Instability. Individuals who perceive their marriages to be less stable are more likely to divorce. Married individuals who perceived that their marriage was in trouble or thought about divorce, were more likely to become divorced within a 14-year period. (A one standard deviation increase in the “divorce proneness” scale predicted an 83-percent increase in the odds of divorce.)9
  • Divorce. Divorce may adversely impact the quality of a subsequent marriage. Although previously divorced individuals tended to initially report higher levels of positive marital experience and lower levels of negative marital experience in their subsequent marriages, they later experienced a decrease in positive qualities and an increase in negative marital experience at rates that accelerated over time.10


  1. W. Bradford Wilcox and Steven Nock, “What’s Love Got to Do with It?: Equality, Equity, Commitment and Women’s Marital Quality,” Social Forces, Vol. 84, No. 3 (March 2006), pp. 1321-1345.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Debra Umberson, Kristi Williams, Danie A. Powers, Meichu D. Chen, and Anna M. Campbell, “As Good as it Gets? A Life Course Perspective on Marital Quality,” Social Forces 84, No. 1 (September 2005): 487-505.
  4. Amy Claxton and Maureen Perry-Jenkins, “No Fun Anymore: Leisure and Marital Quality Across the Transition to Parenthood,” Journal of Marriage and Family 79, No. 1 (February 2008): 28-43.
  5. Scott M. Stanley, Paul R. Amato, Christine A. Johnson, and Howard Markman, “Premarital Education, Marital Quality, and Marital Stability: Findings from a Large, Random Household Survey,” Journal of Family Psychology 20, No. 1 (March 2006): 117-126.
  6. Nicholas H. Wolfinger, “Family Structure Homogamy: The Effects of Parental Divorce on Partner Selection and Marital Stability,” Social Science Research 32, No. 1 (March 2003): 80-97.
  7. Claire M. Kamp Dush, Catherine L. Cohan, and Paul R. Amato, “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts? “ Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 3 (August 2003): 539-549.
  8. Jay Teachman, “Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 2 (May 2003): 444-455.
  9. Denise Previti and Paul R. Amato, “Why Stay Married? Rewards, Barriers, and Marital Stability,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 3 (August 2003): 561-573.
  10. Debra Umberson, “Stress in Childhood and Adulthood: Effects on Marital Quality over Time,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67, No. 4 (December 2005): 1332-1347.