What Kind of Support Do Spouses Need From Each Other?
by David Gibson
After two people marry, they are likely to seek a type of support from each other that they did not seek to the same degree before marrying, according to Daniel Molden, assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.
Molden is finding through his research that married couples place a high premium on their partners’ support of whatever they determine to be necessary obligations. Married people need their spouse’s support for fulfilling their responsibilities and meeting their commitments.
Before people marry, they tend to focus much more on supporting each other in goals that are future oriented than on goals related to the security and maintenance of their life together, Molden’s research suggests. But engaged couples may not suspect how strongly they will need each other’s support after they marry not only for reaching goals, but for maintaining the security of their life together.
“People planning to get married should think about not only how their partners support what they hope to achieve but also about how their partners support what they feel obligated to accomplish,” said Molden. He added, “We could end up with both happier marriages and more satisfied people in general.”
Prior to marrying, people turn to each other for support in the emotional ups and downs of life and during times of stress. They also want each other’s support for reaching long-term goals and achieving their dreams. Molden’s work indicates that married people still seek that kind of support from each other but that their well-being demands another kind of support as well.
Molden believes couples planning to wed would do well to discuss the need they will have as a married couple for this type of support, perhaps in a marriage-preparation program.
Many couples “don’t spontaneously think about whether their partner supports their fulfillment of responsibilities and obligations when deciding to marry. So I do think that it is something that perhaps should be more of a focus in premarital counseling,” Molden told this Web site.
For example, Molden said, if two people were asked individually “to describe what they felt their primary responsibilities were — both inside and outside of the relationship — and then whether they feel their partner supports them in accomplishing those responsibilities, this would provide an idea of whether that type of support is there. If it were lacking, couples could be encouraged to think about what their partner could do to improve support in this area.”
Before marrying, “couples could be encouraged to think about whether their partner is someone who will not only be on board with the long-term hopes and aspirations they have set for themselves, but who will also appreciate and assist in the more immediate responsibilities they believe they must manage from day to day,” he said.
Molden was the lead researcher in a study to be published in the July issue of Psychological Science. Northwestern University released the study’s major findings April 22. The research suggests that when marriages end in divorce, a key reason could be that the kind of support the spouses need from each other is not present in their marriage.
About the author
David Gibson served for 37 years on the editorial staff at Catholic News Service, where he was the founding and long-time editor of Origins, CNS Documentary Service. David received a bachelor’s degree from St. John’s University in Minnesota and an M.A. in religious education from The Catholic University of America. Married for 38 years, he and his wife have three adult daughters and six grandchildren.