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What is Marital Satisfaction?

The CHARISMA research was designed to investigate marital satisfaction. In particular, the goal of this research was to learn whether there are specific pathways which lead to marital satisfaction. Good idea… but what’s the definition of marital satisfaction?

The research literature on marital satisfaction is somewhat of a mess. Historically, this research has suffered from the use of ambiguous and overlapping terms. Over the years, researchers have used a variety of synonyms for marital satisfaction, including marital quality, marital success, adjustment, happiness, satisfaction, consensus, companionship, and integration. So what are we talking about? Marital satisfaction is a distinct concept, and so its important to take a moment to define the term, marital satisfaction, correctly.

According to the literature, Marital satisfaction is the subjective evaluation of one’s experience in their marriage. By subjective evaluation, we mean that marital satisfaction can only be rated by each person in response to the question, “How satisfied are you?” The level of your satisfaction cannot be determined by anyone else. Marital satisfaction is not a property of a relationship; it is a subjective experience and opinion.

Uniquely, marital satisfaction is a relatively stable attitude and attribute which reflects the individual’s overall evaluation of the relationship. Marital satisfaction depends upon the individual’s needs, expectations, and desires for the relationship.
Related Terms…

Another term, Marital quality is really a generic term which serves as an umbrella term and incorporates three concepts: (1) marital satisfaction, (2) marital happiness, and (3) marital adjustment. These three concepts are related but distinct. To clarify their meanings, we can compare the following definitions:

  1. Marital satisfaction (as just defined) refers to an individual’s subjective experience of the marriage. Individuals are usually satisfied when their needs are being met, and when the individuals expectations and desires are being satisfied.
  2. Marital happiness is defined as the level of personal happiness an individual feels about his or her marriage. Like marital satisfaction, it is a private evaluation which can only be made by the individual through self-report by asking a question such as, “On a scale of 1-10, where 1 is low and 10 is high, how happy are you?” While it can be easily measured, this term is considered to be a rather vague concept.
  3. Marital adjustment refers to two different ideas. First, marital adjustment may refer to the process whereby individuals adjust their lifestyles to the lifestyle of marriage; or second, marital adjustment may can be evaluated by an outside observer who determines whether a couple appears well-adjusted or poorly-adjusted. The catch here is that marital adjustment often occurs regardless of marital happiness or marital satisfaction. People often adjust to situations where there is no happiness or satisfaction.
    Finally, a fourth concept is related but very distinct from marital satisfaction.
  4. Marital stability refers to the stability of the marital relationship, rather than to the condition of individual spouses. Stable marriages are solid in that there is no plan to divorce. In contrast, marital instability is defined as the propensity to divorce, which is determined by the presence of thoughts or actions which may lead to marital separation (such as, consulting a divorce attorney). Marital stability refers to the relationship, not to the spouses as individuals.

To summarize…
Marital Satisfaction is...

The degree to which an individual’s needs, expectations, and desires are being satisfied in their marriage.

A subjective condition which can only be described by the individual spouse.

An individual’s personal evaluation of their marriage overall.

Most similar to the concept of marital happiness because only the individual is able to say how happy or satisfied they are.

Marital Satisfaction is not...

A quality of the relationship.

A measurement of the relationship.

Predictive of relationship success (i.e., stability).