Safety as the Hallmark of Successful Marriages
When you think of safety, what comes to mind? OSHA standards for workplace practices? Guidelines for preventing accidents at home? How about factors that contribute to or characterize success in marriage? That’s my focus here. Specifically, I focus on the critical role that types of safety play in having a “healthy” marriage.
Why the emphasis on healthy? The reason is historical. “Healthy marriage” became an important way to express one of the chief goals of efforts over the past 15 years to help people strengthen their relationships and families through community-level programs funded by the government. As various leaders in this movement expressed early on, marriage for the sake of marriage was not the goal as much as were healthy marriages (and relationships); those are the types of relationships that most contribute to adult, child, and family well-being. While there remain numerous ongoing discussions (and arguments) about programs and strategies, the emphasis on healthy was helpful, and it remains so to this day.
So, what are the characteristics of healthy marriages and family relationships that help adults and children to thrive? My colleague Howard Markman and I have long argued that one of the best ways to answer this question is by considering four types of safety: physical safety, emotional safety, commitment safety, and community safety. These categories encompass the vast array of research and theory about success in relationships, marriage, and family—even where the literatures rarely use the term “safety.”