ATLANTA—The keys to successful marriages for Black couples include the ability to communicate openly, remain flexible about each person’s role in the relationship as challenges arise and find agreement in how to manage income and assets, according to a study led by a Georgia State University researcher.
The study, “Black Marriages Matter: Wisdom and Advice From Happily Married Black Couples,” was designed to help young African-American couples understand the factors that can lead to happy, long-term marital relationships. The study was published in the journal Family Relations.
Antonius Skipper, assistant professor of gerontology and lead author of the paper, said much of the past research on Black families has focused on divorce and single-family households. His research team and others have been working to put a greater emphasis on understanding the factors involved in successful Black families and how to nurture them.
The researchers noted only 29 percent of African Americans are married, making them the “most unmarried racial/ethnic group in the United States,” though the majority of African Americans want to be married.
“The historical emphasis on the deficits of Black families have contributed to a very limited understanding of strong Black couples,” Skipper said. “When paired with systemic barriers to marriage and sometimes unrealistic desires in a marital partner, many young Blacks have grown to see marriage as unattainable.
“The lessons from the couples we’ve interviewed teach us that many Black couples overcome the same issues that have torn others apart. In overcoming, these Black couples grow closer to the marital benefits that were denied to Blacks for centuries, such as generational wealth and escaping poverty.”
The study was based on in-depth interviews with 35 happily married couples from several states who were already taking part in a longer-term research project.
The researchers concluded that cultivating open communication, including the ability to have uncomfortable conversations, was an important skill for successful couples.
Strong couples also tended to have a flexible view of the role they needed to play at different points in their relationship. For example, the researchers found that in the couples they studied, husbands and wives might shift the balance of household duties and breadwinner status over time, depending on health or job-market challenges.
As for money, the study found it did not matter who managed the money as long as husband and wife were in agreement, and “financial agreement may be more important to marital stability than financial comfort.”
Skipper said the researchers hope the study not only offers wisdom and advice to young Black couples but also helps to shifts how society thinks about Black families.
“Recognizing that many Black families have relational strengths that contribute to long-lasting unions moves us further from the often publicized narrative that Black communities are filled with single-parents, uninvolved fathers, and divorcees,” he said. “In short, as the title of the paper suggests, Black marriages matter.”
Dr. Antonius D. Skipper is a gerontologist whose research interests include religion and spirituality, aging, minority health, health disparities, marital and relational stability, and stress and coping.