What Is a “Healthy Marriage”?

Washington, DC — Promoting “healthy marriage” is a cornerstone of current approaches to welfare reform. And a growing body of research indicates that children thrive best when raised by both biological married parents, as long as the marriage is not high-conflict. But what is a healthy marriage?


Child Trends’ latest research brief, What Is “Healthy Marriage”? Defining the Concept, addresses that question. The brief examines the concept of healthy marriage and the elements that, taken together, help define it. It draws from available research studies and data, theoretical writings, and short papers Child Trends commissioned from scholars in the marriage field.


“One of the most significant revisions to conventional wisdom – and to research – that has emerged from our study is the importance of commitment as a critical element of a healthy marriage,” says Kristin A. Moore, Ph.D., President and Senior Scholar at Child Trends, who was the lead author of the brief. “Commitment entails taking a long-term perspective toward one’s relationship, having an intention to persevere when difficulties arrive, and being committed to caring for the other person. It represents a focus on the couple and the partner – not just the self. Most previous research studies on marriage addressed communication and individual satisfaction, paying far less attention to commitment.”


In addition to commitment of the couple, positive communication, and individual satisfaction, What Is “Healthy Marriage”? Defining the Concept lists these additional elements of a healthy marriage:

  • The ability to handle conflict
  • Lack of domestic violence
  • Fidelity
  • Interaction and time together
  • Intimacy and emotional support
  • Commitment to children (for couples who have children)
  • Longer duration and legal status of the marriage

The brief is a part of Child Trends’ ongoing conceptual and methodological work on healthy marriage for research and intervention evaluation studies among low-income couples, funded by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) through the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Family and Child Well-Being Research Network. “ACF initiated this project to ensure that the marriage evaluations being undertaken would be firmly based on nonpartisan research and data and would consider the significance of marriage to children, says Wade Horn, Ph.D., Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at HHS.


The Annie E. Casey Foundation provided support for the writing, editing, and production of this research brief.


Child Trends, founded in 1979, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center dedicated to improving the lives of children and their families by conducting research and providing science-based information to the public and decision-makers.