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BLAINE J. FOWERS AND MEGHAN B.

OWENZ University of Miami

A Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality

This article explores a eudaimonic approach term for ‘‘flourishing,’’ which he saw as a com-
(a focus on human flourishing) for its value plete life devoted to the virtuous pursuit of
in enriching marital quality theory. Spouses’ worthwhile aims through inherently meaning-
marital satisfaction is reinterpreted as the ful activities in high-quality friendships. He saw
match between their actual marriage and their marriage as one type of friendship. We argue that
marital goals. Goal pursuit is proposed as a marriage is composed of goal-directed activities
primary area of assessment and research in and that marriages flourish when those activities
marital quality. Two dimensions of goal pursuit are pursued in ways that are inherently mean-
are highlighted. First is a continuum ranging ingful and communal. Flourishing marriages are
from individually attainable goals to shared those of the highest quality, satisfying marriages
goals, which are always collective achievements. fulfill some of the conditions for flourishing,
Second is a range of goals in which the means languishing marriages fulfill few of the condi-
and ends are separable (instrumental) to goals tions for flourishing, and destructive marriages
in which the means and ends are inseparable undermine the psychological and physical health
(constitutive). These dimensions systematically of the spouses rather than help them to thrive.
encompass many currently disconnected areas Our emphasis is on flourishing marriages, which
of marital research, which indicates significant have received little attention up to this point.
heuristic value in a eudaimonic theory of marital The marital quality literature is massive
quality. but infamously atheoretical (Carroll, Knapp, &
Holman, 2004; Fincham & Beach, 1999;
Social science and marriage have had a long, Karney & Bradbury, 1995). We believe that the
stable, but not terribly satisfying relationship. primary reason for this lack of theorizing is the
The core issue in this dissatisfaction is the overreliance on a simplistic conceptualization
absence of the kind of rich, systematic theory of marital quality that is a theoretical cul-
that can integrate the complex patterns of indi- de-sac. The overwhelming majority of studies
vidual affect and cognition, dyadic interaction, assess marital quality with simple measures
marital life course, culture, and history that con- of self-reported emotional satisfaction (Fowers,
stitute marriage. In this article, we explore the Bucker, Calbeck, & Harrigan, 2003; Karney &
resources of a eudaimonic theory of marriage Bradbury, 1995). There have been some positive
to enrich and systematize our understanding of but marginal improvements in satisfaction
marital quality. Eudaimonia is Aristotle’s (1999) measurement, such as assessing quality with
pure satisfaction measures (Norton, 1983) and
assessing both positive and negative aspects
of relationship quality (Fincham & Linfield,
Department of Educational and Psychological Studies, P.O.
Box 248065, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124
1997; Mattson, Paldino, & Johnson, 2007).
(bfowers@miami.edu). Nevertheless, these measures and the attendant
Key Words: constitutive goals, eudaimonia, flourishing,
theory of marital quality remain thin, and we
instrumental goals, marital quality, marital satisfaction, argue that a fundamental reconceptualization of
shared goals. marital quality is necessary and possible.
334 Journal of Family Theory & Review 2 (December 2010): 334–352
DOI:10.1111/j.1756-2589.2010.00065.x
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 335

Marital researchers have preferred spouses’ The argument for our proposed alternative
subjective evaluations as the primary indicator view of marital quality will proceed in four
of marital quality in adherence to the venerable steps. First, we suggest that marriages are made
dictum of value-free science. For, if marital up of goal directed, dyadic activity. Second,
theorists were to define the content of marital we introduce eudaimonic theory and indicate
quality or to evaluate the quality of couples’ how to integrate goal pursuit into it. Third, we
marriages, doing so might appear to be present a eudaimonic theory of marital quality
prescriptive rather than objective. In fact, with two dimensions of goal pursuit (communal
pursuing a content-free (and therefore value- and agentic). Fourth, we evaluate the new theory
free) concept of marital quality has led some on four criteria of good theory: breadth; depth;
investigators to argue that its measurement and two forms of heuristic value, systematization
should be purely evaluative (purged of any and research generativity.
reference to other relevant constructs such as
communication) (Fincham & Bradbury, 1987;
Norton, 1983). The idea is that aspects of the A GOAL-THEORETIC REFORMULATION
relationship can be objectively studied regarding An obvious beginning point for deepening
their contribution to pure marital quality. The marital quality theory is to ask what spouses
thinness of marital quality theory is no surprise, evaluate when they report their marital satisfac-
however, when we recognize that its core tion. What criteria do they use to determine their
concept is defined as little more than spouses level of satisfaction? There are many possible
giving a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down answers to these questions, and it seems obvious
evaluation of a relationship that is central in their that all spouses do not use the same criteria.
lives, multifaceted, replete with ambivalence, It seems clear that such assessments are eval-
characterized by ups and downs, and infused uations of the degree to which the relationship
with a rich shared history and with hope for a matches some desired state of affairs. There are
good shared future. How could we expect to many relevant states of affairs, such as emotional
boil this richness down to a few Likert response intimacy, enjoyable time together, the quantity
items? and quality of sexual activity, safety, cognitive
What is worse, this sincere attempt at or emotional stimulation, financial well-being,
objectivity is irredeemably flawed because and so forth.
investigators themselves have predetermined Another term for a desired state of affairs is a
that it is individual satisfaction that defines goal. Therefore, we suggest that a goal-theoretic
marital quality. This seems like common sense perspective has promise for enriching marital
in a civilization that has come to see marriage quality theory. By investigating spouses’ goals,
as a personal relationship designed to provide we can study the criteria they use to evaluate
intimacy and personal meaning to spouses, but their marriages directly rather than leaving their
the satisfaction criterion does not apply equally goals implicit and undefined. This will enable us
well across cultures and is certainly at variance to explore how spouses pursue their goals and
with historical views of marriage in North how that goal pursuit relates to other indicators
Atlantic societies (Fowers, 2000; Phillips, 1988; of marital quality.1
Stone, 1979). In much of the world’s history, Goals are not limited to concrete, individual
marriage has been primarily concerned with achievements (e.g., getting a job, painting a
offspring and economic and political matters,
with personal feelings being quite secondary.
In other words, researchers have recapitulated a 1 Interdependence theory (Kelley & Thibaut, 1978) also
contemporary cultural understanding of marital addressed this question but called the criterion outcomes.
quality rather than providing an objective This is a considerably broader concept. The concept and
scientific formulation (Fowers, 1993, 1998). the theory are not very informative regarding outcomes
Although the exclusive focus on individual because Kelley and Thibaut had almost nothing to say
satisfaction undermines the universality and about actual outcomes. They focus almost entirely on game-
theoretic analyses of the interdependence of outcomes with
objectivity of the marital quality theory it no attention to the content of the outcomes. In contrast, the
was designed to promote, it clearly remains content of the goals spouses seek to attain in their marriages
a relevant dimension of any theory of marital is a primary consideration of the eudaimonic theory of
quality. marital quality.
336 Journal of Family Theory & Review

room), particularly in marriage. As we discuss that they have achieved their relationship
more fully below, goals can include developing goals. Fincham and Beach (1999) suggested
an ongoing mode of action, such as having a that conflict can be understood in terms of
goal to act in a consistently loving way, or goals incompatible spousal goals. Those goals can
can be inherently relational, such as having a be at the molar level (e.g., positive coparenting)
goal of relational harmony. Because this is a or goals can emerge in the process of interaction
significant departure from the usual approach to (e.g., a shift from problem solving to blame
marital quality (for an exception, see Fincham & avoidance). Fincham and Beach argued that the
Beach, 1999), we indicate why we consider this overall structure of individual goals, from molar
a promising direction before we present the to interactional, provides an intuitively clear and
framework. efficacious way to conceptualize couple conflict.
A goal-theoretic approach is promising for a We agree and suggest that a goals framework
number of reasons, the first of which is that can be illuminating for all aspects of couple
it provides a way for researchers to enrich relationships, not just for conflict.
and deepen the primary assessments of marital Individuals vary in their explicit awareness
quality itself by focusing on the criteria with of their goals. This is a challenge for goal
which spouses evaluate the quality of their research because it relies on accurate respondent
marriages. Spouses can inform researchers about goal identification. Questions about the veracity
what is important about their relationships, of self-reports arise in many research areas,
making research more attuned to the variation however, and appropriate steps can be taken
in what spouses value in their marriages. to limit this source of error. Nevertheless, self-
This is considerably more open-ended than reported goals have been very efficacious in
standard marital quality theory and assessment, predicting and explaining affective states and
which privilege modern Western ideals such as well-being among individuals (Emmons, 1991;
communication and emotional intimacy. Many Fowers et al., 2010; McGregor & Little, 1998;
individuals likely have these Western ideals for Sheldon & Elliott, 1999).
their relationships, but there is no justification Third, personal goal research is a well
for assuming that all spouses hold these ideals developed field that readily adapts to the
equally strongly. There may be many important study of marriage. There are various ways to
marital goals that spouses have for their elicit personal goals, such as personal striv-
marriages that have not been studied because ings (Emmons, 1991) and personal projects
researchers have so seldom asked spouses what (McGregor & Little, 1998). McGregor and
is important to them. Little’s (1998) widely used personal project
In a goal-theoretic framework, goals can approach assesses aspects of idiographic goals
be conceptualized and studied idiographically, to provide quantitative indices of goal dimen-
meaning that marital researchers can study goals sions (e.g., importance, commitment, diffi-
that spouses provide directly. This idiographic culty). There are well-developed theories of
approach has been used successfully in the goal pursuit, including self-determination the-
personal goals literature for many years by ory (Ryan & Deci, 2000), life-task theory
linking respondent-provided personal goals with (Cantor, 1994), and eudaimonic theory (Fowers
ratings of the goal’s importance, anticipated et al., 2010). These theories suggest that goal
success, difficulty, and indicators of well-being type and the manner in which goals are pur-
(Emmons, 1991; Fowers, Mollica, & Procacci, sued are differentially associated with posi-
2010; McGregor & Little, 1998; Sheldon & tive affect and flourishing. In addition, sev-
Elliott, 1999). These nomothetic indicators can eral studies have found that relationship goals
then be modeled according to investigators’ are directly associated with relationship quality
research questions. (Brunstein, Dangelmayer, & Schultheiss, 1996;
Second, it seems obvious that spouses Kaplan & Maddux, 2002; Laurenceau, Troy, &
have goals for their marriages. Marital goals Carver, 2005).
likely range from how a spouse envisions Fourth, marital quality is closely associated
the relationship over the life course to the with spousal affect. Carver and Scheier (1998)
aims a spouse has for a particular interaction. conceptualized affect as a response to goal
Relationship disaffection and dissolution are pursuit. Successfully pursuing an approach goal
clearly indicators that spouses do not believe is associated with strong positive emotions such
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 337

as joy and successfully avoiding an avoidance rich description of eudaimonia to capture human
goal (e.g., pain) is related to milder forms of activities oriented toward meaningful, purposive
positive emotion such as relief. The more one’s activity that are superordinate to pleasure.
success exceeds expectations, the stronger is the If conceptualizing marital relationships in
affect. Unsuccessfully avoiding an avoidance terms of goal-directed activity makes sense,
goal leads to fear, whereas unsuccessful pursuit we need a rich theory of goal-oriented action.
of an approach goal elicits affects such as Aristotle’s (1999) theory of eudaimonia can
frustration. Laurenceau et al. (2005) found that, provide a very rich way to conceptualize goals
in dating couples, progress toward an approach and marital quality. We argue that this theory
goal (intimacy) was related to positive affect and provides four key elements of good theory:
marital quality, but failure to avoid an avoidance breadth, depth, heuristic systematization, and
goal (conflict) was related to negative affect heuristic research generativity. It provides a
among male partners. broad theory of marital quality by incorporating
Fifth, marital quality has some parallels individual cognition, affect, behavior, and
with individual well-being, as marital quality couple interaction, and by tying the individual
is among the strongest predictors of individual and dyad to the cultural and historical contexts.
well-being (Lee, Seccombe, & Shehan, 1991; It can deepen our understanding of marital
Waite & Gallagher, 2000). Positive and negative quality by opening up the study of the aims
affect are two independent indicators of well- and criteria that guide spouses’ actions. This
being (Bradburn, 1969; Watson & Tellegen, framework can systematically incorporate many
1985). Recent research has suggested that mari- scattered empirical results that are currently
tal quality may be two dimensional as well, with loosely connected. Finally, the framework has
a positive and a negative dimension of marital strong heuristic value in suggesting several
evaluation (Fincham & Linfield, 1997; Mattson important areas for study.
et al., 2007), which provides another important
parallel. We introduce a third parallel that has yet
EUDAIMONIA, HEDONIA, AND MARITAL
to be studied in marriage. Researchers of individ-
ual well-being have identified and documented QUALITY
a distinction between hedonic and eudaimonic A clear definition of eudaimonia is an obvious
well-being. Hedonic well-being is composed of starting point, but there are a variety of com-
pleasure and positive emotion, and it has been peting definitions. Some translate eudaimonia
studied for some time as life satisfaction (Diener, as ‘‘happiness,’’ but this requires qualification,
2000) and positive affect (Bradburn, 1969). because happiness has primarily emotional con-
Eudaimonic well-being is a term borrowed from notations in Western culture. Eudaimonia is
Aristotle (often translated as flourishing) and is much more than positive feelings or even an
assessed in terms of meaning, purpose, and per- overall feeling of well-being. Psychologists have
sonal growth. Eudaimonic well-being has been defined eudaimonia using humanistic terms such
found to be empirically distinct from hedonic as self-realization (Waterman, 1993), vitality,
well-being (Compton, Smith, Cornish, & Qualls, and autonomy (Ryan & Deci, 2000). We prefer
1996; Fowers et al., 2010; Huta & Ryan, in press; the term flourishing because it captures Aristo-
McGregor & Little, 1998; Keyes, Shmotkin, & tle’s view that eudaimonia is living in a richly
Ryff, 2002). The theorized precursors of the human manner in the following ways.
two forms of well-being have also been empir-
ically differentiated (Fowers et al.; Waterman,
1993). Flourishing as Activity
A number of authors have argued that a com- Aristotle’s starting point is that flourishing is
plete account of well-being must include both an activity, in strong contrast to assessments
hedonic and eudaimonic components (Fowers, of life or marital quality that focus on affect
2005; Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008; Ryff, 1986; and satisfaction. This contrast is strengthened
Waterman, Schwartz, & Conti, 2008) because because assessments of affect and satisfaction
experiencing positive affect can describe a pleas- have been conceptualized as indicators of
ant life, but it is insufficient to describe a hedonia or pleasure. It is, of course, possible
complete human life. Many philosophers and for individuals to make pleasure and positive
psychologists have adopted Aristotle’s (1999) affect primary goals in life. From a eudaimonic
338 Journal of Family Theory & Review

perspective, this would fall well short of a virtue. Virtues are the character strengths that
complete life, however, because no amount of allow individuals to pursue worthwhile ends.
pleasure can cumulate into a meaningful life. Virtues are habitual patterns of actions that are
Aristotle suggested that it is the quality of one’s positively motivated by the aspiration to bring
characteristic activities that constitutes one’s about the desired end. In the marital realm, it
life as flourishing. is easy to see that, if spouses habitually act
with generosity, loyalty, and justice (three key
Flourishing and Pleasure marital virtues), doing so will enhance mari-
tal quality. There are good theoretical reasons
The relationship between pleasure and flourish- (Fowers, 2000, 2001, 2005) and empirical rea-
ing goes beyond simple contrast, as Aristotle sons (Hawkins, Fowers, Carroll, & Yang, 2007;
viewed the activity in a flourishing life as plea- Veldorale-Brogan, Bradford, & Vail, 2009) to
surable. It is pleasurable to pursue goals that consider virtues important contributors to a
one considers inherently valuable. For example, good marriage. Virtue provides an extremely
scholars pursue knowledge because they see it useful framework for analyzing marital rela-
as inherently valuable and worthy of devoted tionships, but we will remain focused on the
activity, which makes their pursuit pleasurable. relationship between goal pursuit and marital
Clearly, it is a different form of pleasure than flourishing in this article.
eating ice cream, but seeking intrinsically valu-
able ends is not a matter of drudgery or mere
duty. There is a strong form of pleasure attached Flourishing and Characteristic Human Goods
to pursuing goals to which one has a deep A flourishing life is substantially composed of
attachment. the pursuit of characteristically human ends
This relationship between pleasure and eudai- that are good in themselves. Aristotle (1999)
monia also suggests that marital research using discussed what was good for humans in terms
assessments of satisfaction may have already of the kind of beings we are. He saw humans
been tapping marital flourishing to an unknown as reasoning social beings that sought ends such
degree. Because researchers have not yet as knowledge, belonging, and justice, which
assessed marital flourishing, it is unclear how he considered characteristically human goods.
much our knowledge about marital quality is These goods are abstract and not fully or finally
limited to pure assessments of satisfaction. Cou- achievable, but they can be actively pursued. In
ples may well report satisfaction because they addition, goods cannot be given a final, definitive
are guided by meaningful and growth-oriented formulation because they are ideals shaped by
activities characteristic of flourishing. We can- cultural and historical contexts and subject to
not answer this question until we are able to ongoing debate and reinterpretation. No one has
conceive, assess, and explore marital flourishing
the last word. There are many different kinds
and differentiate it from marital satisfaction.
of knowledge, many forms of justice, and many
ways to seek belonging. Goals are relatively
Flourishing as a Complete life concrete formulations of goods. For example, if
Aristotle (1999) characterized flourishing as I seek knowledge as a good, then I may have the
an integrated pattern of activity, with the goal of reading a series of books on evolutionary
quality of a life emerging in its completeness theory. One way to seek the good of belonging
and coherence. For this reason, sporadic or is through pursuit of the goal of a long-term
disorganized activity does not constitute a commitment to one’s spouse.
flourishing life or relationship. This also clarifies Theorists cannot specify definitively and in
that flourishing is unlike affect or pleasure advance the actual content of characteristically
because flourishing is a matter of how one’s human goods that individuals and couples
life is coming together as a whole, not how one undertake because there is a great deal of
feels at any given time. variability in what spouses value at any given
time, and there is no reason to believe that
our views on what is good in life and in
Flourishing and Virtue marriage will remain as they are at this time.
The quality of the activity is also important, For these reasons, we suggest that the best way
and Aristotle described excellence in terms of to understand human goods is to examine how
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 339

goods are reflected in the everyday activities are essential to individual flourishing, and Aris-
and lives of individuals and couples in particular totle considered marriage a form of friendship.
cultural and historical settings. Nevertheless, Friendship is particularly important to eudaimo-
some general considerations can illuminate nia, as relationships that are devoted to pursuing
the shape those goods take and the kind of mutually valuable ends support and embody
goals individuals pursue. One distinction among flourishing. This is why Aristotle wrote that, ‘‘in
goods follows directly from the premise that order to be eudaimon, a man needs morally good
the form of one’s goal pursuit constitutes friends’’ (1999, p. 267). Although he did not dis-
flourishing. Goods that are useful for pursuing cuss marriages in terms of flourishing, his theory
other goods but not necessarily valuable in of eudaimonia can be adapted to contemporary
themselves (e.g., money) are called instrumental marriage straightforwardly. In short, eudaimonia
goods. In contrast, intrinsically valuable ends, is a coherent pattern of excellent activity directed
which we term constitutive goods, include goods toward inherently valuable human goods in
such as knowledge, justice, and friendship. meaningful relationships. Accordingly, mar-
Another distinction that clarifies the shape of riages can be characterized in terms of dyadically
human flourishing is the difference in pursuing coordinated activity that can be directed toward
individual and shared goods. An individual jointly valued human ends, and those activities
can pursue and possess individual goals (e.g., and relationships can vary in terms of their excel-
a college degree, a new car), whereas shared lence. In marriages, research participants widely
goals can be pursued, achieved, and possessed endorse goals such as intimacy, friendship, and
only in common with others (e.g., harmony, teamwork (e.g., Avivi, Laurenceau, & Carver,
marital friendship). Here, we describe these goal 2009; Carrere, Buehlman, Gottman, Coan, &
distinctions in greater detail and discuss the Ruckstuhl, 2000). In addition, couples may pur-
research results that suggest their relevance and sue other worthwhile aims together, such as
importance for marital quality. the raising of children to become responsible
It is important to note that flourishing does adults, literary pursuits, religious observance,
not stand behind or above other meaningful education, community activism, and so forth.
and shared goods. Rather, the integration Pursuing these aims often involves extensive
of these goods makes for a flourishing teamwork, which ties the couple closer together,
life. Flourishing involves pursuing a set of deepens the experience of their efforts, improves
meaningful goals that fit a person’s talents, their chances of success in reaching their
preferences, and circumstances. Therefore, there goals, and enhances each spouse’s individual
is no antecedently defined form of flourishing flourishing.
that everyone should follow. Rather, flourishing Eudaimonic theory points to two distinctions
is an open-ended instantiation of a good in the kinds of goods that we as humans pursue.
life that is filled in by individuals with the These distinctions can be viewed as dimensions
particular blend of goods to which they are that can be combined to form a two dimensional
drawn (Sherman, 1997). People can flourish by goal space. One dimension relates to agency
pursuing a variety of human goods, such as in that it differentiates goal pursuit in terms
seeking or sharing knowledge, creating beauty of how the means and ends are related. The
through the arts, pursuing justice, carrying distinction here is between instrumental goals,
forward meaningful traditions, and so forth. in which the desired end is separate from the
means to achieve it, and constitutive goals,
in which the means and ends are inseparable.
A EUDAIMONIC THEORY OF MARITAL QUALITY
The second is a communion dimension and
Although Aristotle (1999) and contemporary differentiates goals that individuals can pursue
virtue ethicists have focused their attention and attain from those that individuals can pursue
on individual flourishing (e.g., Broadie, 1991; and attain only in collaboration with others.
Kraut, 2007; Norton, 1976), it is important to
recognize that humans do not flourish as iso-
Instrumental and Constitutive Goals
lated individuals and that marriage is a key
domain through which people flourish in the The most common way to understand goal
modern West (Fowers, 2005; Sherman, 1997). pursuit in contemporary American society and
Friendship and facilitative political conditions in social science circles is within an instrumental
340 Journal of Family Theory & Review

or means-ends framework. In instrumental goal constitutively—by enacting or embodying those


pursuit, an individual identifies a goal, surveys goals.
the methods available for achieving it, and Friendship is a constitutive goal apropos of
chooses the most effective or efficient strategy. marriage. Aristotle (1999) described character
In this mode of goal pursuit, the end is a friendship as a relationship in which one has
subjective choice, and the means are strategies, a deep interest in the friend’s welfare and a
tools, skills, or techniques whose value rests strong sense of ‘‘we-ness’’ (a strong couple
solely in their utility. The means can be taken identity and valuing of the relationship itself).
up or set aside on the basis of this utility alone. He saw character friendship as indispensible for
Skills and techniques are tools that individuals individual flourishing, and we propose that this
can acquire without any necessary connection to form of friendship is characteristic of flourishing
one’s goals or personal characteristics. marriages. In such friendships, individuals
Acquiring wealth provides a good illustration willingly take their spouse’s welfare as seriously
of an instrumental approach to action. Wealth as their own and prioritize the relationship very
accumulation is a subjective choice, and there highly. They act this way because that is what it
are many paths to wealth, including hard means to be a friend, not for the sake of reward
work, innovation, luck, inheritance, marriage or recompense. There is only one way to have
to someone wealthy, theft, and exploitation a character friendship—by acting as a friend.
of others. In terms of the sheer possession of Spouses cannot purchase character friendship,
wealth, any of these approaches is valuable only hire someone to do the work, achieve it through
to the extent that it is successful. Of course, deception or pretense, or achieve it by any means
conventional moral codes and laws make a clear other than mutually and consistently acting in
distinction between legitimate and illegitimate their common interest over time.
wealth acquisition, but a purely instrumental Character friends are also interested in bring-
perspective views these considerations only ing out the best in their partner, which has been
as strategic impediments (i.e., theft may lead studied recently under the weighty rubric of the
to legal difficulties and loss of the acquired so-called Michelangelo phenomenon (Rusbult,
wealth). Indeed, moral and legal codes are Kumashiro, Stocker, & Wolf, 2005). Rusbult,
often considered necessary to curb the presumed Kumashiro et al. (2005) review research indi-
‘‘natural’’ instrumentality of humans in favor of cating ‘‘a congenial pattern of interdependence
more moral behavior. in which partners sculpt one another in such a
Much human activity obviously falls within manner as to bring each person closer to his or
the instrumental realm and picking the best her ideal self’’ (p. 24), thus benefitting both the
strategy to accomplish some goals is quite partners and the relationship.
rational. The difficulty is that instrumental Of course, there are valuable friendships that
thinking has become so pervasive in the modern do not entail we-ness because they focus on the
West and in social science that it is often equated instrumental benefits of pleasure and advantage.
with rationality itself, which makes it difficult at Aristotle (1999) called these relationships
times to conceive of an alternative. pleasure friendships and advantage friendships.
It is vital that social scientists recognize the Pleasure is an instrumental good because there
limitations of the instrumental view of human are many ways to obtain it. Similarly, one can
action, because it can lead us to overlook or confer advantages (e.g., wealth, fame, status)
distort central aspects of human relationships, on a friend in many ways, and in both cases,
particularly marriage (Fowers, 2010). This is the means are generally separable from the
because there are human goods that cannot be ends. Pleasure and advantage friendships are
pursued using a means-ends approach. We use less durable than character friendship because
the term constitutive goal pursuit to represent if what is pleasurable changes or ceases, it
the goal-directed activity in which the means makes sense to end the relationship. Similarly,
and the ends are not separable (Aristotle, 1999; advantage friendships tend to be of limited
Fowers, 2005, 2010). This form of goal pursuit duration: ‘‘Those whose friendship is based on
is constitutive because the actions one takes to the useful dissolve it as soon as it ceases to be
achieve the goal help constitute the goal, which to their advantage, since they were friends not
makes the means and ends inseparable. That of one another but of what was profitable for
is, the only way some goals can be pursued is them’’ (Aristotle, 1999, p. 221).
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 341

Eudaimonic theory suggests that the richest ends are good in themselves but are also useful
form of marriage, a flourishing marriage, in pursuing other ends. Knowledge is a paradigm
is centered on character friendship. Clearly, example because it is worthwhile in itself and
character friendship also confers pleasure and often has instrumental value as well. Most ends
advantage, but the depth and richness of that are good in themselves also contribute to
such relationships cannot be reduced to these the overall quality of a life or relationship, so
instrumental goods. In view of these differences, they are not ultimate ends. Aristotle considered
eudaimonic theory suggests that the benefits flourishing the ultimate human end, because it
of pleasure and advantage may characterize is good in itself and because when one is living
satisfying marriages, with less emphasis on a flourishing life, there is nothing that can be
character friendship. In addition, the theory added to enhance it.
predicts that, although they may be positive One aspect of this hierarchy is that instru-
in many ways, marriages based on pleasure or mental aims must be subordinate to constitutive
advantage friendship are less durable than those aims. Aristotle (1999) suggested that ‘‘we do not
based on character friendship. make all our choices for the sake of something
An important consequence of recognizing else—for in this way the process will go on
constitutive goal pursuit in marriage is that we infinitely so that our desire would be futile and
will stop insisting that all spouses act ultimately pointless’’ (p. 4). In other words, if everything
with a view to receiving benefits or rewards from we did was a means to something else, we would
their partners (consciously or unconsciously); be in a continual process of desire satisfaction,
rather, mutual participation in dyadic activities with each goal attainment reduced to a means to
may be valuable in itself. In flourishing the next end, clearly a futile and pointless way
marriages, doing a favor for one’s spouse is to live. Such a life would be one of constant
about caring about the spouse’s welfare and motion with no ultimate fulfillment or meaning.
fulfilling one’s aspiration to be a good spouse. In marriage (and all human activity), there are
Because one’s actions and goals are inseparable, instrumental ends and constitutive ends. Consti-
one’s activity has continuity, wholeness, and tutive ends are valuable in themselves, whereas
cumulativeness that is not possible if actions instrumental ends are valuable only for how they
are mere means to some reward. This does assist us toward constitutive ends. In a flour-
not take away from the value of the pleasure ishing marriage, instrumental pursuits provide
or other benefits of marriage. In fact, these the infrastructure (e.g., money, a dwelling) that
aspects of friendship are likely to resonate makes it possible to pursue constitutive ends.
more deeply in the pursuit of constitutive goals. Extensive involvement in pursuing constitutive
There are approaches to marital theory such as ends (e.g., marital friendship or relational jus-
social exchange theory and marital interventions tice) constitutes a flourishing marriage (and a
focused solely on skill development that adopt life). The ultimate constitutive end is flourishing
a nearly pure instrumental perspective, which as a human being.
ignores or misinterprets constitutive activity.
Discussions of how such perspectives obscure
Individual and Shared Goal Pursuit
and distort some of the most important aspects
of human relationships are available elsewhere The second distinction in goal types in
(Fowers, 2000, 2001, 2005, 2010; Richardson, eudaimonic theory is between goals that are
Fowers, & Guignon, 1999). pursued individually and those pursued as shared
Aristotle (1999) argued that there is a ends. This distinction is based on who is
formal hierarchy of ends, with simpler, more necessary for goal pursuit and who possesses
instrumental goals lower in the hierarchy and the attained goal.
more meaningful constitutive goals higher. In
this way, home maintenance is a lower order Individual goal pursuit. Goals that are pursued
activity that serves the higher end of having a individually are desirable states of affairs that
good home life. There are three types of ends. an individual can possess or experience inde-
The first are ends that are good only because they pendently. Examples include money, achieve-
make other ends possible. Money is a paradigm ment, and pleasure. Although others may be
example because it is not good in itself, but only involved in these goals, others are not strictly
for what it can help us accomplish. Second, some necessary for their pursuit or attainment. In
342 Journal of Family Theory & Review

marital research, marital quality measures gen- goals can be sought and achieved only through
erally reference the relationship but focus on sustained participation in communal activity.
individual affective or cognitive states, such as That is, the only way to achieve a shared goal is
happiness and satisfaction (Fowers et al., 2003). to have it in common with others. For example,
As Karney and Bradbury (1995) noted, ‘‘Mar- the only way to have mutuality in marriage is
ital researchers have rarely explored outcomes for both spouses to give each other due regard
other than satisfaction or [individual indicators and reciprocity. Similarly, no one can possess
of] stability’’ (p. 16). Although there has been a friendship or relationship cohesion on their
slight expansion of indicators of marital quality own. Everyday shared goals include aims such
(e.g., commitment), this statement still describes as democracy, teamwork, intimacy, friendship,
marital research accurately today. and justice. Shared goals are among the most
Goal achievements that individuals can pos- meaningful and valued ends people pursue, and
sess are surely important in relationships, includ- they are always collective achievements.
ing subjective experiences such as satisfaction. Second, shared goals are not just ephemeral
However, we argue that individual goods fall far ideas or feelings; they are always embodied
short of describing what is good in relationships in ongoing, observable activity. Democracy,
and that individual goods may not be the most for example, is viable only to the extent that
important goods in relationships. Some scholars citizens participate in it by respecting the law,
have made a persuasive case that the focus on becoming informed, voting, accepting majority
desirable individual states as indicators of mari- rule, and so on. These communal practices
tal quality is the result of the cultural influence of constitute democracy (i.e., without them there
a pervasive individualism (Bellah, Madsen, Sul- is no democracy). Third, because shared goal
livan, Swidler, & Tipton, 1985; Fowers, 1998; achievements cannot be individually possessed,
Richardson et al., 1999). Research and theory on they cannot be divided up, in contrast with
marital quality has been constrained by constru- individual goals such as money or status. There is
ing spouses primarily as self-interested (Fowers, only so much of each individual good available,
2000), with marriage conceptualized as a series and the more one person possesses, the less there
of transactions through which spouses obtain is for others. Shared goods cannot be divided up,
personal benefits and the quality of the mar- and one cannot compete for them. They are held
riage as a product of the spouses’ success in common or not at all. One spouse cannot have
in this endeavor. It is important for marital more friendship than the other. The concept of
researchers to transcend this individualistic bias, shared goals clarifies how, in many important
and shared goal pursuit is one way to move in this areas of life, what is good for one is often
direction. inseparable from what is good for others.
As Fincham and Beach (1999) have noted,
spouses’ individual goals may or may not be Why shared goals are central. One of the core
compatible. Clearly, the best state of affairs premises of eudaimonic theory is that humans
is when spouses’ goals are compatible, which are, first and foremost, a social species (Cooper,
likely fosters individual and relationship well- 1980; Fowers, 2005; MacIntyre, 1999; Sherman,
being. When spouses’ goals are neutral with 1989). The essential social nature of humans
respect to one another, goal pursuit and achieve- is a consistent theme in Aristotle’s writings.
ment will have only indirect effects on the Two of his most celebrated statements reflect
relationship. When there are incompatibilities in this viewpoint: ‘‘No one would choose to live
spouses’ individual goals, this may lead to inter- without friends, even if he had all other goods’’
ference in goal pursuit and conflict. However, (Aristotle, 1999, p. 214), and ‘‘Man is by nature
spouses may find ways to engage in cooperative a political animal’’ (Aristotle, 1984, p. 1987).
interactions that allow individual goal pursuit He consistently and abundantly portrays human
without excessive interference or conflict. Each flourishing as communal in nature. Aristotle
of these scenarios for incompatible spouse goals (1999) claimed that humans are social by nature
is a fruitful area for investigation. and that experiencing belonging in meaningful
relationships and groups is central to fully
Shared goal pursuit. In contrast to goals that flourishing as a human. If humans are social
individuals can pursue and possess, the first creatures, then that fact must have evolutionary
characteristic of shared goal pursuit is that some roots.
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 343

Brewer and Caporael (Brewer 2007; Brewer have shared identities but may not have regular
& Caporael, 2006; Caporael, 2001) argued face-to-face interactions.
extensively and persuasively that humans The primary importance of human sociality
evolved as a social species. In contrast to and the expanded self clarifies the centrality
the common evolutionary focus on individual of shared goal pursuit in human social life.
gene propagation, Brewer and Caporael (2006) There are many dyadic processes that embody
explained that group survival has been a the expanded self, such as inclusion of the
key selection criterion for humans through partner in the self, couple identity, sacrifice,
the intricate intertwining of human sociality accommodation, commitment, and forgiveness.
and biology. Brewer (2004) gave the example These processes are normative and essential
that humans are omnivores, which makes us in marriage, and we illustrate their connection
adaptable to many different living environments with shared goal pursuit when we evaluate the
because we are not restricted to one type of food. value of the eudaimonic theory of marital quality
However, we have no innate cues regarding what below.
is edible, so we rely on knowledge passed down Just as there is a hierarchy of instrumental and
from others. If each person had to learn these constitutive goal pursuit, shared goal pursuit
facts by trial and error, humans would have has a primary role in marital flourishing.
quickly gone extinct. This exemplifies the theory Individual goals are an important part of
of obligatory interdependence: ‘‘all individuals’ life, but eudaimonic theory suggests that
chances for survival are affected not only by their one way to differentiate flourishing marriages
own skills, abilities, and efforts but also by the from satisfying marriages is that the former
efforts and behaviors of others within a bounded have a greater proportion of shared goals.
social community’’ (Brewer, 2004, p. 109). The contrast between traditional individual
The needs for security and belonging also assessments of intimacy and Reis and Shaver’s
motivate our sociality (Brewer, 2004). These (1988) process model of intimacy illustrates
security motives explain a great deal of observed this hierarchy. Intimacy has been assessed
behavior, including cooperativeness, following traditionally as a self-report of an individual’s
group norms, in-group favoritism, and group personal experience of closeness with a partner.
loyalty (Brewer, 2004, 2007). Because the This is an important experience, but Reis and
needs for security and belonging partially Shaver (1988) suggested that intimacy should
motivate human behavior, self-sacrifice is as be understood as a dyadic process, with the
natural a choice as self-interest. In limited- degree of intimacy seen in whether a partner’s
resources paradigm studies, participants who disclosure is followed by responsiveness from
are primed to think of a community or collective the other partner. This form of intimacy
identity reduce their resource usage, whereas can occur only in the couple with both
noncollectively primed participants increase partners experiencing the intimacy but through
their resource usage (e.g., Kramer & Brewer, their dyadic coordination. Because the dyadic
1984). This effect is strong even under minimal process is inclusive of and transcends individual
group priming conditions. That is, collective experience, it is a higher order concept.
identity emerges consequentially even when Brewer and Gardner’s (1996) concept of
there is very little basis for it. the expanded self is central to marriage
One manifestation of the depth of human because including others, particularly a spouse,
sociality is the incorporation of others into in one’s concept of self is a very strong
the self-concept. Brewer and Gardner (1996) expression of human sociality. Carrere et al.
proposed that human self-concepts include one’s (2000) documented the we-ness concept, which
relationships and in-groups. They argued that, they defined as the extent to which spouses
in the expanded self, ‘‘the boundaries of the identified themselves as part of a couple versus as
self are redrawn, and the content of the self- separate individuals. Along with other measures
concept is focused on those characteristics that of what these investigators termed the couple
make one a ‘good’ representative of the group or bond, we-ness was a substantial predictor
of the relationship’’ (Brewer & Gardner, 1996, of relationship stability over time. We-ness
p. 84). Brewer (2004) described four levels of requires the participation of both partners, but
the expanded self, including dyads, teams or it goes beyond the individuals in solidifying
families, bands or communities, and tribes who a third entity of we, the relationship itself.
344 Journal of Family Theory & Review

We-ness and intimacy as a process illustrate and loving spouse and a partner who takes
how having an interest in and an ability to responsibility for household chores and for his
attend directly to the shared goal of having a or her behavior. Although the achievement of
good relationship involves a higher expression these goals clearly benefits the couple, each
of human sociality than focusing solely on spouse must achieve them individually . They
one’s individual outcomes, whether or not those are constitutive goals because the actions taken
individual aims are pursued with others. Given to achieve the goal are inseparable from the
this formal hierarchical relationship, eudaimonic goal. Shared, instrumental goods include aims
theory sees shared goals as a necessary feature such as having a coordinated, functioning family
of full human and marital flourishing. schedule and a family savings plan. Success in
these goals requires both partners’ participation,
and the goals are therefore shared, but these
The Two Dimensions of the Eudaimonic Theory goals help to create the infrastructure for a
of Marital Quality flourishing couple rather than being ends in
The agency and communal dimensions can themselves, which makes them instrumental
be crossed to identify four general types of ends. Finally, shared, constitutive aims include
goal directed activity (individual-instrumental, some of the most desirable states of affairs in
individual-constitutive, shared-instrumental, and marriage, including friendship, couple identity,
shared-constitutive). We have already discussed we-ness, harmony, and relational fairness. These
wealth accumulation as both an individual and goals are shared because they require both
an instrumental goal and friendship as both a partners’ participation. They are constitutive
shared and constitutive goal. Table 1 lists other goals because the means to achieve them cannot
goal examples. Rather than suggesting that the be separated from the ends.
goals in Table 1 are ones spouses should seek, Although we emphasized the goal hierarchy
we intend the goals listed in the quadrants to above, Table 1 illustrates that all four goal types
illustrate the types of goals that spouses might in the two-dimensional model are valuable.
pursue. According to eudaimonic theory, there are three
There are individual, instrumental goals questions on which marital quality hinges. First,
that are relevant to marriage. Career goals do couples’ goals and activities fall within all
are exemplars of this arena because the of the quadrants? All four are necessary, and
individual must pursue obtaining a good job neglect of any of them would be detrimental.
and career advancement, but the financial Second, what proportion of goal-directed
and personal rewards of the pursuit can be activity can be characterized as shared and/or
instrumental to a flourishing marriage. That is, constitutive? The highest quality marriages,
income, worthwhile employment, and stability flourishing marriages, would show a relatively
provide infrastructure for a good marriage. high degree of shared and constitutive goal pur-
Individual, constitutive goods are also very suit compared with other marriages. Satisfying
relevant to marriage. Paradigm examples are marriages would have goal activities scattered
self-development that includes being a kind relatively evenly across the four quadrants.

Table 1. Two Dimensions of Eudaimonic Goal Pursuit in Marriage

Agency Dimension
Instrumental Goals Constitutive Goals

Communion Dimension Individual goals Quadrant I Quadrant II


Good job Kindness
Career advancement Loving spouse
Orderly household Take responsibility
Shared goals Quadrant IV Quadrant III
Family schedule Character friendship
Mutual entertainment Harmony
Family savings plan Relational fairness
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 345

Languishing marriages would be characterized goal pursuit associated with hedonic well-being
by a relatively high preponderance of individ- and constitutive goal pursuit associated with
ual and instrumental goal pursuit compared with eudaimonic well-being (Fowers et al., 2010;
satisfying and flourishing marriages. Destructive Fowers, Winakur, & Owenz, 2009). At present,
marriages would consist of a strong empha- no measures of marital flourishing have been
sis on individual, instrumental goal pursuit that developed, but eudaimonic theory suggests that
involves dominating, coercing, exploiting, or this would be a very fruitful endeavor. It seems
oppressing one’s partner. That is, the attempt clear that the eudaimonic theory of marital
to use one’s spouse instrumentally in the ser- quality is significantly richer than models that
vice of individual ends characterizes destructive fall along a single dimension of satisfaction or a
marriages. This addition to the range of marital model that is mapped onto the two dimensions
quality is important because dissatisfaction is of positive and negative marital evaluations.
surely too tepid and bland a description for how
destructive some marriages are.
EVALUATING THE POTENTIAL OF THE
Third, to what degree does the couple
experience success in their goal pursuits? EUDAIMONIC THEORY OF MARITAL QUALITY
Routine goal progress and success or goal We have suggested that the eudaimonic the-
frustration and failure have significant bearing ory of marital quality adds significant breadth,
on marital quality. Flourishing marriages would depth, and heuristic value in systematization
be characterized by a relatively high degree and research generativity to marital quality
of success in goal pursuit and be concomitant theory. First, eudaimonic theory clearly broad-
with spouses’ individual flourishing. Satisfying ens and deepens marital quality theory by
marriages would have at least a moderate level expanding marital quality beyond simple assess-
of success in goal pursuit and contribution to the ments of personal satisfaction to include the
spouses’ individual flourishing. Languishing and criteria or goals spouses have for their mar-
destructive marriages would have low degrees of riages. The range of marital quality is broader
success in goal pursuit and would not contribute than the dissatisfying-to-satisfying continuum.
to the individual spouses’ flourishing. A premise Eudaimonic theory broadens this range at both
of eudaimonic theory is that virtues or character ends to include flourishing and destructive mar-
strengths are the characteristics that make riages. The theory also suggests that marital
successful goal pursuit possible. Although we quality should have both hedonic and eudai-
do not discuss them here, the character strengths monic dimensions. Eudaimonic theory predicts
or virtues of the spouses play a critical role that the types of goals spouses pursue influence
in the success of these goal-directed activities the forms of goal-directed activity and couple
as well (for extended discussions, see Fowers, interaction, which constitute the couple’s marital
2000, 2001). quality. This perspective clarifies that marriages
Eudaimonic theory also differentiates be- are integrated into individuals’ lives as one of
tween two dimensions of well-being. Hedonic several domains in which individuals pursue
well-being consists in positive affect and the ends that constitute their lives. By focusing
satisfaction, and eudaimonic well-being is on individual and couple goals for marriage,
composed of personal and relational growth, eudaimonic theory is historically and culturally
meaning, and purpose. Both forms of well- broader than other contemporary marital quality
being are valuable, but Aristotle (trans. 1999) theories that focus on the contemporary West-
suggested that flourishing as human beings ern preoccupation with dyadic interaction and
requires purposive activities and meaningful individual satisfaction. Couple goals can focus
relationships because we are reasoning, social on a wide variety of ends, such as procreation,
beings. This distinction between individual economic survival, the aims of the extended
hedonic and eudaimonic well-being has been family, fulfilling cultural or religious traditions,
documented (Compton et al., 1996; Fowers and satisfaction.
et al., 2010; Huta & Ryan, in press; Keyes A second criterion for good theory is
et al., 2002; McGregor & Little, 1998). In its heuristic value in terms of organizing
addition, two studies have indicated that the or systematizing the area of study. The
manner of goal pursuit is related differentially to individual/shared (communal dimension) and
the two forms of well-being, with instrumental instrumental/constitutive (agency dimension)
346 Journal of Family Theory & Review

goal distinctions provide ways to incorporate ‘‘resources, perspectives, and characteristics


a number of highly relevant but usually into the self’’ (Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995,
disconnected constructs into a unified theory. p. 1103). This merger means that resource
We now discuss how these two dimensions of allocation to one’s spouse and offering help
goal-directed activity can help systematize some to the spouse are not clearly separated from the
areas of marital research. individual’s self-interest. Two related constructs
are couple identity (Stanley & Markman, 1992)
and commitment to the spouse (Adams &
Shared Goal Pursuit Jones, 1997), which are key components of
Shared goal pursuit can encompass the contrast marital commitment that may transcend narrow
between social exchange and communal ori- self-interest by placing value on having an
entations. Social exchange theory has received identity as a couple. Being identified as a
a great deal of attention in marital research. relationship unit is an important shared good
With its emphasis on an economic exchange because it highlights the importance of the
metaphor, the theory focuses activity in the indi- relationship and its welfare. Finally, Agnew, Van
vidual and instrumental quadrant of Table 1 and Lange, Rusbult, and Langston (1998) found that
places strong limits on marital quality from a commitment was strongly related to what they
eudaimonic perspective. This is because social called cognitive interdependence, a tendency to
exchange theory does not recognize the possi- focus on joint outcomes and to regard oneself as
bility of shared goal pursuit and portrays marital part of a collective. These constructs, along with
interaction as quite instrumental, with spouses those we discussed above (we-ness, communal
treating each other as means to their individual relationships, and intimacy as a process), have
ends. In contrast, Clark and colleagues (Clark, been well documented. They can be conceptually
Mills, & Powell, 1986; Williamson, Clark, integrated as shared goods that develop naturally
Pegalis, & Behan, 1996) have documented a in good-quality relationships without necessarily
communal orientation to relationships, which requiring explicit awareness or effort.
is more consistent with shared goal pursuit.
Mutual concern for the partner’s well-being, giv- Couple goals and the communal dimension.
ing help and benefits as needed rather than on the There is some evidence that explicit and overt
basis of equitable exchange, and a deemphasis couple goals are an important aspect of marital
on expectations of direct reciprocation char- quality as well. Brunstein et al. (1996) reported
acterize communal relationships. They present that couples who have identifiable relationship
evidence that a communal orientation is particu- goals and support those goals have higher quality
larly appropriate for close relationships, whereas marriages. Kaplan and Maddux (2002) similarly
the exchange orientation may fit better for short- indicated that spouses who report collective
term relations with strangers (Clark et al., 1986; goal efficacy have higher marital satisfaction.
Williamson et al., 1996). Thus, the exchange Avivi et al. (2008) found that having couple
and communal orientation distinction could be goals was positively related to relationship
incorporated in the individual/shared categories satisfaction in a cross-sectional study and
of goal-directed activity. a 10-day daily diary study. The importance
of couple goals was evident in that goal
Couple processes and the communal dimension. progress fully mediated the relationship between
We explored intimacy as a process and we- couple goals and relationship satisfaction while
ness as two ways that the shared goal construct controlling for couple conflict. Two qualitative
links couple processes to the social nature studies have found that joint ownership of
of humans and to humans’ tendency to blur goals and partnership are key aspects of high
self–other boundaries. There are a number of quality marriages (Dickson, 1995; Haddock,
documented couple processes that are quite Zimmerman, Ziemba, & Current, 2001).
consistent with the concepts of the extended Although this evidence suggests that couple
self and shared goals. Aron, Aron, Tudor, goals are important in marital quality, the studies
and Nelson (1991) have documented a process did not directly test the concept of shared goals
in which relationship partners include the because the investigators did not assess whether
partner in the self. This inclusion of the other the goals were individual or shared. For example,
in the self involves integrating a spouse’s when Avivi et al. (2009) asked for relationship
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 347

goals, partners cited goals such as ‘‘stop teasing more likely to forgive. More benevolent cog-
and making fun of my partner’’ and ‘‘for my nitive interpretations and more empathy toward
partner to be more ambitious.’’ The first is a the offender mediated the relationship between
relationship-oriented goal, but, if accomplished, commitment and forgiveness. McCullough et al.
it becomes an individual achievement, because (1998) also reported that the victim’s empathy,
the individual with the goal will cease the prompted by the offender’s contrition, was a
teasing. The second goal, if accomplished, may key mediator of forgiveness in couples. In cou-
enhance the relationship, but it is primarily an ple relationships, forgiveness can be a shared
individual goal for improving the respondent’s goal because both partners have to participate
partner. In contrast, the goal ‘‘to always maintain and because it prioritizes reconciliation over
friendship’’ is a shared goal. Preliminary studies individual motives such as defensiveness and
on shared goals indicates that this construct revenge.
can be assessed and that it is related to The research on collaborative dyadic pro-
individual well-being (Fowers et al., 2009), but cesses we have cited lacks an overall theoretical
this construct has not yet been evaluated with structure that draws them together and renders
couples. them systematic. The concept of the communal
dimension of marriage in eudaimonic theory can
Transformative processes and the communal provide this theoretical structure.2
dimension. Fincham et al. (2007) characterized The communal dimension encompasses indi-
several frequently occurring couple processes vidual and shared goal pursuit. The beginnings
as transformative because the relationship is of shared goal pursuit in couples may be the
prioritized over narrow individual interests in naturally occurring initial inclusion of the other
these actions. In high-quality relationships, into the self in romantic relationships. In long-
partners are more willing to sacrifice their term relationships, inclusion of the other into
individual interests for the sake of their the self may develop into having shared goals
partner or the relationship (Stanley, Whitton, as a couple. This leads spouses to see greater
Sadberry, Clements, & Markman, 2006; Van unity in what is good for themselves, their part-
Lange, Agnew, Harinck, & Steemers, 1997). ners, and their relationship. Eudaimonic theory
Moreover, willingness to sacrifice tends to be suggests that this blurring of the self–other
mutual and is positively related to commitment boundary is central in flourishing marriages,
and satisfaction. When one sacrifices for a and this perspective seems significantly richer,
relationship, there is mutual benefit for both more durable, and more potent than positive
spouses. Brewer and Caporael (2006) argued affect and satisfaction for understanding mar-
that the tendency to sacrifice for those who ital quality and stability. Marital relationships
are included in our extended self is as potent
and natural a motive for human behavior as is
self-interest. 2 The integrative capacity of eudaimonic theory is not
Another key transformative process is how
unique in the relationship literature. Interdependence theory
individuals respond to their spouse’s nega- can also accommodate many of the processes described
tive behavior (Gottman, 1999). Mutual, nega- under the shared-goal-pursuit category. Indeed, Rusbult and
tive escalation cycles characterize low-quality colleagues, who identify themselves with interdependence
marriages, whereas a positive response to theory, conducted many of the studies cited herein. There
negative behavior is more likely in higher are three important differences between eudaimonic theory
quality marriages. Rusbult, Verette, Whitney, and interdependence theory. First, interdependence theory
does not explicitly focus on goal pursuit. Although that
Slovik, and Lipkus (1991) documented positive theory is concerned with outcome maximization, outcomes
responses to negative spouse behavior, calling are more general than goals, and outcomes are treated
it accommodation. This is one way that spouses very abstractly (often represented by a number) in the
can place the relationship ahead of immediate theory. Second, interdependence theory does not include
self-interest (e.g., self-defense or revenge). the agency dimension described here. Although there is no
In more consequential negative spousal space to argue this point, we submit that interdependence
theory tends to be quite instrumental in orientation with
behavior, forgiveness may be necessary for its focus on outcomes and comparison levels, with no
reconciliation. Finkel, Rusbult, Kumashiro, and theoretical resources for constitutive goal pursuit. Finally,
Hannon (2002) found that, in response to per- interdependence theory posits satisfaction as the primary
ceived betrayals, more committed partners were indicator of relationship quality.
348 Journal of Family Theory & Review

seem to offer a paradigmatic venue for the The systematizing that we have just described
expanded self that can deepen over time. The we- is an important way that the eudaimonic theory
ness that results makes transformative processes of marital quality provides heuristic value.
(Fincham et al., 2007), such as willingness to It highlights some interesting and important
sacrifice, accommodation, and forgiveness, part connections among previously unrelated areas
of the relationship. These transformative pro- of relationship research. The heuristic value of
cesses are essential in maintaining high-quality a theory is also assessed in terms of the value
relationships through the vicissitudes of life. and creativity of its recommendations for future
research, to which we now turn.
CONSTITUTIVE GOALS RESEARCH
FUTURE RESEARCH
In addition to the communal dimension of goal
pursuit, eudaimonic theory highlights an agency The eudaimonic perspective makes a series of
dimension that focuses on how individuals and important, but so far largely unsubstantiated
couples act to pursue their goals. The distinction claims about marital quality. First, it places
here is between goals that are pursued with a goal pursuit at the center of marital quality.
means–ends approach (instrumental) and those To recap our earlier point, this is simply making
that are pursued with means and ends that are not the pathway to marital satisfaction more explicit
separable (constitutive). There is some research by attending more directly to the criteria (desired
that is closely related to constitutive goals, but states of affairs) spouses use to assess whether
it has focused solely on individuals. Much of their relationships are satisfactory. We believe
it was not conducted with constitutive goals in that marital goals research can be very fruitful.
mind, but it can be relatively easily integrated in Second, this approach identifies a new form
the agency dimension of eudaimonic theory. of marital quality, which we have called mari-
Research on intrinsic and extrinsic goals tal flourishing. Of course, a key requirement for
suggests that extrinsic goals such as finan- research in this area is the development of assess-
cial success, social recognition, and physical ments of marital flourishing. Several promising
attractiveness are related negatively with sev- alternatives have been developed for assessing
eral measures of well-being and positively individual flourishing (Peterson, Park, & Selig-
with anxiety, depression, narcissism, and symp- man, 2005; Ryff, 1989; Waterman et al., 2009).
toms of physical illness. In contrast, individuals Individual flourishing is related to but distinct
who espouse intrinsic goals such as personal from hedonic measures of individual well-being,
growth, family security, and community con- such as life satisfaction and positive affect. We
tribution reported greater subjective well-being anticipate that the development of marital flour-
(Emmons, 1991; Kasser & Ryan, 1993; Ryan ishing measures will parallel the success already
et al., 1999; Sheldon & Kasser, 1998). Although realized in individual measurement.
the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic Third, eudaimonic theory suggests that suc-
goals is not identical with the difference between cessful goal achievement in all four quad-
constitutive and instrumental goals, the con- rants of goal-oriented activity constitutes a
structs are sufficiently similar to suggest the flourishing marriage. Instrumental goals are
importance of the distinction (for a discussion of important because they provide the financial
the similarities and differences in these concepts, and organizational infrastructure of the mar-
see Fowers et al., 2010). riage. Individual goals are necessary because
Research directly concerned with constitutive spouses must develop their personal contribu-
and instrumental goals has just begun, and it has tions and capacities so that they can be good
focused exclusively on individual goal seeking spouses. Shared aims are essential to high-
up to this point. Two recent studies found that quality marriages because having shared goals is
constitutive and instrumental goal orientations an important way that couples define and delin-
can be reliably and distinctly measured and eate their social identity as a couple and nurture
that the two personal goal orientations are their relationship. Constitutive goals have a cen-
differentially related to eudaimonic (purpose, tral role in a flourishing marriage because these
personal growth, and positive relationships) and goals have inherent meaning and value. Testing
hedonic (satisfaction, positive affect) well-being these predictions will help us assess the value of
(Fowers et al., 2009, 2010). the eudaimonic theory of marital quality.
Eudaimonic Theory of Marital Quality 349

Fourth, a key aspect of a flourishing marriage (individual and shared goal types). These dimen-
is that partners treat each other as ends in sions form a two-dimensional space with four
themselves rather than treating each other categories of goal pursuit. This theory suggests
as means to one’s own ends. Eudaimonic that the proportions of goals in each category
theory suggests further that the most important and the degree of success that spouses have in
desired states of affairs in marriage are both pursuing them will constitute their marital qual-
shared and constitutive. These goods include ity. The highest quality marriages will be those
friendship, harmony, and relational fairness. In with a significant involvement in constitutive
other words, couples flourish to the degree that and shared goal pursuit. Eudaimonic theory sug-
they are successful in pursuing and achieving gests that marital quality has a broader spectrum
marriage-focused, shared and constitutive goals, than the traditional range from dissatisfied to sat-
and research in these areas can deepen the isfied, broadening the range of marital quality to
understanding of marital quality significantly. include destructive to languishing to satisfying
Fifth, eudaimonic theory predicts that satis- to flourishing. A flourishing marriage is one in
fying marriages have less activity that can be which spouses collaborate regularly in pursuing
characterized as shared or constitutive than do meaningful goals and have a significant measure
flourishing marriages. Languishing and destruc- of success in reaching those goals. We argued
tive marriages are characterized by a dispro- that eudaimonic theory can significantly broaden
portionate focus on individual and instrumental and deepen our understanding of marital quality
goal pursuit. Examining this prediction can bet- in taking a goal-theoretic direction. Eudaimonic
ter illuminate the range of marital quality. theory also contributes by providing a heuristic
Finally, eudaimonic theory predicts that organization for a very broad range of extant
high-quality marriages are concomitant with findings about important processes related to
individual flourishing. Social identity is a marital quality. In addition, eudaimonic theory
key feature of human beings, and in the has heuristic value in suggesting some fruit-
contemporary United States, dyadic romantic ful directions for future research. In summary,
relationships are a primary form of social identity eudaimonic theory points the way to understand-
for most adults. A flourishing marriage depends ing the best form of marriage as an expression
on the quality of life that the individual spouses of what is central to being human, the pursuit of
bring to it, but research has demonstrated that meaningful goals in relationships characterized
the quality of life for spouses also profoundly by deep friendship and shared pursuits.
depends on their marital quality (Lee et al., 1991;
Waite & Gallagher, 2000). The relationship
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