From The Blog

Smiles, Everyone! Smiles!: What Makes for a Happy Marriage?

The last few days have unleashed a torrent of reactions  to Elizabeth Edwards’ decision to go on Oprah and talk about her husband’s...

The last few days have unleashed a torrent of reactions  to Elizabeth Edwards’ decision to go on Oprah and talk about her husband’s affair.

Some are outraged; some defend her; others are simply confused.

But the main reason that everyone is so fascinated by Elizabeth’s “coming out” is that until the advent of Rielle Hunter, we all thought that the Edwardses were incredibly happily married. That was, in fact, their “brand.”

So it’s worth asking: what makes for a happy marriage?

Gretchen Rubin had a lovely post earlier this week on The Happiness Project about meeting her husband. For her, the central mystery is how she and her husband  – who are perfectly suited to one another – fell in love before they knew each other at all?

One recent study suggests that the single best predictor of whether or not you’ll marry happily is – wait for it – how much you smile in photos when you’re younger. The implication, I suppose, is that happy people become happy partners. (I can just hear the Ricardo Montalban character from Fantasy Island in the background: “Smiles, Everyone. Smiles!”)

But what about a happy dynamic between spouses? What explains that?

There are lots of possible answers.

For Ayelet Waldman – of Bad Mother fame – it clearly has a lot to do with a good sex life.

A friend of mine here in London says that the key to his happy marriage is sharing the same “emotional temperature” with his wife.

I’ve always thought that happy marriages (or enduring partnerships) have a lot to do with shared interests – that both partners actually like to do the same things in their free time. That sounds pretty mundane, I know. But I’m always shocked at how many couples fall into some version of the “He likes the mountains; She likes the beach” dichotomy.

Perhaps the most egregious case was an old friend of mine whose husband’s idea of the ideal New Year’s Day was to watch four different football “bowls” on four different televisions (simultaneously). His wife, meanwhile, was busily re-reading George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss in the other room. (They’re now divorced).

In my own case, I realized that my husband and I were meant for each other when – on a recent vacation – he was re-reading Anne Frank’s Diary and I was reading Sophie’s Choice. I recognize that holocaust literature isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. But to me, it said a lot about why we’re well suited to one another.

How about you? What do you think makes for a happy long term marriage/partnership?

*****

Further to Tuesday’s post about whether or not there’s a relationship between young children growing up too fast and young adults growing up too slow, this blog – Slouching Towards Adulthood -  has one answer to that question.

Image: Bride and Groom by Sharon Goodyear via freedigitalphotos.net.

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  1. judy May 10, 2009 at 6:44 pm #

    Great post, Deilia! I love the “holocaust on vaction” evidence of your being made for each other. It makes total sense to me, and the fact that you noticed it at all may say as much about the success of your marriage as anything else does!

  2. Betsy Wuebker May 20, 2009 at 1:45 pm #

    Shared interest is the key! Or at least be interested in hearing about what the other is interested in, which makes them interesting, no? Nothing kills a relationship faster than disinterest, not even volatility.

  3. The Mad Penguin July 13, 2010 at 2:16 am #

    I agree. My current relationship is the most satisfying and happiest so far, and I don’t see it deteriorating. We both liked kickboxing, are fairly reserved people (though one less than the other, otherwise we’d be hermit) and don’t have a problem spending a quiet weekend reading side by side. In my previous relationships, one have been forced to partake into the other’s interest. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work.

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