Tag Archives: happy marriages

The Secret Language of Long Term Marriages

marriage

marriageI once read an article about the underlying codes governing long-term relationships that really struck a chord.

It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which, over time, couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

Wickersham talks about this dynamic within the context of marriage, but her point applies to any long-term partnership. What’s crucial is that you’re together long enough to have a shared experience which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, she recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – Wickersham got a job in a bank which she hated. Even though her husband had a job that he liked, he convinced her to quit her job (and he his) so that they could move somewhere else and both be happy. From there on out, “It’s like the bank” became their stock way to describe any situation that was especially bleak and dismal. Wickersham has another great story about the phrase “We’re just not serrated knife people” and what it came to mean within the context of their marriage.

Read the rest of this post over on Better After 50

Image: Marriage by Jo Christian Oterhals via Flickr

Tips For Adulthood: Five Secrets To A Happy Marriage

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood:

From time to time, I post about what makes for a happy, long-term marriage or partnership. In the past, I’ve written about the importance of sharing similar interests, having complementary skill sets and even how much you smiled in photographs when you were younger.

But lately, I’ve stumbled across some interesting new research on the topic which I thought I’d share.

Here are five things likely to improve the longevity of your marriage:

1. Thriftiness.  A recent study of 1,734 married couples revealed that couples who don’t value money very highly score 10 to 15 percent better on marriage stability and other measures of relationship quality than couples where one or both are materialistic. According to Jason Carroll, a professor at BYU, and the lead author of the study, materialistic couples exhibit “eroding communication, poor conflict resolution and low responsiveness to each other.”

2. Working Wives. Ironically enough, feminism has also been very good for marital health and stability. At least according to Stephanie Coontz, a scholar of history and family studies who has written extensively on marriage in the United States. In her book, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, Coontz argues that the changes that Betty Friedan and other feminists of her time agitated for have actually been good for marriage. The divorce rate has fallen and actually tends “to be lowest in states where more than 70 percent of married women work outside the home,” Coontz reports. What’s more, “The specialization into separate gender roles that supposedly stabilized marriages in the 1950s and 1960s, actually raises the risk of divorce today.” Working outside the home, says Coontz, is also good for a couple’s sex life. The benefits to marriage from working wives is also supported by a recent study from the Pew Research Center. This study also showed that shifts within marriages — specifically, men taking on more housework and women earning more outside the home — have contributed to lower divorce rates and happier unions. One couple found that just shifting their traditional gender roles each summer did a lot to strengthen their marriage.

3. Spending Time Apart. More counter-intuitive wisdom. I think that some couples make the mistake of thinking that the true sign of a happy couple is wanting to do every last thing together. Wrong. Yes, it’s important to have a lot of over-lapping interests. But, as I’ve noted before, you also need to keep a private space – a room of one’s own, as it were. This is the main message of Iris Krasnow’s new book, The Secret Lives of Wives, which is based on interviews with more than 200 women from different educational, social, and economic brackets, all of whom are in long-term marriages (15-plus years). In addition to sex (see below), many pointed to the importance of prolonged separations from their spouses. as crucial to making these partnerships last. The reasoning? Physical distance makes women more emotionally and physically self-reliant and also (surprisingly, perhaps) enhances communication between partners.

4. Sex. Just make that sure you don’t spend *too* much time apart. According to a recent article on The Huffington Post, there are more than 17,000 people who identify with “I Live In a Sexless Marriage” on the Experience Project. But if recent surveys are correct, the author speculates that this number doesn’t even come close to the actual figure, which she estimates as closer to 20 million married Americans. Moreover, couples who are dissatisfied with their sex life are more likely to consider divorce and/or term their marriage “unhappy.” D.A. Wolf certainly hit a nerve when she posted on the importance of sex within a long-term relationship on the Huffington Post’s Divorce vertical last weekend. Have a gander at the comments section. Wowza.

5. Small, recognizable actions matter a great deal. I was absolutely fascinated by this interview in Slate with New York Times health blogger Tara Parker-Pope about her book For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage. In it, Parker-Pope reveals that a lot of research shows that the main determinants of happy, sustained marriages are actually small, tangible things like having have at least five small positive interactions (touching, smiling, paying a compliment) for every negative one (sneering, eye rolling, withdrawal)…the presence/absence of sleep problems…how you treat your partner during the first three minutes of a fight…and my own personal favorite: how you recount your own “How We Met” narrative. Phew. At least I have that one covered.

 

Image: With this ring…by Tones Photos via Flicker under a Creative Commons license

The Gores' Break-Up: Why I'm Not Sad

I think it’s best if I just come out and say this up front: I’m not really sad that Al and Tipper Gore split up.

Yes, I know. I’m an outlier. Nearly everyone I know — and certainly everyone I’m reading — is outright depressed by this separation.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a shame. And it’s a shame because — as my colleague Melinda Henneberger wrote recently — they seemed like a couple who were genuinely in love. Between the 40 years of marriage and the four beautiful kids and the whole high school sweetheart thing and, yes — the kisses — they really looked like they were in it for the long haul.

But somehow, I was much sadder when Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins split up. I was also sadder when — gulp — writer and public radio commentator Sandra Tsing Loh split with her man (and then went on an anti-marriage crusade.)

Why is this?

Read the rest of the article on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: But It’s Over Now by Electronic Eye via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

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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 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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