Tag Archives: secrets to a happy marriage

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 Private Language Of Marriage

I read an article in the International Herald Tribune last Friday that really struck a chord. It was an essay by writer Joan Wickersham about the ways in which longtime couples develop their own private lexicons with which to communicate with one another.

She talks about this dynamic within the rubric 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 that which then evolves into a catch phrase that only the two of you can understand.

By way of example, Wickersham recounts the story of how – right after she married her husband – she 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.

My husband and I have been together for nearly 17 years and I know exactly what she means. I’m one of those people who’s obsessed with schedules. Once – on a trip to visit my husband’s parents in Atlanta – I perseverated for hours over whether, upon landing at Hartsfield Airport, we ought to go directly to his parents’ home or stop by and visit a friend first and risk being late. To this day, whenever I begin obsessing about our travel schedule, my husband will look at me and say: “Should we just go home or should we stop at Douglas Jackson’s?” (Not his real name.) It’s code for: Are you really going to go on about this all night?

Similarly, we’ve also incorporated a phrase to describe that feeling you get when you anticipate that someone is going to disagree with you. My husband and I met in graduate school and one of our early bonding experiences was over our feelings about a mutual acquaintance (we’ll call him Simon Collins.) Simon Collins was the kind of person who – no matter what you said – instinctively responded with something negative. I haven’t seen or talked to Simon in years. Nor has my husband. But whenever one of us raises a topic that might possibly prompt criticism, we preface it by saying “No Simon Collins!”  to disarm the other person from any knee-jerk disapproval.

Neither of these phrases would mean anything to anyone but the two of us. And that’s the point.

I’ve written before about some of the things that make for a happy marriage/partnership: having shared interests; establishing a division of labor. But Wickersham’s column reminded me of one more crucial ingredient – feeling like a team. There are lots of ways to do this, but having a private language – a “civilization of two” as she puts it – is one of the principle ways that you can reinforce that bond.

How about you? What strange and impenetrable shorthands have you and your partner devised to communicate with one another?

I’d love to hear them…

Image: portrait of a happy couple – day 358 or Project 365 by purplemattfish via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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