Tag Archives: happy marriages

Big wedding = happy marriage…and other recent findings

wedding cake morguefileThe more people who attended your wedding, the better your odds of marital bliss. On the flip side, the more premarital relationships you had before marriage, the lower your odds of being happily married down the road.

These are findings from the University of Virginia-based National Marriage Project report called “Before I do: What Do Premarital Experiences Have to Do with Marital Quality Among Today’s Young Adults.”

While the study doesn’t address causation, here are some of its findings:

• The wedding ceremony had links to marriage quality. Couples who invited a lot of friends and family tended to have happier marriages. Researchers theorized a possible reason is that couples had a larger network of friends and family to help and encourage them. They also suggested that a larger ceremony may reflect a clear decision to commit to the marriage and demonstrate the commitment. Financial resources were not the reason for this association, because they controlled for income and education. While this isn’t reason enough to put yourself in debt, it may help justify inviting all the people who are important to you to your wedding to witness your commitment.

• Individuals who had more experience cohabiting or more sexual partners were not as likely to have high-quality marriages compared with those who had fewer. Researchers speculate that “having more partners provides fodder for comparison and reminds one there are other choices.”

• Couples who had a child before marriage or one on the way at the time of the marriage were less likely to have a formal wedding, and having a child before marriage was associated with lower marital quality.

• Couples who “slide” rather than “decide” their way through major transitions—Including having sex, getting pregnant, living together and marriage—are less likely to have high-quality marriages. Sliding into these decisions, in particular living together, “creates a kind of inertia that makes it difficult to change course,” say researchers. They may end up getting “stuck with” someone they might not have otherwise chosen to marry.

• Premarital education, i.e. relationship education, was linked with higher marital quality. This is great news, because such education is widely available.

The study followed 1,000 participants aged 18 to 34 for five years and controlled for race, ethnicity, years of education, personal income, and religiosity.

Study co-author Galena K. Rhodes concludes “people need to talk about their relationships and make deliberate decisions, and couples who live together should consider relationship education.” Couples should also understand that serial cohabitation may lead them further from eventual marital bliss.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 19 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com

How Does Your Marriage Compare? More Interesting Findings…

The Normal BarMy recent post called “The #1 Thing Men Want More of is Not What You Think” caused quite a debate, with many disagreeing with the research findings or explaining what they feel as a combination of needs. The findings were based on “surprising” relationship secrets of 70,000 individuals surveyed in The Normal Bar, a new book.

I promised to give away a free copy of the book, and then I went on spring break. So, because of my delay, I’ll give away two copies of the book—one drawing held from commenters of the last post, and one from comments on this one. So, if you’d like a copy, just leave a comment, and I’ll throw your name into the hat.

I wanted to share a few morsels of some of the other results that surprised or interested me. Feel free to share your feelings on one of more of the following findings:

  • Two-thirds of couples do not agree with each other’s politics. Fewer than 10 percent of these couples say this seriously strains their relationships. That surprised me, because I wonder if this has to do with common values and worldviews being different in these couples, and also because so many couples I know seem to be similar in this way. But I’m glad they can work through this area of division.
  • Be more romantic. It bothers almost 29 percent of women “a lot” that their partner is not more romantic. But even more surprising is that a lack of sufficient romance bothers more men “a lot”—44 percent of them. Talk to your spouse about what they feel is romantic, and try to make a better effort in this area. Too often this advice comes to men, but women need to practice romance as well.
  • Three-fourths of all American couples have never taken a romantic vacation. What? Not even a honeymoon? This seems pretty deplorable to me, but I recognize that once the kids come, traveling without them (and without worrying about them) becomes such a challenge that many don’t find it worth the effort. If you’ve benefited from romantic vacations in the past, please share how they have impacted your relationship. Can you get a weekend away together?
  • Interrupting your partner is a big problem. People who are often interrupted by their partners are twice as likely to be unhappy in the relationship. This affects many couples—59 percent of both men and women say they are sometimes or frequently interrupted by their partners.
  • Laugh more! On the other side of the coin, happy couples laugh much more; 66 percent of happy couples laugh together often.
  • Criticize less. Sadly, 12 percent of couples who have been together more than a decade are criticized daily by their partner. Women tend to be the more critical spouse. Two-thirds of men say they are criticized “a lot”; slightly over half of women say the same of their spouse.
  • Having more money did not make relationships happier. In fact, the most wealthy couples were slightly less happy.
  • Going back to my last article, it’s true that men said they wanted better communication more than anything else. However, the surveys also reported that most men also wanted more sex. Sixty percent of men and 30 percent of women feel their sexual frequency is too low. On the other hand, 36 percent of men and 56 percent of women feel their frequency is just about right.
  • We all know that one of the most important characteristics of happy couples is that they spend time together. Surveyed individuals say they don’t spend enough time together because they are so busy, but 80 percent of these same couples said they typically spend an hour or more on the Internet daily for non-work matters. Twenty-six percent spend more than three hours on the Internet a day.  Can you consider cutting back Internet/TV or other screen time to invest some needed time with your spouse?

Which of these bullet points resonates with you or strikes you as odd? Of course there’s a lot more research in the book, so check it out if you like. Remember, though, what is “normal” for one couple is not helpful for another. The thing I do find helpful is to ask yourself if something you read about (lack of fun, criticizing your partner, etc.) might be holding your marriage back from being all it can be.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part IV: Cultivate Healthy Passion

Wrapping up our 4 secrets to long marriage is maintaining a healthy passion. What’s an unhealthy passion, you ask? Funnily enough, psychologist Robert Vallerand of the University of Quebec says, “Obsessive passion—a type that seems to control you—is as detrimental to the relationship, making it less satisfying sexually and otherwise, as having no passion.”

A healthy passion, on the other hand, means “a voluntary inclination toward an activity or person that we love or value.” It helps us relate better and increases our intimacy while retaining our own identity.

You can cultivate healthy passion by participating in an activity you and your partner both enjoy, says Vallerand. While exhilarating activities are ideal, competitive ones are not. (The object is not winning, it’s bonding.) Go sledding. Share a boat ride. Take a run. Have sex. You get the idea.

Another way to boost passion: write the reasons why you love your spouse and why the relationship is important to you. Bonus points if you read it aloud to him or her.

To summarize the 4 Secrets to a Long Marriage as shared in Scientific American’s article “The Happy Couple”: Share Joy, Stay Positive, Express Gratitude, and Cultivate a Healthy Passion.

So what’s your big secret to a successful marriage? Did any of the four resonate with you as strengths or weaknesses in your relationship?

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude

The 10 most frequent positive emotions include: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love, according to psychologist and author Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. In her book, Positivity, she says the most important of these emotions to a relationship may be gratitude.

Why? Because expressing gratitude regularly helps us appreciate our partner and not take one another for granted. For example, when you tell your spouse you appreciate the great dinner, it makes you aware that s/he put effort into preparing that dinner for you, and more appreciate of having them in your life. And it makes your partner feel appreciated. So, expressing gratitude benefits both partners in the relationshipthe recipient and the giver.

One researcher found on days when couples felt more gratitude toward their partner, they felt more connected to him or her and more satisfied even the following day. Recipients of gratitude also increased their relationship satisfaction on days when it was expressed. Researchers refer to gratitude as a booster shot for romantic relationships.

“Each unit of improvement in expressed appreciation decreased by half the odds of the couple breaking up in six months,” according to Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage.”

What makes you feel the most gratitude from your spouse? When are you most likely to express it?

Read Part I, Part II and Part IV.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part II: Stay Positive

In the Part I, we learned how important it is to respond positively to our partner’s good news. We also learned that individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships. Positive emotions—even fleeting ones—have the power to help us connect with others.

Having an upbeat outlook enables people to see the big picture and avoid getting hung up on small annoyances,” says psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “This wide-angle view often brings to new light new possibilities and offers solutions to difficult problems, making individuals better at handling adversity in relationships and other parts of life. It also tends to dismantle boundaries between “me” and “you,” creating stronger emotional attachments. (Remember the Power of We in Relationships?)

We’ve heard about Dr. Gottman’s 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship, but Fredrickson studied positive emotions by each individual and found even when the ratio is 3:1 it helps them become more resilient in life and love.

How can we help boost positive emotions? Try to schedule activities often in places that exude positive energy for you, such as a nature hike or meetings in a restaurant you love. Surround yourself with scents and sounds that make you happy. Keep a collage of photos that make you smile on your desk, next to your bed, or wherever you spend time. Keep upbeat music on your ipod or stereo playing positive lyrics. Spend a few minutes hugging your spouse (and children) at the end of the day. Play with your pet.

Scientific American’s December 2009 article, “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” provides more details.

What do you do to maintain a positive, upbeat attitude, or is this a struggle for you? I know when I’m not feeling well, or the weather has been cold or dreary for a long time, I struggle to be positive. Music helps change my mood.

Read Part I, Part III and Part IV for the other three secrets.

4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part I: Share Joy

Everyone thinks romantic partners are supposed to support you when you’re sick or down, and help you through tough times, but how we treat each other during the good times may matter even more to the relationship. Scientific American’s December 2009 article “The Happy Couple: Secrets to a Long Marriage” delves into how happy couples stay happy and successful. Here are some of key findings from researchers:

  • Couples in stronger relationships react more positively to one another’s good news, while less happy couples respond in a neutral or negative way. Buoying one another’s joy during happy times may help cement feelings of satisfaction and commitment.
  • Individuals in successful, happy relationships each experience a higher ratio of positive to negative emotions than do those in unsuccessful relationships.

Think back to the last time your spouse told you s/he had a good presentation at work or shared some other tidbit of good news. If you merely nodded your head and said, “That’s nice, honey,” while returning to your email or TV show, it turns out that’s almost as bad as making a negative comment. More positive reactions include expressing enthusiasm, holding eye contact, leaning in, and asking questions. These behaviors show you “get” what makes your partner happy, and it makes you happy, too.

Even if you have reservations, for example about your partner’s job promotion, express positive feedback and save the concerns for a later conversation.

Researchers say positive events happen three times as often as negative ones, so we should be able to get more practice on good days than bad. If that’s not the case for you, you need to engage in more enjoyable activities together—taking a walk in the park or watching a favorite movie or show together.

Read three more proven secrets: Part II, Part III, and Part IV.

What are the Best Divorce Predictors?

Take five seconds to think about what you think are the most common events or reasons people divorce. During which years of marriage do you think couples most likely to divorce? Let’s see if you’re right.

Most people mistakenly think the most common events that precipitate a divorce are illness, infidelity, job loss or death of a child. Diane Sollee, founder of the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education (CMFCE), says the event most likely to precede divorce is the birth of a child and the three months following. People also mistakenly think year seven has the highest divorce rate, but she says the highest divorce rates are during first two years and years 14 to 16, leading to the average marriage length of seven years.

Couples may believe that conflict causes divorce, but actually the opposite is true. Smart Marriages, the educational organization run by CMFCE, reports that “the number-one predictor of divorce is the habitual avoidance of conflict.” Early in a marriage, couples may feel that to stay in love they need to agree, be quiet, not fight. In a more mature marriage, couples may avoid conflict because it quickly gets out of hand, either leading to blow-ups or at least one partner shutting down. “Successful couples are those who know how to discuss their differences in ways that actually strengthen their relationship and improve intimacy,” says Sollee. She adds that they know how to keep the disagreement confined so that they don’t contaminate the rest of the relationship.

In other words, don’t let a disagreement stop you from having fun together and making time to enjoy what brought you together in the first place.

Are you thinking that healthy, happy relationships shouldn’t have these areas of disagreement? That would be an incorrect and unrealistic expectation. According to Sollee, marriage researchers have found that “every happy, successful couple has approximately ten areas of incompatibility or disagreement that they will never resolve.” That’s right, Never. So focusing on these areas may just keep you from enjoying the best parts of your relationship. And leaving your partner because you can’t agree on everything will likely lead to you being stuck with another partner who has ten different areas of incompatibility. (For second marriages, the biggest areas of disagreement are about children from earlier relationships.)

“Successful couples learn how to manage the disagreements and live life ‘around’ them—to love in spite of their areas of difference, and to at least develop understanding and empathy for their partner’s positions,” explains Sollee. They also learn to welcome and embrace change, and to lovingly negotiate with one another.

Sollee says the skills for handling disagreement and conflict and for integrating change and expressing love, intimacy, sex, and appreciation can all be learned, for example through educational courses. Gaining or improving these skills will not only improve your marriage, it will allow you to provide a positive model for your family and friends, and particularly your children, who learn most through your example.