Will your marriage go the distance?
If you could get a glimpse into the future of your relationship, would you? A new chart claims to predict how long your happily-ever-after will last, based on a study by a University of Maryland researcher.
The study focused mainly on how old you are when you get married; it found that people who wait until they’re at least 26 have a better chance of sticking it out till death do they part. It also suggests the optimal age to get married is between the ages of 28 and 32.
That’s a pretty narrow window, if you ask me. It does line up with my own experience though, since I got married at age 25 and ended up wanting out, ten years later.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t quite call my marriage a ‘starter marriage‘ either. That’s what researcher Philip N. Cohen dubbed marriages that last less than 10 years, and are generally entered into early in life. Cohen also found that divorce rates among women who got married between ages 15 and 20 were much higher, as was the divorce rate for folks who waited until after age 45 to tie the knot. (Presumably, if you’re under 26 and you’re partner’s over 45, you’re in real trouble.)
Cohen also found that financial stability is another key factor in determining whether or not a marriage will endure. So statistically speaking, a couple who aren’t worried about money and who are in their late 20s or early 30s have the best chance of staying married for a long time.
The one big thing this chart doesn’t address? How happy those marriages will be. Psychologist Ty Tashiro, author of The Science of Happily Ever After, says only three out of every 10 marriages will end up being happy and healthy in the long term.
While it could be assumed staying married is an indicator of a healthy relationship, most of us also know plenty of couples who stay married even though they’re miserable. Let’s face it – marriage can have really sucky moments, even when it’s good.
So how do you not only stay married, but stay happily married? That might be the better question.
I learned a lot from being married for 10 years (not to mention reading lots of relationship advice books), but I definitely wouldn’t call myself an expert. For that, I turned to the writings of John Gottman, author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. He and his wife Julie have been studying couples in their ‘Love Lab’ for 30 years, analyzing their behavior and figuring out what separates the happy ones (they call them ‘the masters’) from the unhappy ones (the so-called ‘disasters’). Here’s what they’ve discovered…
Kindness is key
Gottman believes being kind to each other is the best way to have a happy – and lasting – marriage. And while it doesn’t seem like that should take much research to figure out, it’s surprising how often it doesn’t occur to couples to simply be nice to each other. In an interview with The Atlantic, both Gottman and his wife talked about what it takes to be kind to your partner.
“Kindness doesn’t mean that we don’t express our anger,” said Julie Gottman. “But kindness informs how we choose to express the anger. You can throw spears at your partner. Or you can explain why you’re hurt and angry, and that’s the kinder path.”
‘Disaster’ couples, John Gottman said, “will say things differently in a fight. Disasters will say ‘You’re late. What’s wrong with you? You’re just like your mother.’.”
The opposite of kindness is contempt, and the Gottmans say it’s the biggest thing that undermines a marriage. Being critical or deliberately ignoring your partner is the most damaging thing you can do, says John Gottman.
Look on the bright side
“There’s a habit of mind that the masters have,” explains Gottman.
“They’re scanning the environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.”
So next time your partner leaves their dirty socks in the corner or forgets they promised to make a vet appointment for the cat, remind yourself of the way they picked up your dry cleaning for you last week, or how nice they always are to your parents. Saying ‘thank you’ for the good stuff your significant other does, instead of attacking them for the annoying stuff, could actually save your marriage.
Get it on
Last but not least, the Gottmans are big on the importance of sex in a relationship. A healthy marriage includes sexual intimacy – and not just doing it for the sake of doing it, either. In the Gottman Institute blog, therapist Zach Brittle writes that the Gottmans’ research “confirmed the hypothesis that good sex is very much interrelated with intimate trust, friendship, and conversations that create emotional connection.”
And Brittle recommends talking about sex with each other, not just having it.
“Only nine per cent of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with one another say that they’re satisfied sexually,” says Brittle. So if you don’t want to end up in a sex-starved marriage, take heed.
One thing’s for sure – no chart can predict whether your particular marriage will end in divorce or not, or how happy you’ll be. No matter how old you are or how financially stable you are when you get married, it’s possible to make it last, and to be happy, regardless of the statistical odds. It just takes work.
And remember this: getting divorced isn’t the end of the world, either. Take me, for example. After learning all kinds of things about what not to do in my first marriage, I’m actually in a really healthy relationship now. Will it last forever? I don’t know – but that’s the great thing; I don’t want to. Some things are better left unknown.
GIFs via giphy.com.
Comment: What do you think is the most important factor for making a marriage last?