Articles for Married Couples

Everything listed under: happy

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    Does Divorce Lead to Happiness?

    It was a turning point in the fictional marriage of Katie and Ben in the movie The Story of Us, starring Michele Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis. Katie tells Ben that she doesn’t want to end their marriage.

    “…You always know that I’m a little quiet in the morning and compensate accordingly,” she says to him. “That’s a dance you perfect over time. And it’s hard, it’s much harder than I thought it would be, but there’s more good than bad. And you don’t just give up.”

    Many couples in America today find themselves at the same turning point in their marriage. Many who choose to separate often find out that it’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Research has shown that if a person is unhappy, divorce is not necessarily the road to happiness.

    A national study in 2002 of 10,000 couples asked them to rate their marriage from life in hell (1) to heaven on earth (7). The couples were interviewed twice, five years apart. The study found that most people rated their marriage as happy. Eighty-one percent of the couples who rated their marriage as life in hell were still together five years later. Out of that group, the majority said they were very happy after five years.

    Following this study, University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite wanted to know what makes marriages miserable and discover how they can become happy.

    “We often talk about marriage like a piece of fruit – it went bad, as if it is out of our control,” says Waite. “I was interested in determining if the couples who divorced were happier following the divorce than those who chose to stay together in spite of their unhappiness.”

    Waite examined the couples who rated their marriage as "life in hell." Of the couples who stayed married, 78 percent were happy with life five years later. Only 53 percent of those who chose to separate or divorce said they were happy.

    Waite interviewed couples, asking them to tell their stories about how their bad marriage got better.

    Alcoholism, infidelity, overly-critical spouses, chronic miscommunication, irrational jealousy, and emotional neglect all fit into the equation, but the four most common issues that made marriages unhappy were: bad things happening to good spouses, job reversals, the kids and illness. Examples included: a spouse losing their job creating financial strain in the marriage, the challenges of raising children which left no time to be together as a couple, or a spouse making a poor decision during a weak moment.

    In response to the question, “How did things get better?” couples described what Waite calls the “marital endurance ethic.”

    “Couples shared something like, ‘Mostly we just kept putting one foot in front of the other and things began to get better,’” Waite says. “Many of them were influenced by friends’ advice to hang in there, that they were headed in the right direction.”

    A passage of time often has a positive effect on problems, according to Waite. Just because couples are unhappy now doesn’t mean they will be unhappy forever.

    Katie and Ben understood that fact. “There’s a history and histories don’t happen overnight,” Katie said.

    Katie was able to see past their present moment and look at the big picture. She realized that her husband was a good friend, and good friends are hard to find.

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    Does Marriage Get Better Over Time?

    Does marriage, like a good bottle of wine, really get better over time? That’s the question Dr. Paul Amato and his co-author, Spencer James, set out to answer. Amato serves as the Arnold and Bette Hoffman Emeritus Professor of Family Sociology and Demography at Pennsylvania State University. 

    There’s lots of evidence that many people are cynical about marriage these days. In fact, many are choosing not to marry because they have seen so many marriages end in bitter divorces and they figure, “What’s the point of putting yourself through that?”

    What if there is something we are missing from the bigger picture? Most would agree that anything worth having usually takes work, grit and a long-term view. So, are people throwing away perfectly good marriages in the earlier years because the going gets tough?

    In a recent conversation with Alysse ElHage, Dr. Amato shared the findings from his research, Changes in Spousal Relationships Over the Marital Life Course.

    Amato’s study was based on a unique 20-year longitudinal sample of 1,617 spouses. The study ran from 1980 to 2000. While not recent, it is the longest-running, most-detailed study of marriage available. According to Amato, there is no reason to assume that trajectories of relationship quality are different today than they were in the 1980s and 1990s.

    In reviewing the data, Amato measured how three common characteristics of marital quality (happiness, shared activities and discord) changed over time. He split the sample in several ways, but the most important one separated the divorced couples from those who remained together. Amato believes this is key, because past studies have led many researchers to conclude that marital quality inevitably deteriorates over time. If you focus on couples who remain together however, which is the majority, then average levels of marital quality do not decline. In reality, marital happiness remains moderately high and marital discord lessens substantially. 

    While plenty of studies have focused on the first five years of marriage, little research exists on couples who have been married for decades. Amato was very interested in focusing on the 205 long-term marriages in the study. It turns out that most of the couples who had been married 40 years or more are happy. 

    One of the biggest takeaways from Amato’s study is that for some deeply-troubled marriages, divorce is the best outcome. But based on previous work, he found that many divorces are not preceded by a serious relationship problem. Sometimes boredom, rather than misery, characterizes many unstable marriages. In these cases, infidelity is often the trigger that leads one partner to leave the union. When couples stick together through difficult times, remain faithful to one another and actively work to resolve problems, positive long-term outcomes are common. 

    Amato’s research shows that positive outcomes for couples in long-term marriages are the norm. And contrary to what many people think, marital quality is not destined to decline. It tends to remain high or even improve over the decades, which should encourage most couples.

    The big question is, how did these couples help their marriages endure over time? Although Amato’s study didn’t measure for relationship education, previous research indicates that couples who use relationship education services tend to have better relationship quality and more stable marriages than do other couples. 

    “What we can say from our study is that being happy, frequently sharing activities with your spouse, and having a peaceful marriage after 20, 30, or 40 years is quite common,” says Amato.

    For couples who find themselves in a lackluster marriage, wondering if it’s worth it to stick around, Amato’s research is good news. It shows that although rough spots happen in relationships, there is hope that in many instances, nurturing a marriage can help things get better as the years go by.

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    6 Tips for a 'Til Death Do Us Part' Marriage

    Have you ever thought or said these words?

    I just can’t take it anymore... We’ve grown apart... I love you as a friend, but I’m not in love with you anymore... You aren’t the person I married... Things change.

    The crazy thing is, many happily married people also experience some of these feelings. It's true. Sometimes you feel like you can’t take it anymore. Other times you may feel distant to your spouse. Over time, mates do change.

    But do all these things have to shake the very foundation of your marriage? The answer is NO.

    What makes it possible for first-time marriages to survive?

    Marriage experts have found that couples who make their marriage work decide up front that divorce is not an option. Although many couples who choose to divorce have challenges, their marriage probably could have been saved and in the long run been a happy one. Their fatal error in the relationship was leaving their options open. If the going got too tough, in their mind, divorce was always a way out.

    You might be surprised to find this out, but research shows that divorce does not make you happier.

    Does Divorce Make People Happy? Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages, conducted by the Institute for American Values, found that:

    • Unhappily married adults who divorced or separated were no happier, on average, than unhappily married adults who stayed married.

    • Unhappy marriages were less common than unhappy spouses.

    • Staying married did not typically trap unhappy spouses in violent relationships.

    • 2 out of 3 unhappily married adults who avoided divorce or separation ended up happily married five years later.

    The bottom line is, you have to make a decision to stay at the table and be committed to making the marriage work. Here are some things to help you keep the vow: "until death do us part.”

    • Learn skills to help keep your marriage on track. Research continues to show that couples who learn how to talk to each other, resolve conflict, manage their money, have appropriate expectations of the marriage, and build intimacy are significantly more likely to keep their marriage on track over time.

    • Understand that the grass may look greener on the other side, but you still have to mow it. On the surface someone may look better than the one you are with, but in truth, even beautiful sod eventually has onions, crabgrass and clover if you don't properly care for it. In most cases, people who have jumped the fence will testify that the grass is not greener, just different.

    • Learn how to resolve conflict without threatening to leave the marriage. All couples have spats. Some yell; others talk things through. The common denominator for couples who keep their marriage on track is learning how to disagree with the best of them, but leaving the marriage is never an option.

    • Stop using divorce as a crutch. Instead of throwing in the towel when the going gets tough, consider it a challenge to learn as much as you can about your mate and how you can effectively deal with adversity. Intentionally choose to love the one you're with.

    • Keep the big picture perspective. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. One woman described her 65-year marriage to a group of young people. She shared about seven years throughout the 65-year span that were really bad due to work conditions, children, lack of time together, the husband's out of town job for a couple of years, etc. In the end, she asked herself, “Would I really want to trade 58 good years for seven bad years?” The answer was a resounding "No!" All marriages experience trials and tough moments. Don’t trade years of history for a couple of bad months or tough years.

    • Make a plan for your marriage. Going into marriage without a plan is like playing a football game without memorizing the playbook. If you want to win, you'll have team meetings, set goals, learn and relearn skills, learn how to lead and follow, and share responsibilities. And, you both need a copy of the playbook.

    If you want a “til death do us part” marriage, you must learn the plays so you can execute them correctly and prepare to adapt in different situations. That takes time. When you understanding that there will be occasional setbacks, you can move toward the goal line and even score a few touchdowns. Teammates block for each other, throw the ball to one another, help each other up, and encourage perseverance when the going gets tough.

    It has been said that individuals win games, but teamwork wins championships. So, make it your goal to have a championship marriage.

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    How Date Night Can Boost Your Relationship

    When it comes to romancing your mate for special holidays like Valentine's Day or birthdays, some couples have a head start on the celebration. Why? They've discovered that making regular time for each other is linked to lots of relationship benefits.

    According to The Date Night Opportunity, a 2012 report released by the National Marriage Project, couples who manage to devote time specifically to one another at least once a week:

    • Are markedly more likely to enjoy high-quality relationships and lower divorce rates, compared to couples who do not devote as much couple time to one another;

    • Are about three times more likely to report that they are “very happy” in their marriages;

    • Report higher levels of communication and commitment;

    • State that they have a highly satisfying sexual relationship compared to couples who spend less couple time together; and

    • Take that time as a chance to de-stress and engage in novel activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing – from hiking or dancing to cooking together or playing cards.

    Regular date nights probably benefit couples most when they do more than dinner and a movie. Doing fun things together feels good, and your brain associates these times with pleasure.

    Report co-author W. Bradford Wilcox states that:

    • The couples who find date night particularly valuable are those who are less integrated into the local civic or religious fabric of their communities and those who are less committed to one another; and

    • Couples with a more fragile foundation for their marriage need to devote more time to one another to keep their marriage strong.

    It is always a good time to celebrate your own marriage and/or the marriages of those around you. Marriage is like anything else in life… cars, plants, or your body. If you don’t do preventive maintenance, a major overhaul could be on the horizon.

    Most marriages begin with romantic love that is linked to passion, excitement and an overwhelming attraction to each other. Over time the passion fades, but date nights have the potential to take your ho-hum marriage and make it spicy and meaningful again.

    If couple time hasn’t been a part of your regular routine, here’s a challenge:

    • Start by making a 6-week commitment to set aside an hour or two each week for a date night.

    • Agree that you won’t talk about the kids, your job or the in-laws. You don’t have to spend a ton of money. Just play together.

    • At the end of the six weeks, take time to discuss any changes you have experienced in your relationship.

    Who knows? “Couple time” might surprise you with the difference it makes in your relationship.

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    Planning Your Ultimate Date Night

    Can a simple date night really make that much difference in a marriage? That's a great question!

    You probably know about the benefits of family meals and the preventative factors associated with pulling off this feat. For example, your children are less likely to try drugs and alcohol, and they're more likely to do well in school. Believe it or not, the same thing applies to your marriage.

    The Power of Connecting with Each Other

    Eating meals together as a family and going on dates with your spouse are so impactful because of connectedness. Connecting in meaningful relationships such as marriage and family tends to make you feel more secure, supported, understood and valued. This usually leads to more positive interactions with loved ones.

    Some find it hard to believe that simply going on regular date nights can actually enhance your marriage. Yet studies show that couples who engage in novel activities that are fun, active or otherwise arousing - from hiking and dancing to travel and card games – enjoy higher levels of relationship quality. Spending time together also counteracts your tendency to take each other for granted.

    Regular date nights may potentially reduce unnecessary marital conflict, too. It's because you're actually making time to communicate with each other. Why is this a big deal? Because research indicates the average amount of time couples spend talking with each other per week is a whopping 17 minutes!

    And, there are even more benefits. Date nights can:

    • Intensify or rekindle that romantic spark,
    • Help sustain the fires of lasting love, AND
    • Strengthen your sense of commitment to one another.

    Couples who put one another first, steer clear of other romantic opportunities and cultivate a strong sense of ‘we-ness’ or togetherness are markedly happier than are less-committed couples.

    According to the National Marriage Project, couples who spend time together at least once a week are:

    • About three times more likely to say they are “very happy” in their marriage than other couples.
    • More likely to report high satisfaction with their sexual relationship compared to those who spend less couple time together.

    Convinced yet?

    If you haven’t been on a date in a while, it just might be a really good idea for your marriage. We've got plenty of great ideas for some creative dates that don't have to break the bank.

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    Tips for a Highly-Happy Marriage

    Do you ever feel like you and your spouse are roommates instead of lovers? Does it feel like your marriage is in a constant state of chaos? Have you caught yourself wishing for the life you don’t have?

    If you answered yes to any of these questions, you aren’t alone. Truth be told, there are many chaotic marriages out there where both spouses are feeling disconnected and lonely.

    When people feel disconnected in their marriage, anxiety, distrust, uncertainty and suspicion often creep in. Couples stop believing they are on the same team and start looking out for themselves. This leads to feeling the need to have the last word, always be right and a “my way or the highway” attitude which certainly doesn’t create an environment where a relationship can thrive and grow.

    The first step toward changing the direction of your relationship is to identify what is creating the chaos or disconnectedness. Usual and customary suspects include: children, career, community commitments, busyness and phubbing (otherwise known as snubbing your mate in favor of your smart phone).

    Clearly, you can’t ship the children off, jobs matter and it’s unrealistic to think that technology won’t be part of your relationship. However, if you are resolved that something needs to change, it might help you to know what research reveals about how happily married couples keep their marriages out of the ditch.

    In her book, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, Harvard-educated researcher Shaunti Feldhahn uncovered 12 things highly-happy couples do. Here are a few of them that you can apply to your own relationship:

    • Remember the little things. There are a few small actions that matter a lot to men and women. In fact, surveys indicate that consistently doing these five things will likely make your spouse feel deeply cared for.
      • For women: Notice his effort and sincerely thank him for it. Tell him when he does a great job. Mention in front of others something he did well. Show him you desire him sexually. Make it clear that he makes you happy.
      • For guys: Hold her hand. Leave her messages during the day. Put your arm around her. Sincerely tell her she is beautiful. Pull yourself out of a funk.
    • Believe that your spouse is well-intentioned and truly cares about you. It is unlikely they began their day plotting how to make your day miserable.
    • Sometimes going to bed mad is a good thing. When conflict and anger are hard to resolve, sometimes sleeping on it overnight can lead to a quicker resolution.
    • Boss your feelings around. Highly-happy couples lead their feelings instead of letting their feelings guide their actions.
    • Cultivate generosity. According to the research, generosity toward one another is one of the greatest contributing factors to a happy marriage.
    • Hang out together. In the beginning you were friends. Couples who cultivate their friendship over time seem to have happier marriages than couples who do not.
    • Get in over your head. Highly-happy couples were willing to put it all on the line for the sake of their marriage. The research showed they have dramatically increased security and happiness.

    If you are tired of the chaos and feelings of disconnectedness in your marriage, try incorporating some of these habits into your marriage. Although creating an environment for your marriage to grow and thrive may not happen overnight, these habits could be just what your relationship needs.

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    Top 10 Strengths of Happy Marriages

    David H. Olson, founder of Life Innovations and one of the creators of the Prepare/Enrich marriage enrichment tools, has surveyed 21,501 married couples in all 50 states to identify the top ten strengths of happy marriages.

    Research shows the strongest couples are those who have strong communication skills, a clear sense of closeness as a couple, flexibility, personal compatibility and good conflict management skills.

    In strong marriages, there is a balance between separateness and togetherness. These couples make togetherness a top priority, ask each other for help, like doing things together, and spend most of their free time together.

    1. Partners are satisfied with communication.
    2. Partners handle their differences creatively.
    3. They feel very close to each other.
    4. Spouses are not controlling.
    5. Partners discuss their problems well.
    6. They are satisfied with the affection they show and receive in the marriage.
    7. There is a good balance of time alone and together.
    8. Family and friends rarely interfere.
    9. Partners agree on how to spend money.
    10. Partners agree on spiritual beliefs.