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 ways to avoid divorce:
1. Be thrifty. 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. Work (especially 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.
A recent study from the Pew Research Center also aserts that working wives are beneficial to marriages. This study 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. Spend 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. Have 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. Do small, recognizable actions. 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.
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