I was wondering… how to have a happy marriage
I know, I know, you’re reading this because you’re on a dating site. Marriage isn’t imminent. You might, just maybe, have a coffee two weeks on Tuesday with the persistent waver who opened with ‘How r u, Shane? I like ur profile’ when your name is Sam. But that’s not the end goal. You would like to meet a partner, someone with whom you can share life’s ups and downs. You’re thinking ahead.
So, want to know the formula for the perfect marriage? Statistics has the answer. Well, almost. Technically the optimum stats for avoiding divorce first time around, according to some American research, and they make for interesting reading. Length of time dating before the proposal (3 years), number of guests at the wedding (over 200) and total amount spent on the day (under $1,000) all figure. Let’s not focus on the friends you’d have left after the reception if you invited them to join you in a bucket of chicken wings and a packet of Haribo – $1,000 divided by 200 equalling the grand total of $5 per person, minus the cost of outfits, flowers, venue, transport, high-on-sugar-and-excitement page boy, and absolutely everything else. But we’re realists, right? Ticking off a list of timings, numbers and stats mean nothing if the foundations aren’t there, and there are no guarantees of lasting happiness, even for statisticians. “I love you and want to marry you and live happily ever after – in 17 months, two weeks and three days, just to be on the safe side. Please invite 198 of your closest friends and advance-order the bargain poultry.”
The research also showed something else: that rating someone’s looks as an important factor in finding a partner was a negative indicator, as was factoring in their wealth. It’s almost as if there should be something more important than choosing a spouse based on their appearance or financial status… Hmm. Here psychology can help. Set aside the ‘looking for a super-hot/super-rich’ anyone (no, really – see start of paragraph if you’ve forgotten why already) and think about what happens after the wedding. Why things go wrong for so many people. What’s different about those who say their marriage is happy and healthy years later? Two factors seem to play a part and they relate to personality and character not looks or money: kindness and emotional generosity. Psychologist Ty Tashiro talks about niceness, emotional stability, and caring about a partner’s perspective as strong indicators of long-term satisfaction. He elaborates on how this can play out practically and how those skills can be learned and practiced. Yes, learned. Not bestowed at birth, magically applied during the exchange of vows or when falling in love with someone we barely know who seems to fit our list. This is about the long term, about the tiny decisions every day how to respond, about how to prioritise and engage.
Too often the focus is on the shopping list of attributes we think will make us happy. It’s even possible to feel entitled to a partner selected against a list of requirements: hair colour, age, fertility, height, job, education. A composite built of abstracts rather than a real person with whom we’ll share the best and worst of life and of ourselves. Simply put, you can’t know from a profile what kind of partner that person would be. Lust, fantasy, and unrealistic expectations can be blinding. Are you ignoring waves and messages because you’ve decided your future spouse can only come in a certain age group, income bracket or body type? Are you only searching within limited parameters? Step aside from the projections and assumptions. Stop focusing on a marriage fantasy that fades into soft focus and start thinking about a more exciting, more authentic future you can influence every day through your good decisions. Yes, you. Kind, generous, realistic, long-term, you…