A Happier Marriage: Seven Surprising Secrets

Compelling studies are conclusive: Couples can take these specific steps to improve their lives together — if they so choose

Too many couples look back on their wedding as the happiest day of their life — only to count many of the days that followed as disappointing.

If they haven’t figured it out before their wedding day, most couples eventually discover that sustaining a satisfying marriage requires effort.

But many couples put forth effort without getting satisfactory results. Often they’re unable to make their marriage happier because they lack the ingredients to increase satisfaction in their relationship.

Married couples don’t need to remain in an unhappy place. I know that from experience. For several years my wedding day was the happiest day of my life. But over time, my wife and I discovered and added some powerful ingredients to our marriage that improved our relationship.

Over the past 30 years, researchers have discovered many powerful ingredients to a happy marriage.

Some of these may surprise you.

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1.) Watching romantic comedies. Researchers at the University of Rochester in New York analyzed newlywed couples and their response to romantic comedies. They compared couples who received therapist-led training on relationship skills to couples who received no treatment, and to couples who watched one romantic movie a week for five weeks and discussed the movies afterward. Those who watched the movies had an 11 percent divorce rate after three years. This low divorce rate was similar to those couples who received therapist-led training.

The couples who received no treatment or movies had a 25 percent divorce rate.

2.) Practicing faith together. Consider the results of a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family. The researchers studied couples who participated in religious activities together. The activities included prayer and Bible study in the home. They compared these couples to those who did not practice their faith together. The couples who engaged in religious practices together were the most satisfied with their marriages.

3.) Remembering positive interactions. We prefer to avoid negative interactions with people. When they occur, it’s in our nature to remember them. But if we only remember negative interactions in marriage and forget the positive ones, marital satisfaction declines.

Also, something worse happens. We miss the positive interactions that do occur. Researchers Elizabeth Robinson and Gail Price found that couples in unhappy marriages tend to underestimate the number of positive interactions in their marriage by 50 percent. Notice and remember the positive interactions in your relationship.

Related: And You Thought You Spent Time with Your Spouse!

4.) Thanking an irritating spouse. When two people live together, they wind up discovering things about each other that grate on their nerves. Spouses who repeatedly zero in on these irritants become unhappy in their marriages. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center have discovered that thanking a spouse for things that are appreciated is a powerful antidote to these irritants.

In a separate study, researchers at the University of North Carolina’s campuses in Chapel Hill and Charlotte found that thanking another person also stirs up loving emotions in the person being thanked for the person thanking them.

Related: Why Happier People Live Longer

5.) Husbands helping with housework. Women are happier in their marriages when their husbands help with housework. This finding comes from a study at NORC at the University of Chicago in Illinois. A helpful husband is better than one who takes on an equal portion of housework. In a Norwegian study, couples who split household labor equally had higher rates of divorce over a four-year period than couples where the wife did most of the housework. Divorce rates were also higher when husbands did most of the housework.

6.) Dreaming together. Couples who make plans together are more likely to develop a shared purpose and develop a stronger friendship. Among couples in lasting and satisfying marriages studied by researcher Dr. John Gottman, these are key elements of satisfying and lasting marriages. Married couples should frequently discuss the dreams they have for their relationship — and the things they would like to do together.

Related: Be Happier in Your Marriage

7.) Sharing exciting experiences. Married couples who participate in exciting activities together are more satisfied with the quality of their marriages, compared to couples who only participate in pleasurable or mundane activities. This conclusion comes from a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The researchers found that if one’s relationship is unsatisfying now, engaging in some heart-pounding fun can increase satisfaction.

The recipe for the happiest marriages includes a variety of ingredients.

Adding any one of these ingredients to your marriage can help cultivate a deeper friendship between spouses. But don’t stop there.

The recipe for happiest marriages includes a variety of ingredients — carefully selected to improve the flavor of your relationship.

Jon Beaty, counselor and father of two, lives near Portland, Oregon. He’s the author of the book “If You’re Not Growing, You’re Dying: 7 Habits for Thriving in Your Faith, Relationships and Work.”

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