The sight of a couple sharing a joke and walking hand in hand, their faces
lined with wrinkles, and their hair gray, begs the question: How did they
remain a happy couple for so many years? Given that about half of all first
marriages for men and women under 45 end in divorce, it's a legitimate
question. So at WebMD, we asked the experts to reveal the secrets of happy
couples. Their revelations may surprise you.
"It's not about how much you love each other, or how much money you have, or
even if your personalities mesh," says Howard Markman, PhD, leading marriage
researcher, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the
University of Denver, and author of Fighting for Your Marriage: Positive
Steps for Preventing Divorce and Preserving a Lasting Love.
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Far more significant than these factors -- yes, even more important than
heart-pounding lust, which, let's face it, often fades over time -- is
communication, says Markman. How well you and your spouse communicate with
another? The second most significant factor that happy couples share, he says,
is a strong friendship.
While you can't necessarily teach a couple how to be friends, you can teach
good friends how to communicate better. Markman regularly tackles this task,
using a research-based method derived from data that he and his colleagues at
the University of Denver have collected over decades of systematically
observing unhappy and happy couples.
Happy Couples: Developing Healthy Habits
Markman offers three important ingredients of happy couples:
"The first is to learn to talk without fighting about inevitable
conflicts," Markman says. Making a concerted effort to see the other
person's perspective, and avoiding the blame game of "she said" or
"he did," goes a long way.
When things appear to be hedging toward a blowout, Markman urges couples to
do what parents often tell young children: Take a "time out." It's a
tactic he calls "exiting out of destructive fighting."
Recall the positive.
As parents often ask a child stewing in the time-out corner what she could
have done differently, Markman suggests that couples in conflict take time to
consider what brought them together in the first place. Then, he says, make
room for those factors in your life again. "You've got to protect and preserve
those positive connections -- the friendship, the fun," Markman tells WebMD.
These are aspects of marriage that happy couples keep intact.
Look to the future.
While turning the clock back can help couples rekindle lost connections,
Markman urges couples to simultaneously look forward. "You've got to have a
long-term vision of the future, shared dreams, and
plans that represent a commitment to one another and your family," he says.
Happy Couples: Addressing a Sexless Marriage
That future, according to most marriage experts, should include a healthy
sex life. While sex isn't everything to happy couples, sexual problems can lead
to marital discord. That men and women tend to have different ideas about sex
doesn't help matters.