Secrets of a happy marriage

Updated: 3 July 2015


Dad's experience

Living together with someone for more than a few months is difficult - no matter what. Once the excitement of fresh love has cooled off, small nuisances can easily grow into bitter conflicts. And some little quirk in your partner's behavior, which you hardly noticed in the beginning, may drive you crazy. To keep your marriage fresh and to navigate the unavoidable conflicts I have found the following suggestions useful.

Chose the right partner!  I know this sounds obvious - but it isn't. Most marriages are unhappy or break up because they are between people who are essentially incompatible. The problem is: In the sexual heat of fresh love people switch off their brains. This is particularly true for men. At the peak of sexual desire men can no longer make sound decisions. My advice for men: Before you decide to marry a woman have sex together until your desire gets worn off a good deal. If you still want to live with this woman your chances for a happy marriage are much better. My advice for women: Take this into account and use modern contraceptives until you are really sure that you want to share your life and perhaps have a child with this man.

Make sure you are on the same wavelengths!  Recent brain research has found that people who truly understand each other show similar patterns in a brain scan. A sure sign that you understand each other is shared humor. If you can laugh together a lot, your brains are probably well synchronized. You should also like to smell each other. This is not only pleasant, but apparently, attractive body odor also signalizes a rather divergent genetic constitution between you and your partner  - which is good for eventually having children.

Listen to your parents! If you have a good relationship with your parents listen to what they say about your prospective spouse. You need someone who can give you emotionally detached advice. Your parents may see more clearly than you that this "wonderful hunk" is, in fact, a brutal jerk who will most likely become abusive or violent.

Formalize your relationship in a ceremony! I don't believe that marriage is sacred, but it still makes sense to celebrate it as the beginning of something special. It is a promise that two people will look out for each other and their children and everyone should know about it.

Spend time together, but also spend time alone! Few things can be more devastating to a marriage than being together all the time. Everyone needs his or her own life. Marriage is not a shared prison cell. But it is also bad for a marriage if someone (usually the man) is away all the time. If you don't share at least part of your daily life - why are you married at all? If you can afford it, have separate bedrooms. Sharing a night should be something special.

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Have joint projects! Some of the most stable and happy marriages are among couples that run a (small) business together. This indicates that shared achievements can form a strong bond between spouses. Raising children can be such a joint project. But not every man is a good family man and not every woman is a good mother. If you want to make children a joint project, choose the right kind of partner. Politics can be another shared project: There are quite a few prominent couples who support each other in their political careers.

Define the rules of your marriage clearly! This is particularly important for wives! Most married women are world-champions in forgiving - because they want to "save" their marriage, avoid harm to their children, or are a bit mushy in their heads due to love. Of course, both spouses must be able to forgive and forget insults, insensitivities, or breaches of trust. But only to a certain extent! It must be crystal clear to each partner, what the other one would not tolerate under any circumstances. Given the promiscuous nature of most men, husbands would cheat constantly if their wives would tolerate it. A husband must know how far he can go without risking his marriage. Of course, the same is true for a wife. She also has to respect certain limits. For many men it is a vital requirement hat their wives let them cool down when they come home from work or don't talk constantly during a football game. Countless marriages have failed because wives didn't know when to shut up for an hour or two.

When you have a fight - sleep on it! No human relationship is without conflict. None! Conflicts are part of human nature. A marriage can be a particularly nasty battle ground. Generations of psychologist have indoctrinated everyone that conflicts have to be immediately "worked out", "discussed", "resolved". Nonsense! If you get into a fight with your spouse the best thing to do is to walk away and sleep over it! Don't try to argue when your brain functions are blocked with the hormones of rage, fury or hurt. Nothing gets solved when your emotions have taken over. Just stop bickering and sleep over it. Usually, the next morning you cannot even remember what it was you have been fighting over. Men can become completely brain-dead when furious and blind of aggression. This is an evolutionary trait which primes men for physical fight. If you are a smart women don't argue with a brain-dead men. Its useless! He just doesn't have enough oxygen-rich blood "upstairs" to comprehend what you are saying. The next morning he could be as docile as a puppy.

When your marriage becomes abusive or cold just walk away! While a conflict now and then is normal or even healthy for a marriage, permanent fighting or abuse is not. A divorce is usually less harmful than years of abuse or bitter fights - even if there are children. Most civilized countries now have marriage laws that provide fair support to divorced women and their children - especially if the woman had given up her career for running the household and raising children.

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John Gottman / Nan Silver (2015) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.
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Lisa Grundwald / Stephen Adler (2015) The Marriage Book. Centuries of advice, inspiration, and cautionary tales from Adam and Eve to Zoloft. Simon & Schuster

Lynn Toler (2012)
Making Marriage Work. New rules for an old institution. Agate Bolden

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Further reading

Taryn Hillin: 13 Simple Tricks To A Long And Happy Marriage. Huffington Post, 2014

Jeanna Bryner: 6 Scientific Tips for a Successful Marriage. LifeScience, 10 May 2011


Copyright 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 3 February 2015