What Makes for a Happy Marriage?

I read with interest today about the new book by Sheryl Kurland about couples who have been married for more than 50 years, and what they say made the difference in their relationship. Here’s a nice review of the book in the Baltimore Sun.

Here are some of the key pieces of advice they offered:

  • Don’t go to bed angry. If you can’t resolve the argument by bedtime, at least agree together on your plan for dealing with it the next day.
  • There’s no such thing as a 50/50 marriage. A good marriage is 75/25, and both partners give 75 percent.
  • From the husband: Always allow your wife to win. She will anyway.
  • Don’t discuss sensitive subjects before dinner. Eat first.
  • When it all works out well and your relationship is a success, praise the other partner for making it work.
  • In the book, called Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls of Wiosdom from Couples Married 50 Years or More, Kurland says what intrigued her was the “will and determination and commitment of these people. Divorce just wasn’t in their vocabulary. I am sure there were points when they were miserable, but they learned how to weave their way out of it.” She says several themes came through in the advice these couples offer: the importance of faith and church, the importance of sharing financial decisions, the need to give each other “space,” the value of children, and the pride the couples had in their children.

    Amanda and I aren’t in the 50 year club yet (we’ve only been married 30 years), but we do have a marriage that works well. The advice we’ve offered to other couples is to be attentive to an imaginary “goodwill bank” with their spouse. In any marriage, both spouses make deposits to that goodwill bank, in the form of thousands of tiny things they do and say that make their partner feel valued, special, and cherished. Also in any marriage, both spouses make withdrawals from that goodwill bank when they forget important dates, make thoughtless remarks, or engage in cruel or stupid behavior.

    If the goodwill bank balance is low, it really doesn’t take much negative behavior on the part of one of the spouses to leave the account overdrawn. And when that happens, the marriage is in trouble.

    On the other hand, strong marriages are marked by a commitment on the part of both spouses to make constant, everyday deposits to the goodwill bank. Then, if one of the partners says or does something that’s stupid or thoughtless, the other spouse may be annoyed or angry, but that single thoughtless act or word doesn’t ever threaten the relationship, because the goodwill bank has such a strong balance in it.

    When we look back on the times our marriage seemed at risk, it was when one or both of us was too busy, or too self-involved to make those day-by-day deposits to the goodwill bank. Fortunately, those tough times seem a long time ago now.

    And the wonderful little secret about making constant deposits to the goodwill bank is that it’s a little like priming the pump. When one spouse does it, the other responds in kind. That triggers more deposits from the other spouse. And more. And more. It’s a vicious cycle in reverse.

    One thought on “What Makes for a Happy Marriage?”

    1. I came upon your web site in an internet search for my book “Everlasting Matrimony: Pearls Of Wisdom From Couples Married 50 Years Or More.” Just wanted to say “thank you” for your kind words!

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