How rare is a great marriage?

How rare is a great marriage?

I start a lot of posts like this …

I’ve been thinking about this for months.

(Heaven help me if I ever find myself needing to write about current events on short notice. I’m a slow processor and it takes me months to figure out what I think about anything.)

It was Jamie and Claire that first got me thinking about it. In Drums of Autumn (that’s Outlander #4 to the unitiated), Lord John admires their marriage, saying, “Do you know how rare such a thing is? That peculiar sort of mutual passion?” (“The one-sided kind,” he notes, “was common enough.”)

Nevermind that Jamie and Claire are fictional. It’s still a good question, though a hard one to discuss.

The topic of marital satisfaction tends to provoke knee-jerk reactions, so I’m wary of broaching the subject. But I think it’s a question worth exploring.

How rare is a great marriage?

I’ll start by saying: I don’t know. Nobody does for sure.

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

We do know this: the majority of marriages fail. According to psychologist Ty Tashiro, “Of all the people who get married, only three in ten remain in healthy, happy marriages.”

I could cite you more stats, but they’re only so helpful. Most measure divorce rates, or marital longevity, and “not divorced” is not the same as “happily married.”

When I think about how rare a great marriage is or isn’t, I think first about my own marriage, and about the marriages around me. We have a high number of close friends who seem to be well-matched and happy. In those circles—and this is important—we talk about relationships. And not just the good stuff: importantly, the bad stuff isn’t taboo.

But that perception is only so helpful. Like attracts like, for one: happily married couples associate with other happily married couples. And our perception is limited.

Over the past few years, neighbors and acquaintances have divorced—some of them enduring ugly, heartbreaking messes—but no close friends.

Perception is faulty, of course: early in our marriage, we had a group of fellow newly-marrieds friends, seven or eight couples among us. We were flabbergasted when the first couple in our ranks got divorced. We had no idea they were struggling—notably, we didn’t talk about the bad stuff—until he moved out.

I would have guessed that they were happy, but he’d been sleeping on the sofa since their second month of marriage.

We see other marriages up close, marriages where both spouses are perpetually cranky, yet their marriages appear stable—maybe even happy. If there really is someone for everyone, maybe they’re perfect for each other.

I don’t know how rare a great marriage is or isn’t: but I do know this: it’s not the default position. It doesn’t happen by accident.

How rare is a great marriage? | Modern Mrs Darcy

Marriage expert John Gottman says two things distinguish happily married couples from unhappy ones: kindness and generosity. Happily married couples purposefully build cultures of appreciation and respect, one interaction at a time.

A great marriage requires intimacy, and therapists say intimacy itself is rare these days, even between spouses. (And even if spouses themselves are intimate, it strains the marriage if that is their only intimate relationship.) The bar is high for true intimacy, which has 7 necessary characteristics:

• emotional safety
• consistency
• love
• compassion
• understanding
• mutual respect
• freedom to be yourself

Reading that list, it’s not so hard for me to believe that only three in ten people who ever get married remain in healthy, happy marriages.

So why talk about this?

It’s worth knowing—whether you’re single or married—that great marriages are possible, but that not every married person is in a great marriage. Disbelieving the first is plain depressing; disbelieving the second makes it impossible to talk about relational struggles.

It’s also worth knowing that intimacy is hard, in or out of marriage. But most of us would be better off with a few more intimate relationships.

Great relationships aren’t the norm. They don’t happen by accident. But they’re worth working for.

I’d love to hear your thoughtful commentary on marriage, statistics, relationships, and intimacy in comments. 

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70 comments

    • Ronica Smith says:

      I used to believe that. I truly used to believe that there was no such thing as a faithful husband, and therefore, no such thing as a truly happy marriage. Thankfully I met someone who showed me that that isn’t true. It’s only by the grace of God that I didn’t end up in a self fulfilling miserable marriage.

  1. Deborah says:

    When my (happily married!) hubby and I went to premarital counseling, the very first things that our pastor told us was how lucky we were to both have happily married parents. Our parents modeled Gottman’s characteristics list day-in and day-out for us, so we knew what a good, intimate marriage looked like. “Not everyone has that,” our pastor pointed out. In addition, our parents stressed treating everyone in the family the way that they treated each other. My husband and I both had lots of opportunities to practice kindness and generosity with our siblings and parents during our formative years! Now we do our best to practice them with each other and our son.

    This also makes me think of a Meryl Streep quote about her marriage. She said that she attributes the success of her marriage to the great forbearance of her husband. I feel this way too!

      • Anthony Mastrandrea says:

        Great Topic. I think Anne you did answer your question do great marriages exist. The do but are very rare. Quite the coincidence but I would term God’s will that I had a GREAT repeat Great Marriage with a woman also named Anne. I called her Annie. She died 14 years ago and I hurt more today than the day she died. Time does not heal wounds. As Bonnie Raitt once sang whoever wrote those words NEVER had a broken heart. But getting back to the topic Great Marriages,for Annie and me the key was we were each other’s best friend. The first 3 years we knew each other we never kisses or held hands. Just friends as they say. But not just friends but BEST FRIENDS. A BEST FRIEND is who yyou want next to you in the trench with bullets passing by your head.Someone not running for cover but staying with you in case a bullet explodes your brains and isn’t afraid to clean up the brain matter if your brain does explode by enemy fire. A Great Best Friend would actually not permit anyone else to clean up the mess and for sure would not run from you once brains exploded. I miss you Annie.We had the greatest marriage in the history of the world. I know I will see her again and I know WE will never be separated Again.

  2. Lisa says:

    Oooh. Deep thoughts. I know lots of married couples, but few relationships I want to emulate. Maybe it’s more socially acceptable to criticize husbands? To complain he’s not fulfilling needs? Do men complain about their spouse to each other like women do? My favorite couples are ones from church who have been married 50plus years and still hold hands. I want to be them someday.

    • Candice says:

      I agree with Lisa. It seems like so many women, especially once they have kids, complain about their husbands. Like you wrote above, we should talk about the hard stuff, but is the hard stuff really that he didn’t take out the trash? Or that he watches too much football? Obviously there are underlying issues making those things seem bigger than they are, and I wish those things were what we had meaningful dialogue about.

      The unsuccessful marriages I have seen have been those in which each person is in it for themselves and not for the other person. Just trying to see what they can get out of it and not what they can give or how they can serve. My aunt and uncle decided two days before Thanksgiving to file for divorce. It was really sad for me as I was the flower girl in their wedding 20+ years ago.

    • Kelty says:

      That’s a good point about social acceptability. Culture does seem to respond badly to men bad-mouthing wives while cheering on the bad-mouthing of husbands. For whatever reason (or reasons.)

    • One of the best pieces of advice I got when my daughter was born, from a long-married friend, was to watch out for mommy groups that engaged in criticizing the dads. “That’s bad news,” my friend said. “You two need to be solid when you have a newborn. If you have something to say, say it to him and work it out. Don’t bitch to strangers about it.”

      We did have a rough first year of baby, but I took my friend’s advice and worked hard to keep our communication channels open between us and we made it through even stronger than we were before. Now it just makes me sad when I hear people bad-mouthing their partner.

  3. Kendra says:

    One piece of advice my husband and I read when we were still dating was to keep your problems to yourself. Otherwise, once you and your partner have worked through it there will still be that person on the outside saying “what about when he/she did this or that” or their opinion of you or your spouse will be changed. That was and still is helpful advice to us, BUT now I see the limits of it too. Obviously if there is abuse this is a dangerous rule. Also, now as a parent I realize how helpful it feels to vent about frustrations with my children. My husband I feel like I can understand, my children are sometimes harder to understand, particularly those whose thought processes/personalities are much different than mine. So I struggle with the need to vent vs. being gracious enough not to over share out of respect. And I have a newfound understanding for those who complain about their spouses more. Maybe their spouses personality really is that hard for them to relate to. Of course, that makes personality assessments all the more interesting to me.

  4. Jenn says:

    Thank you for pointing out that a long lasting marriage in not the same as a happy one. I know a couple who has been married 40 years. They haven’t slept in the same room in 30, hate each other and become verbally abusive with each other when forced into the same area. Everyone wishes they would get a divorce. And looking at it from the outside in I can tell you that a lack of respect for each other is the major factor in their unhappiness.

    A good marriage takes a lot of work!

  5. Kelty says:

    Great points. It’s too easy for me to fall into the wrong thinking that my marriage should “just be” this way or that way and forget that I’m at least half of the reason we got to any certain state of being. It’s good to be reminded that marriages do take work and the flip side of that is the good news that the work usually does make a difference and is worth the effort.

  6. Kari says:

    I’m reading a great book on marriage right now (The Exceptional 7%: The 9 Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples), on what makes a truly exceptional marriage. I’m only halfway in, but I’d already recommend it! http://www.amazon.com/Exceptional-Seven-Percent-Secrets-Happiest/dp/0806523581/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1418224982&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Exceptional+Seven+Percent%3A+The+Nine+Secrets+of+the+World%27s+Happiest+Couples&pebp=1418224985449

  7. SoCalLynn says:

    Today is my husband’s and my 20th anniversary, the second marriage for both of us. We have a wonderful marriage, but there are areas which could be better. I think that’s true for even so-called “great” marriages. We’ve had very rough times, and we’ve had wonderful times. I think the great marriages are the ones where the couples understand this from the beginning, and know that with love, patience and work you can ride out the rough times until the good times come back.

    • Lisa Z says:

      Well said. My husband and I will celebrate 20 years this summer and we have one of the great, enduring marriages. But that doesn’t mean we haven’t had rough times! Mutual respect, admiration, and keeping the lines of communication open is they key. Plus, sometimes I think we just got really lucky! 🙂

  8. Tim says:

    I’m going out on a limb here and saying that all good marriages are great marriages. The seven characteristics of intimacy, for example, are not only necessary for good intimacy but also constitute great intimacy. I think in marriages that everything that is necessary for a good marriage will also necessarily mean the couple is in a great marriage. Is my marriage of 27+ years great? I think so, because it is full of God’s blessings and goodness.

  9. I’ve only been married for 3 1/2 years, so I am not speaking from a ton of experience. But what I have learned is this: marriage is not easy. It’s tough to live in close quarters with another sinful human being. I have learned that we will hurt each other at times–we will say things we wish we could take back–will will be selfish and unkind. BUT, we also trust each other, we love each other unconditionally, we are generous with our time and our selves (usually), we are usually kind, considerate, and respectful. The bad times are few and far between. And when they happen, we rely on two things: the love, and the forgiveness, of Jesus Christ. If it were only on us to create a happy marriage we would be lost. But, thanks be to God, he gives us his love and forgiveness, which enable us to love and forgive one another! That, I think, is the only way to make a marriage happy and lasting: To rely on God for strength when we are weak, and to help us in our failures–and to love when, on our own, we cannot.
    Another important thing to remember, I think, is that love is not a feeling. It’s a choice. My husband and I choose, every day, to love each other. Sometimes we don’t like each other as much as usual, but we can love each other even when we’re not happy with each other!
    A good, happy marriage does take work–but I think it is 100% worth it. 🙂

  10. Janet says:

    My husband and I have been married 49 years and I think we have a great marriage. He’s my best friend and accepts and loves me with all my foibles, as do I him. We share common interests and have some interests that are uniquely our own. We take care of each other and cherish each other.
    I think that some people put more thought and concern into their wedding than they do their marriage.

    • Laura says:

      49 years? Wow! That’s awesome! Thank you for being an example to the rest of us! May you have many more happy years together!

  11. Charlotte says:

    A piece of advice that’s always stuck with me came from my mother and grandmother: In marriage you fall in and out of love all the time. And that’s not to say that you stop loving your spouse, but we should expect our marriages to have ups and downs. We don’t have to let the downs determine the outcome; rather the downs are worth working through. I’ve been hearing about a few unhappy marriages around me (though not in my close circle), and it’s really woken me up to the need for my husband and I to continue nurturing our relationship. If we’ve really committed to this marriage for the long haul, then we need to do the work required to make our marriage a good one. It’s the project of a lifetime!

    • This is so true, especially for women. It’s perfectly normal. Once we recognize that this is just the way it is for us things get easier. I think too that women of our generation expect too much out of their marriages. And previous generations women only expected a man to be faithful to be a halfway decent father and to provide financial stability. They didn’t expect passion and emotional fulfillment they got that from their girlfriends or from other pursuits

  12. Kayris says:

    To some extent, I think the marriages of our parents influence us. My parents have been married for 39 years and my inlaws for 45. We’ve had really great examples to follow. On the other hand, a friend of mine took a very long time to leave her emotionally abusive husband of over ten years because she learned from her mother that you stick it out in marriage, even if it’s terrible. Having spent her childhood observing her parents unhealthy marriage, she thought that behavior was normal.

  13. That idea that intimacy is increasingly rare is sad, but I feel a shock of recognition in it. In my previous relationship, my partner was my only intimate relationship (although we didn’t meet all the criteria for health intimacy). It was bad news for us, and when I realized I needed other intimacy (non-sexual!), she became really jealous. In my life now I have a deeply intimate relationship with my partner, but also have other close friends with whom I share intimacy. I think it makes such a difference.

  14. Aubrey says:

    My husband and I were 20 when we got married (just celebrated our 8th anniversary), and even though I was young and basically naive, I learned REALLY fast that the whole thing was going to fall apart if I didn’t give my husband the benefit of the doubt. We got in a fight that I realized was completely stupid and I had blown it out of proportion by assuming that my husband was aggravating me on purpose, and when I stopped to listen to him it was clear that he wasn’t. I decided to listen first and make assumptions last. I remember making that decision within the first three months, and I haven’t regretted it once. We disagree about things (some are really important things, actually), but we treat each other like the other person is on our side, and that really is the key for us.
    Two couples we know got divorced this year, and we’re feeling something akin to survivor’s guilt. Why are we happy when they weren’t? and all that. We do work at it, but in the end there is that bit of chance and grace, because getting married at age 20 could have gone OH SO WRONG, but for us it didn’t.

  15. I think it is important to note that there are often seasons of varied marital satisfaction, but that continuing the good, hard work of intimacy, generosity and kindness are likely to evoke a renewal of the “goodness” that is possible within a marriage.

    I have witnessed many seemingly good, decent and faithful marriages and so knowing it IS possible helps me to remain committed in my own. But seeing the bad (even in those good marriages) allows me to be calm and persistent, not panicky when mine is in a challenging stretch.

    I am twice married. I have found such deep joy and satisfaction within the safety and kindness of my marriage that I didn’t even realize was lacking in my first.

  16. Desiree says:

    I’ve come back and reread this post several times today, because in the midst of my own marriage crumbling before me I wonder are there really great marriages out there. I look back at my parents and the lack of good examples they set for me, they divorced, fought about everything from money to keeping the house clean, and once my dad left I never felt secure. I think that plays directly into my marriage and its lack of intimacy because I don’t feel secure. I don’t let my guard down and let my husband in, and that directly keeps intimacy at bay. I think the hardest part is that while my parents didn’t lay the groundwork for me to have a successful marriage it boils down to my decisions and the poor choices I have made in my marriage. I’d love to say I’ve been a perfect wife and perfect mother but really I feel like I have just been treading water, hoping for the best. Sadly I think my husband feels the same way and neither one of us knows how to work together and swim to shore (poor analogy, I know). So are great marriages part of our past? Is it in how we are raised, the examples we see or is it in the choices we make as adults. I wish I had some answers and some way to see that my marriage could be great. I’m struggling to hold on, but as my husband would say “what are we holding on to?’ Thank you for such a thought provoking post.

    • Jennifer says:

      {{hugs}}

      i am so sorry.

      i’ve had a marriage fall apart and (while i don’t know all your circumstances) i know that it was extremely painful for me during and after.

      i hope you have some great support…whether you stay with your spouse or not.

    • Lindsay says:

      I’m very moved by your post Desiree. Please don’t be too hard on yourselves, you are the fruits of everyone and everything that has brought you to who you are now – the good, the bad and the ugly. As you’ve said, you don’t know how to work together – maybe with some help you could learn. You’d both have to swallow your pride and ask for it though, through counselling in some form or another. There are lots of wise words in these comments as well. I wish you all the very best for your future, whether your marriage makes it or not.

    • Melissa says:

      my husband is a marriage therapist and he sees a lot of couples who wait until one partner has a foot out the door before coming in for counseling – this may already be your situation, and in that case – it is NOT hopeless. However, if you are headed that direction seek out a good counselor NOW – he often tells people that you can’t remain where you are – if you’re distant, you either have to work to close the gap or you WILL grow further apart. As far as feeling like “what are we holding on to?” One helpful exercise is to look back on relationship memorabilia or just think back and write down what first attracted you to the other person. You didn’t end up married by accident, and it is possible to rekindle those dying embers by remembering what first made you love your spouse. You also would be well served by having a frank discussion about both of your intentions – get it out on the table – on a scale from 1 to 10, how committed are you to working on this? As long as neither of you is a zero, then try to agree to wholeheartedly take steps to see what “better” could look like – in counseling, re-dating and getting to know each other’s hopes and dreams (what gottman calls your “love map”), just don’t go it alone! And if you have kids, sometimes just starting with “this is worth fixing for the kids’ sake” can actually be helpful – hopefully it won’t end up being your only reason, but if initially the commitment to stick through this for the kids is what you have in common, then take that and build on it – an pray for your partner if you can – it really can change your heart toward them.
      Sorry for all the unsolicited advice – my heart goes out to you!

      • Erin says:

        What if you look back and both of you realize you got married because you wanted kids and knew the other person was a “good” person and would make a good parent. It wasn’t an initial romantic attraction that drew us together so there isn’t anything to look back to (I was in love with someone else at the time but he was gay).
        Now we have 4 kids and they are still our only connection but it getters harder and harder to sustain any affection for each other.

    • Desiree says:

      I just want to thank you all for your kind words. I really thought about my marriage yesterday and I made an appointment for my husband and I to meet with a therapist. Not only do we have kids worth fighting for, but I know somewhere we must have loved each other and its worth trying to get back.

        • Laura says:

          I, too, will be praying for your marriage, Desiree. I’ve written your name down to remind myself. God would love to help! A marriage is definitely worth hard work, especially if you have children! Hugs to you!

      • SoCalLynn says:

        I’m so happy you have taken this step. I know from personal experience that it IS possible to get your marriage back, it is possible to love each other again. It takes time and commitment, but it can be done! (married 20 years yesterday.)

      • Melissa says:

        good for you! And hopefully the therapist you’ve found will be helpful from the get go, but just to throw it out there – don’t be afraid to make sure you find someone who is a good fit for both of you, even if it means trying more than one therapist – stay encouraged! Like you said – it’s worth fighting for and you can rebuild a loving friendship that leads to lifelong love if someone helps you walk through communication issues and practicing the skills to get you there!

      • Anne says:

        Desiree, I’m so happy to hear it. Thanks for sharing your reflections and thought process here. Wishing you well on the journey through therapy. Hoping and praying you found a good one and that it will be a GOOD (if tough) experience.

      • liz n. says:

        Desiree, I am sending you and your husband every positive, supportive, strong, enduring thought, vibe, and prayer I can think of. That you want to repair and sustain your marriage seems to be the first brave step on your new journey together.

  17. Dana says:

    My husband and I will celebrate 28 years of marriage on Dec. 26. One thing that may have helped us is that we were both a bit older when we married ( I was 30 and he was 35). We did not have a long courtship, only 4 months but we always tell people we are still on our honeymoon. We enjoy spending lot so of tome together and actually get along better the more we are around each other. We both had the benefit of parents who stayed married over the long haul. Both sets of parents were great models of having romance and fun in your marriage.

    I agree with Meryl Streep…my husband’s patience and calm have helped a lot. We take time for date nights and date days at least once a week and we talk a lot about everything.

    I think unselfishness , courtesy and patience are keys…plus lots and lots of love.

  18. Faith R says:

    In the ups and downs of my marriage the times when I have been happiest are the ones when I have at least one other married friend who is open about her marriage and while we don’t bash our husbands we are honest about the bad days as well as the good ones. It puts things in perspective and having friendships like that keep you from relying only on your husband for emotional support.

  19. Joan B says:

    My husband and I have been married 44 years. We both believe that the reason we have survived the ups and downs (major illnesses and a workaholic husband) is that we dedicated our marriage to God. We prayed a lot together and separately. We talked (eventually) about what was bothering us. We compromised and then trusted each other and God. Both sets of parents were married till death, and they never fought loudly or engaged in namecalling. Neither have we. My mother-in-law gave me two pieces of advice before we married. 1) Thank him for whatever he does around the house, even if it’s just changing a light bulb. 2) Never ever let him know you know how to clean fish. I’ve done both, and, well, we’re still happily married! Good topic to ponder over.

  20. For people having trouble communicating with a spouse, I totally recommend the book Crucial Conversations. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/crucial-conversations-a-book-review/

    It’s not about marriage specifically, but it’s about how to communicate as part of a team in any setting. My husband (and his father) do what they say to do in the book naturally. We look at problems as things we can fix together and not as saying anything about our personal worths. Because marriage is a partnership and not a competition.

  21. Beth says:

    We are in our 30th year of marriage. We have had our ups and downs, but we are now more in love than ever. Our secret? He puts me first, and I put him first.

  22. I’ve only been married a year, so it’s hard to say if I’m in for one of those great marriages (I like to think I am!). I think the most important thing my husband and I have learned thus far is to be aware of how we both respond to stress. When I’m stressed, I get cranky, but we’ve learned that if I tell him how I’m feeling before it feels important, I don’t lose my temper. When my husband is stressed, he gets very tired and withdrawn, but we’ve learned that a 15 minute nap can do wonders for him. Understanding each other’s needs in stressful situations has helped us avoid a lot of unnecessary arguments. Now we just have to remember to keep applying it as the years go on!

  23. Amanda says:

    I loved that quote in Drums of Autumn as well. I think Lord John Grey is a particularly keen observer of people and that Diana Gabaldon uses him to make her more philosophical observations about her characters 🙂

    I think the rarity of great marriages is both sad and inspiring at the same time. I think in books we get the purity of both sins and virtues, in real life those sins and virtues come in glimpses. So I think most good marriages have these beautiful glimpses of the rare sort of mutual passion. I think that’s what Diana is writing about, that rare mutual passion embodied in two characters. Heck, even her OTHER characters are jealous of Jamie and Claire, haha! (Roger Mac and Lord John Grey being two the primary ones, for very different reasons)

    I think a great marriage is when that rare mutual passion that comes of putting each other first ends up outweighing the times we disrespect or are unkind. So I think most any marriage has the potential to be one of those rare, great marriages, it simple takes constant coming together on the part of both spouses. Like Jamie and Claire do, spouses must constantly choose to wait for each other in forbearance and return to one another in passion.

  24. Pam says:

    We celebrated 23 years in August. I knew almost from the first date that he was “the one”. I believe, however like Joan B. said, we made a covenant with God and with one another to be faithful. The foundation has to start with the architect of marriage. Only He can help us to make a go of it. Has it always been easy? No. Have we disagreed? Yes. Have we had fun along the way? YOU BET! I think others have mentioned some very good points. I also would encourage developing a common interest together. Something you enjoy doing and spend regular time doing it together. For my husband and I it has been running, but only in the last 2 years. If you would have told me 5 years ago that I would willingly run with my husband, ON our anniversary, I would have laughed in your face and told you I’d be seeing a divorce attorney before that. Had I known how our relationship would grow and blossom through training (to run a marathon together while fundraising to provide clean water, but you don’t have to start with a marathon ;-)!!) I would have done it the first years.

    Also, learn their love language and practice it. We tend to give love in the way we like to receive it, but if they receive it in a different “language” than our own, it means nothing to them.

    Say, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me?” even sometimes when it isn’t your fault. Sometimes anger flares and things escalate and it totally derails that train if you just say those magic little words.

    Also, the book The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller is excellent.

    Last thoughts, a good marriage is worth fighting for, working towards and learning about. The benefits multiply in ways you can’t imagine!! <3

  25. Anna says:

    I agree that there are a small percentage of happy marriages. When I was in high school, I was sure I didn’t want to get married, because I didn’t want the person I loved to become the person that I made miserable & vice versa. But then God brought good examples of happy, committed marriages- some who had been married for a long time. Now I’m approaching 18 years (on Dec 21!) of my own marriage, and I can say that we are happy. I can’t believe how young we were at the time, but it worked for us. 🙂
    It is work, and there are times that you have to work through some of the tough things- either from outside circumstances or inside each of you and your interactions. I’ve found that it gets easier as you get to know each other more and have a stronger relationship. Some of the hardest times are like the “refining fire.” They are needed to burn away the selfishness, etc in my own life so that I can be a better person overall- wife, mother, friend, daughter…
    Most of the friends I have are in happy marriages, and I think that you do tend to gravitate towards those people more.
    I agree with the things that have been pointed out to build your marriage. I think one BIG thing is to speak well of your husband no matter how you feel at the time. Even as a young wife, it would make me uncomfortable to hear women bad mouth their husbands. I don’t want my husband to speak about me in that way, why would I do that to him. (And I know that I am far from perfect, so he could find negative things to say!)

  26. “(And even if spouses themselves are intimate, it strains the marriage if that is their only intimate relationship.) ”

    Something I’ve learned recently about the health of my own marriage.

  27. Anne says:

    This is a great post, Anne. Marriage is worth working on! I think I have a great marriage because we continue to grow in the bullet points listed. There’s always something that could be worked on more, but we work on things bit by bit. I would say we are genuinely happy, even with all the hard work of littles.

  28. Cate says:

    I’m single so I watch a lot of the people around me. A lot of the people in my social circle are coming up on their 20th anniversaries and the majority of the ladies fall into complaining about their husbands every time we’re together. There is one woman who has been married the longest (to her high school sweetheart even) and she NEVER has a bad word to say about her him. I asked her once if he ever bugs her since she never joins in. She said that when they first got married they promised each other to never say anything unkind about the other to friends or family. She said there are some days she looks at him and wonders what in the world she was thinking when she married him because she’s human, but she said since he’s the person she loves most in the world, she wants to be a safe place for him and never share his faults with the world. I love that so much.

  29. Thanks for this post. Marriage can be an amazing relationship but it takes a lot of work and effort from both people, both giving 100%. I’ve been married 12 years and for most of that time it has been great. We have battled infertility and pregnancy loss the last 5 years which has been heartbreaking for both of us. After our last loss our marriage began falling apart. We have been to multiple counselors and none of them have been able to help us. We have great communication but our hearts are broken and we are struggling knowing our future does not include children. I am open to adoption but my husband is not. I am not sure where our marriage will end up, i’m hoping and praying for a miracle. I do recommend two books and wish we would have read these together as a couple years ago, we might be in a slightly better place if we had. His Needs Her Needs by Willard F. Jr. Harley AND Love and Respect by Emerson Eggerichs.

    Since my husband and I have started having trouble I have been reminded that our American culture does not do well being vulnerable with each other and allowing others in to know how we are really doing in life, which makes me sad. I think that marriages could be a lot better if we did not feel like we needed to put on a “show” and make the world think everything is great when it really is not. We all know that relationships are not great all the time, but for some reason we feel we need to act like it is. Sorry, got on a little tangent!

    Thanks again for being bold and publishing this post.

  30. Just had to chime in–great conversation! I’ve been happily (passionately) married for 22 years.(I’m 44) We choose each other every day. Its not always been easy–illness, lack of money, moving away from family, advanced degrees, raising kids etc…..but we’ve always put each other first. Mutual respect is key. And I would add…a sense of humor. He makes me laugh. Honestly it gets better each year. (Having friends with healthy relationships is important too!)
    And I’ll share some advice I received on my wedding day:”never expect him to know what you want-you must just tell him plain and simple” Really good advice!

  31. Pingback: Link Love - Week 3
  32. Leah says:

    My husband often says that he doesn’t know anyone with a marriage like ours. Both our sets of parents stayed together, but there was an enormous amount of discord at times. My mother has since passed away and my in laws are in the grandparent stages now, so things are a little different now. Good advice is to never speak ill of each other (especially in front of the children, they don’t want to pick sides), always remember love is a verb, not a noun, and try to show you love your spouse daily. Also, sometimes it’s best to put your own feels aside and put yourself in their shoes. Make their comfort your priority. A few sacrifices of your own pride can yield years of marital bliss. One thing I did was let my husband take over our finances. It was a leap of faith for me because I technically had more experience in that area when we married. We were struggling with me doing them somehow so he took on that responsibility. He has grown since then, and in so many ways, it was definitely the right choice. We did have a few hiccups here and there as he got everything in order but I’m so thankful I didn’t let my pride get in the way of his personal growth. We dont have stress in that area anymore. We were just 19 and 20 when we got married and some of our personal growth has happened together, which I love:-)! I don’t think it matters if you are older (my dad was almost 30 when he got married) or younger (both my in laws were 21). What matters is if you truly believe that you have found the person you can’t live without. <3

  33. Ellen says:

    I’m just reading this now through your link from today. I want to say something I defense of unhappy marriages. I’ve seen one close to me that has endured 42 years plagued by financial trouble, major health problems, mental illness, and general crankiness. There is not allot of obvious love and romance is all gone. Yet, there is a very deep caring and a white-knuckled loyalty. Neither party are happy or content as I’m sure they would wish and that is sad. Yet…they are such strong, good people and I think it is their difficult marriage that made them that way. This is not to say that we should be ok with misery in marriage, but maybe not so quick to give up either.

  34. Donna says:

    Have enjoyed this post and the comments thread so much – thank you all. We’ve been thinking a lot about what makes happy relationships a lot over the last few years as our boys are now young adults and in relationships of their own. Will definitely be passing on some book recommendations and sharing some of the thoughts with them.
    In my teenage years I believed that you started married life with a certain amount of love but life whittled it away slowly, and it was a bit of a lottery how long the love lasted. I guess that was what my parents marriage modeled. It was such a joy and a revelation to learn how wrong that thinking can be – how the feelings I have for my husband have grown and deepened so much over the 30+ years we have been together.
    While I’ve never fallen “out of love” with my husband, I think I’ve fallen “in love” with him all over again several times in the course of our marriage – seeing him as a new Dad and patient parent, and then much later, helping to look after my terminally ill Mum as she spent her last year living with us.
    I think the comments about being consistently kind and generous are spot on. I also think the earlier comment about “choosing each other every day” is very true – that mindful commitment to work towards each others happiness and to choose to value the relationship over competing priorities every day, builds a level of trust and freedom in the relationship which is a source of deep and abiding joy.

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