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Are People Who Have A Happy Marriage For Life Simply Lucky?

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Are People Who Have A Happy Marriage For Life Simply Lucky?

How and why pessimism is undermining your odds of a happy marriage for life and what to think instead

Please take a moment to answer two questions:

  1. If you could have a happy marriage for life  would you want it?
  2. Do you think you can have it?

Year after year, when I ask my students the first question, nearly every hand is raised. But when I ask them to keep their arms up if they believe they can have a happy marriage for life? Hands and faces fall.

I got a note from a man named Jean, who said, “Two years ago, there was all this hoopla about a friend’s wedding—now they’re fighting. You see why I’m a cynic? Can two people be together forever, and be happy?”

There are many reasons this cynicism has taken such hold, such as news stories, movies, novels, and music about love gone wrong, plus your personal experiences with your own or other people’s relationship implosions. Even the legal system plays a part; since 1970, the ease of divorce has ironically led to less happiness even for those who remain together as exposure to others’ divorces has made people forecast and fear their own. Jean has a point.

But the belief in probable divorce is bad for you because it creates ambivalence: uncertainty of whether marriage is worth it. And how likely are you to organize yourself to find and keep a life partner if you’re not even sure it would make you happy?

Today, fewer people are marrying at all, as faith in the possibility of a good marriage has plummeted and a belief that happy marriage is blind luck has risen.

The antidote to the Luck lie is simple: Replace those untrue thoughts with the following fact-based realities.

–First: Marriage does make most people happy—happier than any other living arrangement:

It’s true that having a horrid marriage makes people very unhappy. In comparisons of various types of people, the miserably married are the most miserable of all.

But it’s equally true that having a lasting, good marriage is one of the few things that really do make people happy. A single, solid marriage makes people happier than wealth, fame, career, or many of the other things we spend our lives striving for. It also makes us far happier than cohabitation, permanent singlehood, divorce, or widowhood. And that’s true in every country where comparisons have been made. We could do worse than following E. M. Forster’s epigram, “Only connect!”

–Second: Happy marriage is a common, renewable resource:

Are you worried the world will run out of gold, copper, or oil? Or chocolate, which, heaven forbid, I hear is in short supply? Good news! Love doesn’t work like that. It’s common. And highly renewable.

Lots and lots of people do, in fact, have happy marriages. More than half of first marriages in the USA today last a lifetime, and about 2/3 of divorced folks remarry. Roughly 25% to 40% of them stay together for life too.

Meaning? Lifelong love is normal, not rare. The majority of the population forms a lifelong bond! And they’re usually happy.

Bonus! Those we have loved, we can usually fall back in love with. For instance, in one study, 86% of people who had stayed married through a period of unhappiness were happy again within five years.

–Third: Happiness in marriage isn’t random—it’s learnable:

Although many people feel that finding and keeping love is a gamble, something random that might, but probably won’t, fall onto them from some benevolent-yet-unpredictable Love God, that’s not so.

The skills that create and sustain happy marriages are highly learnable. Finding and keeping love is a series of positive actions. It is something I learned. It’s something my clients and students and blog readers have learned. And it’s something you can learn, too.

What’s common is love like Katrina’s for her husband:

“Recently we were apart for two weeks and he was picking me up at the airport. I suggested that there was no need to park and that I would walk out of the airport and meet him. About quarter way down the escalator I saw my husband standing, waiting for me. I realized seeing him made me grin from ear to ear. He makes me as happy today as he did when we met 10 years ago.”

Look around you. There are actually plenty of people who find and keep a wonderful mate. My husband and I share the kind of love Katrina feels for her spouse. A lot of folks do. Open your mind to it. Your heart will follow, charting a new, happier course.

Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, releasing on January 7, 2015; this entry is a partial excerpt, and you can read more at http://lovefactually.co.

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Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do, coming in January, 2015. She also contributes at Psychology Today and teaches psychology at Austin-area universities. Get a free chapter of Love Factually!

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