Or do you already have a happy marriage?
For decades now, surveys in America and elsewhere have found that well above 90% of new college students list having a happy marriage as a top life goal. It’s something I see mirrored in my own students: When I ask how many want to get married just once, and for that marriage to be happy and lifelong, nearly every hand goes up.
But when I ask them to keep their arms raised if they think they can have it? Many hands and faces fall. In studies, they’re not alone. As divorce became not only more available but more common in each American state, even the happily wed became less sure of the state of their union, and less willing to invest in marriage even after the ceremony. Today, fewer people are marrying at all, as faith in the possibility of a good marriage has plummeted and a belief that marriage is blind luck has risen.
The life goal hasn’t changed. The belief in its possibility has.
What a shame! There are three reasons I’m distressed at the erosion of belief that you—yes you—can have a happy marriage.
Reason #1: Marriage Does Make People Happy
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 does 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. The happily wed are happier than any of the other groups they’re compared to; the formerly married usually try to get married again. E.M. Forster’s epigraph, “Only connect!” is a life philosophy more worthwhile, happiness-wise, than many another.
Some scientists will want me imprisoned for making a causal statement based on correlational data. Fair enough. But the data stretch back as long as we’ve got good social science; the results are consistent; they’re global; they’re abundant; and there is room for logic here. If you’ve got an institution where people across time and continents are happier (and wealthier, and healthier, and less lonely, and sexually more satisfied, and…) when they’re in it and less (of all the above) when they’re not; and if all those good things increase only as long as the marriage endures, and decrease when it’s over; I’m going out on a limb and saying it.
A good marriage *creates* happiness.
Reason #2: Happy Marriage Is A Common, Renewable Resource
Lots and lots of people do, in fact, have happy marriages. Almost 60% of first marriages in the USA today last a lifetime; about 80% of divorced folks remarry, and over 40% to roughly a quarter of them stay together for life, depending on whether it’s the second or third (or later) marriage, and whether kids are involved. Meaning? Most do ultimately find stability. And stability may not sound sexxxy, but it’s the bedrock of many a satisfying, joyful life.
But are they happy? If a marriage lasts in the USA, the answer is commonly Yes, since the chronically disappointed tend to divorce. In study after study and survey after survey, the happiest adults are the happily wed, and the majority of the wed are happy.
They aren’t just happy about their marriage, but about their lives over-all—health, wealth, sex, stability in every regard, general well-being, etc. Marriage brings a package of assurances and benefits that enrich and change lives, and usually much for the better. It’s one of the reasons marriage equality is prized by gay and lesbian people; marriage matters in ways both mundane and profound.
Bonus! Happiness lost is frequently regained—85% of the time, in one study—in the very same marriage. Unless people are dealing with the three A’s of chronic addiction, chronic adultery, or any kind of abuse, the low periods typically resolve themselves in better times and a return to happiness levels that are better than the non-wed or divorced populations.
Reason #3: Happiness Is Not Random—It’s Attainable
In discussions with my students, they feel that happiness is a gamble—something random that might, but probably won’t, fall onto them from some benevolent-yet-unpredictable Love God. Again, this view is common.
But it’s *not* a gamble, it’s not random, and it is highly learnable. Like love, happiness in marriage is a verb, a series of positive actions geared towards kindness and respect. It is something people can and frequently do learn. Using the science for that end is the core reason I launched LoveScience.
Has it worked?
This past weekend, my husband of five-and-a-half years and I finally went on our honeymoon. We enjoyed every moment. One of the best things for me? The unexpected thrill of seeing young unmarried adults working on-ship surrounded by older, happily-married adults traveling together. Finally, a group of young people was seeing, at close range, not one or two happy married couples—but a ship full.
Maybe that’s what’s needed. My students often tell me they’ve never known anyone who was really happily married (not true; they all know me). Maybe, instead of songs and literature and movies and news coverage on the marital horror stories—maybe, we need to see some positive examples.
Let’s start with you. If you are happily married, please share in the comments below. I can’t wait to read your story.
A good marriage: It’s not luck, it’s not impossible, and it is worth it.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., and LoveScience Media, 2013.