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How to Have a Happy Marriage

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The photo is of a happy couple with a long and enduring marriage.


Many years ago a psychiatrist referred a couple to me whose relationship was fraught with pain and anguish. Without giving a long list of details about this conflicted relationship, suffice it to say that they agreed on nothing. Much worse than having few things that they agreed about, there was a lack of respect that was shown by a complete disregard for the other’s feelings and needs. For example, if she needed the bedroom dark for her to fall and stay asleep, he turned the light on to read. This resulted in countless arguments with each justifying the reasons for and against the reading light being turned on. It was more important to prove that they were right rather than having any empathy for the needs of the other. I remember how, during the sessions, they turned to me to argue their case as though I was judge and jury. It should go without saying that this relationship did not survive.

According to an Psychology Today, a good marriage is defined as:

“the process by which two people who love each other make their relationship public, official, and permanent. It is the joining of two people in a bond that is generally considered to last until death, but in practice is increasingly cut short by divorce.”

The present blog will not explore the reasons for the high rate of divorce but will look at the ingredients that cause husband and wife happy to be with each other over a life-time.

According to John Gottman, the psychologist who is expert in the field of marriage and conducts vast amounts of research on the topic, the most important ingredient in a good marriage is deep friendship. By this he means that there is mutual respect and understanding and an deep and intimate understanding of each others likes, dislikes, tastes, preferences and idiosyncrasies. An idiosyncrasy is a thought or behavior that is peculiar to the person. They are normal and all of us have them.

Contrary to popular opinion, couples who, when they have arguments marked by shouting, are functional or strong if they understand and respect each other. Despite the shouting, their combativeness is limited and controlled. They remain optimistic about the marriage and, soon after the argument, and move to repair things soon after.

while tensions and arguments are part of any relationship, successful marriages include lots of talking. Relating means communicating. Basic to all communication is speaking and listening. It’s even more important for each spouse to hear what the other is saying as compared to speaking. Even if there are interruptions, the over riding quality is of feeling and knowing that one is being heard.

Recent studies focus on the element generosity in the relationship. By generosity is meant all the ways that successful couples take care of one another. Beyond sharing dishwashing and house work, these couples are demonstrate affection with hugging, kissing and holding hands. They also do considerate things such as complimenting new clothes, general appearance, gratitude for something he or she did, and generally showing appreciation for things that are big and small.

One of the well known quotes that comes from the field of Gestalt Psychology is that the “whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. In other words, a happy marriage does not result simply by enacting some of these behaviors but by really meaning it when they are done. It’s the mixture of these things that result in something deeper and more profound than absent mindedly kissing your spouse when you go out the door.

Do you have a happy marriage? Please share with us the things that make your relationship successful or conflicted.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.

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