Despite the odds, however, a happy marriage is 100% possible. But then, it depends on what you think makes for a happy marriage. Your colleague seven cubicles down the corridor may have a different idea of what a happy marriage is. So we need to agree on one factoid right away: there is no such thing as a perfect marriage.
There may be happy marriages, solid marriages, and healthy marriages, but the concept of a marriage made in heaven is totally absurd. Our apologies. If you aren’t yet married but hope to be one day, prepare yourself for several possibilities: your prince charming may turn out to be a revolting slob, there may never be enough cash for dinners out and romantic escapades yearly, and there’s the occasional loneliness you’ll feel. They say that one is a lonely number (remember that movie?) but you’ll realize that two is even lonelier. Ironic, isn’t it?
Brace yourself. There will be days when your spouse is uncommunicative or sullen, not aware you’re around and hurting. Marriage is not a correctional facility (although you may feel imprisoned at times) and it will not – repeat not – cure any character flaws. Young women still harbor the illusion that they can improve their man once married to him. Please, for your sake, think again. And again.
Ah, you interject. Perfect marriages do exist provided not all five senses are functioning. This means a marriage between two people, one of whom is deaf and the other blind. Hear no evil, see no evil. And live happily ever after. True.
And then we can’t ignore the phenomenon of soul mates. Love is a powerful feeling and the laws of attraction will somehow find a way to bring two people who are meant for each other together – by hook or by crook. It’s called destiny or fate, and it can’t be explained although we humans have a proclivity to utter them all the time. “It was my destiny to marry a womanizer and an alcoholic. I must have been an unrepentant sinner in my past life.”
Or else, “well, as fate would have it, Mike and I fell in love – we probably knew it since we were kids, but then after high school we both went our separate ways for university, and then I came home for the holidays, he did the same, and we bumped into each other in the mall. Before we knew it, we fell in love.”
Happy Marriage: Ingredients
We’ll say it one more time: there are no perfect marriages but there are sure as heaven happy marriages. They don’t come in an all-assembled package, incidentally. Nor are they automatic – like pressing the right code combination on the ATM, and the money automatically pops out. Marriages need a lot of work to make the happiness formula work; as long as there’s a give and take relationship marked by constant reciprocity, the marriage has a strong survival rate. Nothing could put it asunder because both husband and wife are committed.
So let’s name those ingredients for a happy marriage.
- A happy marriage is a union of two people who maintain their independence – we won’t speak for other cultures, but in North America and in Europe, spouses marry one another for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. That does not imply that husband and wife must have the SAME hobbies, the SAME friends, and the SAME likes and dislikes. Or that the wife has to be totally dependent on her husband financially. That goes for husbands too, as we witness more and more men taking on the role of “house dads.” Our own mother told us NEVER to be dependent on a man for money, and we’re glad she constantly hammered that point.
- Keep a good lid on your emotions – if something makes you angry, make an effort not to react too soon by blurting out things you could regret later on. Take your anger for a walk or a jog – anything – until it simmers down. When you’ve recovered from the incident or the remark, dialogue with your spouse and tell him honestly that you’re upset. Listen to the explanation offered and we mean really LISTEN. Go to bed reconciled – kiss and make up.
- Respect and diplomacy are essential during arguments – disagree respectfully and diplomatically, not fight like children. Diplomacy should not mean only tact and non-hurtful words, but also a capacity for listening. We have observed that when two lovers are quarreling, they’re not really listening to each other but getting ready mentally for the next argument. Given our conviction that we’re the wronged party, we leave little room for the other spouse to put up a defense.
- Ignore the archives – we’re referring about the temptation to recall mistakes in the past. Avoid the tendency to re-chronicle past fights and re-hash old arguments and discussions. What good does that really do, except revive old wounds that time has graciously healed? A happy marriage should be glued together with a shared vision of the future and not a step back into the past.
- Don’t forget sex and romance –sex and romance are the oxygen tanks of a marriage. When you’re not feeling amorous and would rather wear your “rags” instead of the sexy thingies that you took pains to get ready for a night of lovemaking years ago, change gears and work up a romantic evening. This can be achieved by wearing something nice for a start – something a spouse would really notice, a small gift (a single red rose is romantic, so is a piece of jewelry, depending on your budget). Then some fine wine, a homemade meal, scented candles, bubbles in the bath, silk sheets, erotic conversation – oh yes, you can do all that!
Happy Marriage: Signs
How can we tell if husband and wife have a happy marriage? There are the obvious signs, and there are signs that are not too obvious. It is of course impossible to spy on matrimonial bedrooms and draw conclusions from there but just because the spouses sleep in separate bedrooms does not mean the marriage isn’t happy. It could be a medical problem that forces them to sleep physically apart.
Nor can we rely on surveys and polls because we know that it’s part of human nature not to reveal the truth especially when the questions are embarrassing. Asking husband and wife directly whether or not they’re happily married is not a guarantee that you’ll get a straightforward and honest answer.
As far as our lifetime observation has told us, here are some tell-tale signs of a happy marriage:
- Spouses never forget special occasions. They each pick a special something personally; it’s not a task they delegate to their personal assistants;
- Spouses make it a point to be together for a week or two alone at least once a year – in some exotic Far East country or a colonial European village, or simply at a cozy bed and breakfast five miles from their home;
- Notice how they look at each other, the tranquil smile that says “I love you” when they’re at opposite ends of the room. Notice too how he plays with her ponytail and how she likes to cup her hands on his behind;
- Support is a given. If the wife heads several charitable organizations and there are charity balls or fund raising campaigns, the husband is always at her side. And if the husband has to host several corporate parties during the month, the wife acts as a gracious host, has refined her conversational skills, and knows his business. This way he could be proud of her;
- You ever eat in a restaurant and spot non-speaking couples? Their gazes are towards the window or other diners. A happy marriage has husband and wife talking constantly, laughing together and acting like they’ve met for the first time and are having a whale of a time just chatting.
- Couples who celebrate every milestone of their marriage are happy couples. If they make it to their 50th wedding anniversary and are still holding hands and smiling lovingly at each other, what other proof do you need?