A happy marriage is not a nicety but a need. The latest relationship research reveals that happy relationships are powerful. For example, a happy marriage reduces the risk of heart attacks, makes life’s bright moments feel brighter, and even makes physical pain feel less painful.
Happy Marriage Science
One study monitored sixteen women separately, in an fMRI machine. While inside, each woman viewed a series of red X’s and green O’s. The O signaled safety, while the X indicated a high probability of a painful electric shock. This experiment repeated multiple times. First, while the woman was alone. Then while a stranger held her hand, and lastly, as she interlocked fingers with her partner. Because this study involved high-conflict couples, it’s no surprise the woman reported feeling happiest while alone.
Next, the woman and her partner engaged in a series of Emotionally Focused Couple’s therapy sessions. Emotionally Focused Couple’s Therapy or EFT for short, helps couples strengthen their emotional bonds. With the couple’s connection reestablished, the woman then entered the fMRI machine a second time. Then the entire experiment with the X’s, O’s, and electric shocks repeated.
The end results are astounding! After reconnecting with her loved one, the woman rated holding her partner’s hand as being the most pleasant. She also rated her arousal (or pain) from the electric shocks as significantly lower–although the shock’s intensity never changed. In other words, the couple’s close bond made happy moments happier and painful moments less painful.
Breaking Out of Average
When it comes to marriage, being average simply will not do. Normal relationships are broken. For example, another study found, “One-fifth of first marriages end within 5 years and one-third end within 10 years.” Sadly, second and third marriages fail even faster. When all marriages are taken into account, the overall divorce rate is roughly 50 percent.
Even worse, of the 50 percent of marriages that last, many of these couples white-knuckling it from one moment to moment. One of my favorite college professors says, “The loneliest people in the world are not single adults. Instead, they are they married couples who fall asleep, back to back, each night wondering, When will the pain end?“
I agree 100 percent! When I published 131 Creative Conversations for Couples, I wrote, “Feeling trapped in a tasteless pancakes-with-no-syrup, toast-without-butter, hospital-mush relationship is depressing.” I continue to believe this is true. In marriage, the average relationship is broken. A happy marriage is needed instead.
A Key Happiness Ingredient
In a happy marriage, engaged emotional connection is critical. Relationship research reveals the same part of the brain lights up when a couple is in physical pain, and when a couple experiences emotional distress. In other words, disconnection hurts! To our mind, felt connection is as valuable as food, water, shelter, and oxygen. In short, an engaged bond with the one we love most is a must.
Please don’t take my word for this. Perhaps you heard someone describe their relationship with the terms, “I feel suffocated,” thus putting love on par with breathing. Another example is when the band Nazareth sang Love Hurts, in the 1970s. Undoubtedly, this band on to something. Today we know that love itself does not hurt, but disconnection from the ones we love that causes pain.
Moving Toward a Happy Marriage
A happy marriage is an ongoing process and not a one-time event. In today’s hustle-and-bustle society, finding happiness may be more difficult than ever. After all, who has time to connect? In many homes, both the husband and wife work–often taking on multiple jobs.
For couples with kids, there are more family demands than ever before. This includes sporting events and school assignments–has anyone else been told, “Kindergarten is the new first grade?” Plus, there are hobbies to enjoy and multitudes of opportunities to pursue. In some ways, the twenty-first century is impressive. However, connecting to our loved ones is not one of them. Today’s busy lifestyle is the archnemesis of loving connection.
Sadly, far too many couples feel like a flea, hopped up on the latest energy drink. They frantically bound from one activity to the next. Then, they crash at the end of the day, wondering, Did I accomplish anything of real value today? Like a lousy amateur plate spinner, couples multi-task, frantically try to keep up, yet always worried everything will crash down.
Is busyness the new smoking?
I believe busyness is the new smoking. Most people know that neglecting primary relationships is bad for them. They also know overlooking key self-care activities such as,
- A good night’s rest
- A healthy diet
- Regular exercise
- Time to think and relax
is a recipe for trouble. In fact, according to the diathesis-stress model of mental illness, each of us has a predetermined level of stress we are able to bear. Once that threshold is exceeded, the signs and symptoms of mental illness set in. In other words, people really can drive themselves crazy.
If any of these statements describe you, the good news is there is hope! A happy marriage reduces stress and is one of the best self-care activities around. Even better a happy marriage is not a perfect marriage Instead, it is the connection that leads to happiness. Of course, to me, this makes perfect sense. My wife, Jenny, is absolutely amazing! I certainly don’t need perfection, and I don’t need the two of us to always agree. In fact, I am grateful Jenny pushes me out of my comfort zone, and am a far better person because of this.
Our Happy Marriage Story
Jenny and I met a decade ago. The two of us connected through an online dating site. Our first date was at a tiny pizzeria with a fantastic view of San Diego bay. When I saw Jenny for the first time, my initial thought was, Wow; she is gorgeous! From there, our date got even better.
Over dinner, Jenny’s soft smile and her genuine compassion for others captivated me. But it was after dinner, during a sunset walk along the bay, that Jenny impressed me the most. As the two of us strolled along the shore, I realized the perfect evening could soon come to an abrupt end and my heart sank.
You see, after the sun set, the air cooled quickly, and I forgot to suggest that Jenny bring a coat. Glancing her way, I noticed Jenny shiver. “It’s cold out. Do you want to turn back?” I asked, secretly hoping she would deny my offer. Fortunately, Jenny replied with a sweet, “No, I’m fine.”
However, a few minutes later, I noticed goosebumps running up and down Jenny’s arms. So, I asked Jenny a second time if she wanted to turn around. Much to my delight, she once again refused. As our walk continued, Jenny’s shivering increased. Now, it was apparent Jenny was freezing.
Wanting to be polite, I suggested turning back a third time. This time, Jenny replied with firm determination. “No, I’m fine. Let’s keep going,” she said. After the date, I couldn’t stop thinking about this amazing woman who wanted to be with me more than she wished to not be cold.
Part two of our marriage story…
So, what did I do next? I made Jenny wait an entire two weeks before calling. Yes, this actually happened! After our date, I thought to myself, If Jenny and I go out a second time, I’ll eventually marry her. And, I wasn’t sure I was ready for marriage.
Fortunately, Jenny is patient. Two weeks later, I finally worked up the nerve to ask for a second date. Jenny said, “Yes!” and the rest is history. Twenty-one months later, I proposed. The two of us wed a year after that. Today, we are—six kids and seven incredible years into our marriage. This is our happy marriage story in a nutshell. It is founded on a strong emotional bond, which is a crucial factor in our happy marriage.
A Happy Marriage Mission
In 2020, my mission is to help 50,000 couples connect more often, more deeply, and more joyfully than ever before. I plan to do this through books, coaching, and a new Facebook group called Joyfully Married.
I’m a firm believer that far too many couples are stuck between saying the words, “I do” on their wedding day, and finding their “happily ever after.” All too often, couples hone-in on problems, fixing one issue only to jump to the next. Our joyfully married community is different because it focuses on celebrating everything right in our relationships
According to relationship researcher John Gottman, “Most marital arguments cannot be resolved. Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind—but it can’t be done. This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values.” The good news is that a happy marriage doe not have to be argument free. Instead, a happy marriage is founded on regular moments of connection.
The Happy Marriage Journey
If one of your goals is a happier marriage, then developing a daily connection routine is an excellent place to start. This can be as simple as going through a couple’s devotional book, setting aside regular time to talk, or by joining in our Joyfully Married community. If you desire to connect to your loved one more joyfully than ever before, then please know I am cheering you on.
This is our happy marriage story. I would love to hear yours. What do you see as the key ingredients to a happy marriage? How do you and your loved one connect amidst the hustle and bustle of life? Let’s continue the conversation in the comments below.
Then, dive deeper with these happy marriage strategies!