Unless you’ve been living in outer space for the last decade, you know that 40–50 percent of U.S. marriages end in divorce. If that statistic isn’t unsettling enough, think of all folks who stay in unsatisfying marriages due to financial responsibilities, religious obligations, or children. Yes, walking out, giving up, and tuning out does appear to be a perpetual pattern in today’s society. The good news? There are things you can do with your partner to get closer and happier as a couple.
There’s nothing more emotionally fulfilling than being in a happy and healthy relationship. In this article, we’ll explore the factors, gestures, and behaviors that define a healthy couple. We’ll also discuss why marital happiness is especially important for older adults.
What Makes Couples Happy: Factors & Behaviors That Contribute to Long-term Happiness
In many instances, relationship happiness can be created or improved upon when appropriate strategies are utilized to work together as a couple. However, there are some factors (many of which are uncontrollable) that boost your chances of happiness, including the following:
- The pairing of a youngest child with an oldest child (for various reasons, birth order has a profound effect on relationship quality; in this particular matchup, you generally have a partnership in which one person likes being a caregiver and one person likes being taken care of, creating a mutually beneficial relationship)
- Not having children
- Having college educations
- Getting good sleep
- Being in a gay relationship
- Sharing the same drinking habits (it’s never helpful when one partner has a problem with alcohol and the other does not)
- Waiting to have sex for one month or more after starting your relationship
- Having angry but honest conversations at the beginning of the relationship (with fighting subsiding later on)
These factors are likely to make you more compatible with your mate. But what matters most is when couples invest in their relationship day after day by putting in the necessary work and effort. Like most things in life, a happy relationship is earned (not guaranteed). Couples who find ways to bond with each other, appreciate each other, and manage conflicts are more likely to get through the tough times together and experience support and joy for years to come.
Here are some ways you can actively work to create happiness in your relationship:
- Make time for mindfulness around your partner. Mindfulness takes practice and only occurs when you are able to give your complete attention to the present moment. Although it can be easy to get caught up in social media, your to-do list, or putting the kids to bed in the evenings, make an effort to be mindful in your partner’s company. Ask them a question about their day over dinner and really listen. It will help them feel valued and is sure to foster greater intimacy and trust.
- Let go of small annoyances. Little annoyances—like your husband leaving a trail of water bottles throughout the house—can lead to huge blowout fights in which all the wrongs of the past are rehashed. Instead of barking at your partner to clean up his or her act, try asking them sweetly to change a particular behavior. And if you find that they just can’t, chalk it up to forgetfulness (not an assault on your sensibilities). Happy couples know that it’s important to pick your battles wisely, saving your outside voice for major screw-ups only.
- Be intimate outside the bedroom, too. Of course, sex is a fundamental part of most relationships. But being intimate outside the bedroom can send a wave of love from the pit of your belly to the top of your head. There’s nothing quite like it. Consider the following scenarios: 1) A husband flags down a nurse as his ailing wife awaits attention in the emergency room 2) A wife cradles her shaken husband after her teenage stepson storms out of the house in a fit of rage. In these scenarios, a spouse in showing their care and support for their significant other during an unpleasant situation. Sure, intimacy might come in unexpected ways, but there are plenty of opportunities to express it profoundly during difficult life events.
- Help out equally with household chores. A UCLA study found that couples who agree to share chores around the house, clearly outlining one another’s responsibilities, are more satisfied with their relationships. So ask your wife to make dinner as you set the table and clean up afterward. It is this careful balance of give-and-take that ultimately contributes to couples’ long-term happiness.
- Stay in your own social circles. Interestingly enough, couples who have the same group of mutual friends are more likely to break up. Couples who stay in their own social circles stay together longer. If you and your partner share the same friends, don’t panic—just make an effort to expand your horizons. Go to lunch with a new coworker or hit the gym with an old friend from summer camp who you recently reconnected with.
Why Marital Happiness Matters Most in Older Age
In older age, the quality of one’s marriage becomes especially important. A study published in The Journals of Gerontology, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences followed 1,044 older adults, assessing whether marital disagreement or time spent together impacted depressive symptoms or physical disability. Although time spent together did not appear to impact physical or mental health, couples who had frequent disagreements with their spouse did experience heightened depression and disability. The results of this study indicate that marital happiness and physical and mental health are directly correlated to kind, nurturing, and understanding partnerships free of regular conflicts.
If you have elderly parents who bicker often, aggravating one another’s health conditions, express your concerns about how it might be affecting them. With a little guidance and support from a qualified professional, you might be able to help put their relationship back on track.
Final Words on Love and Happiness
Although external factors do influence the quality of a relationship, happiness is ultimately a choice. The thing is, it takes two people to make that choice together. As long as your love is still strong and you and your partner both have the will to work on your relationship, it is possible to create more happiness. It is a choice you make each day—in your words, in your actions, and the quality of the time you spend with your spouse. Next time you are feeling dissatisfied with your relationship, follow some of the tips in this article to see if you can turn things around. Love is worth it.
Psychology Today. 7 secrets to a successful relationship. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/meet-catch-and-keep/201702/7-secrets-successful-relationship. Updated February 2017. Accessed February 28, 2018.
Boboltz S, Huffington Post. This is the happiest relationship ever, according to science. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/16/happy-relationship-studies_n_4613060.html. Updated January 2014. Accessed February 28, 2018.
Brenoff A, Huffington Post. 11 ways to make your long-term marriage happier starting today. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/11/marriage-advice_n_4823414.html. Updated March 2014. Accessed February 28, 2018.
Bookwala J, Franks MM. Moderating role of marital quality in older adults’ depressed affect: Beyond the main-effects model. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2005;60(6):P338-P341.