As director of the landmark Early Years of Marriage (EYM) project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, my research team and I have been interviewing and observing 373 couples for 24 years. From this body of data, we now know what makes brand-new marriages strong and happy, and what keeps couples together long term.
The good news for newlyweds? You can greatly increase your chances of having a successful, healthy, happy marriage by implementing a few positive behaviors from the get-go. Here are four behaviors my study shows both strengthen new marriages and are predictive of long-term marital happiness.
Know your partner’s expectations.
Sit down with your partner and each of you write down your top two marriage expectations. Exchange lists and discuss. This exercise will let you know what’s important to your spouse. The EYM study found that knowing your partner’s top expectations is essential for a happy partnership–and even more important than having the same expectations. (See my book for the 16 most common marriage expectations, as reported by couples in the study.)
Be interdependent with your partner.
The EYM study found that when both partners are interdependent socially, emotionally, and financially–that is, what one partner does, feels, or has affects the other–it’s predictive of both short- and long-term marriage happiness. Having separate friends or interests is great; keeping them always separate is not. Also, making aspects of your life your sole concern–such as money or work issues–is not healthy and will lead to trouble down the road.
Do sweat the small stuff.
One of the key findings from the EYM project was that small annoyances–not large ones like illness or job loss–are what erode marital happiness over time. For example, if you don’t like that he leaves his socks around, don’t ignore it. Instead, talk about it by telling him how it makes you feel. If you don’t like that she buys household items without consulting you, let her know why it upsets you. If you don’t sweat the small stuff, you’re more likely to be unhappy later on.
Acknowledge and address gender differences.
My study uncovered some new and significant differences between the sexes. Couples who are aware of these differences typically have an easier time in the relationship. Here are a few key findings: For the wife, relationship talk is an aphrodisiac, but for men, it’s a turnoff! Women remember details of arguments for 2-3 days; men move on from conflict almost instantly. Wives don’t need compliments as much as husbands do because they regularly get affirmation from people outside the home. Men, however, crave affirmation (compliments, small endearments) and need it most from their wives.
From her new book, 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great
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About the Author: Terri Orbuch PhD, known as The Love Doctor, is the project director of the landmark, NIH-funded Early Years of Marriage Project, the longest-running study of married couples ever conducted, which has been ongoing since 1986. A practicing marriage and relationship therapist for more than 20 years, she is also a popular love advisor on radio, TV, and peoplemedia.com, most recently seen on NBC’s Today.