The Science of a Happy Marriage- Ciara Barrett

“Marriage is like a deck of cards, you start with 2 hearts and a diamond and by the end you wish you had a club and a spade.” If my future spouse ever says that about me you can bet they’ll be right. Recent statistics show that 50% marriages in the United States end in divorce, and this figure expands to 41% of all first marriages for the rest of the world. Couples without children are 40% less likely to divorce, and the average age for people divorcing is 30. These are some scary statistics and as someone who doesn’t believe in soulmates it only supports my personal scepticism about marriage.

Marriage is said to come in 5 stages which most couples will experience: romance, disillusionment, power struggle, awakening, then long term marriage. Romance is the fluttery stomach, heart-eyes, blissfully ignorant stage, or the honeymoon phase. Couples have high pheromones, and experience increased oxytocin, a hormone which lets them ignore each other’s irritating behavioural traits. Disillusionment is when this fades and they see each other for who they really are. The hormones wear off, they want to spend more time apart, and their flaws become visible. Couples who get married in the romance phase are likely to have second thoughts now. The misleadingly named power struggle is when couples try to revert to who they were during the Romance phase to try and “fix” the relationship. They want to spend more time with friends and family but may become jealous of their partner doing this too. The awakening phase is the resolution of this and the couple realises they need to give each other space and accept the other for who they are, flaws and all, and reclaim some of their individuality, which leads into the long-term marriage phase where they resolve conflicts easily and are very comfortable with each other.

During these stages, there are little things you can do to keep the day to day marriage alive and studies show there are some sure-fire handy tips for a happy relationship.

The number one tip might be surprising: how do you react to your partner’s good news? If they just got a promotion, or that package they ordered arrived and they’re delighted, then mirroring your significant other’s reactions to a positive situation has more of an impact on the relationship than being a shoulder to cry on during a tough time. Of course, both are important, but your response to a positive situation can make them feel so much better and it shows you care about their success as well as when they’re upset.

Next is the 5:1 rule: for every bad interaction you have, there must be 5 good ones to balance it out. Every time you fight over the remote or make a snide comment about their cooking, there needs to be at least 5 shared moments of laughter, dinner dates or meaningful compliments to make up for it.

An often forgotten piece of advice is to stay close to family and friends. Don’t rely on your SO for all your happy moments; they should be a big part of your life, not all of it. Remember to see your other circles and get emotional fulfilment from them since they’ve probably been around in your life before your partner was.

Keep it exciting! This is both in and out of the sex department (which should be happening regularly anyway); you can keep going on dinner dates and buying flowers and having movie nights in because spending time together should always be fun. When it stops being fun then you need to seriously consider why you’re in the relationship and how you can fix it. Remember to talk to them and don’t let any of your happy memories become tainted. Couples who reminisce about shared moments of laughter have more emotional satisfaction than those who just have good experiences. So laugh with them and be stupid and funny and don’t let it get boring ever.

On the other hand, there are some serious red flags to avoid: criticism, defensiveness, contempt and stonewalling. These are when they attack you as a person rather than the individual mistake you made during an argument or even daily life. Watch out for eye rolling, use of the word “you”, and the silent treatment. If/ when this happens it is important to talk it out and be prepared to take a break and move through the stages mentioned above. Remember that everyone has bad days and don’t attack them back even if they’re hurting you.

Any marriage sceptic will say all this is easier said than done, which isn’t wrong, but couples fortunate enough to want to get married will want to make it last so at least now can use the science to their advantage. Love is but a chemical reaction, after all.

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