We've all heard the grim numbers: About half of all married couples in the U.S. are the victims of marital divorce or separation, according to the latest statistics.

Additionally, researchers estimate that once couples call it quits, the prognosis the second (and third) time around actually worsens. Case in point:

  • 60 percent of second marriages end in divorce
  • 73 percent of all third marriages end in divorce

But really, who wants to enter the prospect of something as serious as sacred matrimony with the intent of failing once, let alone failing two or three times?  (full disclosure: I'm a member of the 50 percent club myself, but have no intention of jumping to a higher percentage bracket; she's a keeper.)

Even Warren Buffett, the third richest man on the planet, gave his shareholders at a 2009 Berkshire annual meeting unusual advice when he declared:

Marry the right person. I'm serious about that. It will make more difference in your life. It will change your aspirations, all kinds of things.

Science on improving your marriage

While Buffett's advice may have a sound basis, marrying the right person is just the start. Staying married and believing she or he is still the right person, ten years down the line, is another issue.

When things get a little bumpy, don't heed the advice of biased friends or loved ones. Follow the evidence of experts who understand human nature, like putting into practice these six habits.

1. Speak in the positive.

Relationship expert Dr. John Gottman of The Gottman Institute finds that happier couples exchange "at least five times as many positive statements to and about each other" as negative ones, especially when discussing problems. He says, "A good marriage must have a rich climate of positivity" and advises that we make "regular deposits" to our emotional bank accounts.

2. Assume good intentions from your partner when arguing.

During a spat, assume the best of intentions from your partner and give him or her the benefit of the doubt, rather than react with blame or stonewalling. Psychologist Paul DePompo, author of The Other Woman's Affair, says this simple shift allows you to seek clarification with an open mind, learn from your partner, and move forward to a mutual agreement. 

3. Share your lives together in a spirit of celebration.

 In The All-or-Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages WorkEli Finkel, professor at Northwestern University and director of Northwestern's Relationships and Motivation Lab, observes that couples are happier when they share their lives with enthusiasm. From the research: "Couples who had been trained in enthusiastic, celebratory responding--trained to ask questions about the event, show positive emotion about it, and generally be engaged and constructive during the interaction--tended to experience greater love for each other following those nightly discussions."

4. Sleep more.

In The Happy Couple, author Barton Goldsmith cites a study from the University of California, Berkeley that looked at the sleep habits of more than 100 couples. Those who reported poor sleep were much more likely to argue with their significant other.

5. Reflect back to how it all started.

When couples begin distancing themselves, one cardinal sin is to forget their history together and why they chose each other in the first place. Dr. James J. Ponzetti, professor emeritus, University of British Columbia, studied 124 spouses to find that when spouses highlight the basis for the marriage taking place and all the positive reasons for tying the knot, the marriage becomes justified and affirmed. It's easy to bury those positive recollections after kids, careers, schedules, and arguments dominate. The key is to spend quality time weekly reminiscing, laughing, and sharing fun and adventurous stories about dating, courtship, and eventually, marrying.

6. Aim for quickies, not marathons.

Regarding our sex lives, some women in hetero marriages who prefer to take things slower may claim this strategy favors the men. But let's face it, with long work hours, conflicting work schedules, and parenting obligations, it's becoming increasingly difficult to slide under the sheets and "get it on."  Take the advice of a female clinician on the matter. Clinical sexologist and marriage therapist, Kat Van Kirk, author of The Married Sex Solution, tells Woman's Day that couples should remove the "expectation of having long, technical lovemaking sessions" and change the strategy to quickies. She states, "Ten focused minutes can build more intimate moments than many couples have experienced in years," which could spark up the mojo for longer love-making sessions later.

Published on: May 29, 2019
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