The Secret to a Happy Marriage is…….

Taking Manhood Back

The Secret to a Happy Marriage is…….

I am currently reading the book The One Thing You Need to Know by Marcus Buckingham and learned something really valuable about marriage – LOVE IS BLIND. Love is blind in marriage is the strongest indicator of a happy marriage. I’ll be quoting the book verbatim so as not to miss the point.

Under the impetus of the leaders of the school of positive psychology — Martin Seligman, Donald O. Clifton, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Ed Diener — the prevailing wisdom has come to incorporate the idea that good is not the opposite of bad, merely different, and that if you really want to identify the distinct characteristics of great marriages you must study the great ones with as much discipline and rigor as had previously been brought to bear on the bad ones. If you can discover what lies at the core of these great marriages, and offer advice stemming from these discoveries, you are much more likely to help people build lastingly rewarding partnerships.

Researchers from the State University of New York at Buffalo, the Universities of Michigan, British Columbia, and Waterloo, and Sussex University in the U.K. have opted for this approach, and their findings directly challenge the conventional wisdom that a happy marriage is founded on clear-eyed understanding and acceptance of each other. In its place they have identified a defining characteristic of happy marriages. This characteristic is so deeply counterintuitive that initially most of us will have difficulty absorbing it. And yet, upon reflection, it may just lead us to the controlling insight at the heart of a happy marriage.

These researchers have interviewed thousands of happily married or cohabiting couples over the course of many different studies, but for our purposes, I’ll focus on the one that first caught my eye. In this particular study Dr. Sandra Murray, a soft-spoken professor from SUNY Buffalo, and her colleagues began by asking 105 couples (77 were married and 28 were cohabiting) to rate each other on a list of qualities, such as “kind and affectionate,” “open and disclosing,” “tolerant and accepting,” “patient,” “warm,” and “sociable.” They then asked the couples to rate how rewarding and satisfying they found their relationship. These couples were not love-blind honeymooners, but couples of long standing. The average length of the relationship was 10.9 years.

If it were true that accurate understanding of your partner is crucial to the building of a strong relationship, when a husband rates his wife high on “patient,” “warm,” and “sociable” but lower on “open and disclosing” and his wife rates herself in the same way, they should be a very happy couple. Put more simply, when their pattern of ratings match, their level of satisfaction with the marriage should be high.

Apparently not. A match between the husband’s ratings of his wife and the wife’s ratings of herself showed no correlation whatsoever to how happy they were in their relationship. I’m not saying there was a negative correlation. Accurate understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses did not make the couple more dissatisfied. There was simply no correlation, no observable link between accurate understanding and marital satisfaction.

However, one distinct pattern did emerge. In the happiest couples, the husband rated the wife more positively than she did on every single quality. For some reason, the husband in a highly rewarding relationship consistently credited his wife with qualities that she didn’t think she had.

A cynic might label the husband’s ratings delusions. If my wife doesn’t think she possesses these qualities but, after ten years, I still do, then perhaps “delusion” is not too strong a word. The researchers opted for more measured terms, such as “positive illusions” and “benevolent distortions” and “idealizations,” but, whatever the label, there was no mistaking the conclusion: in the happiest couples, the husband stays blind.

Now, you might still wonder whether the happy husband, blinded by his positive illusions, is heading for a fall. My wife and I may be happy today, but woe betide us both when my wife fails to behave in line with my expectations.

The same thought occurred to the researchers, and so they decided to track these couples over the next few years. What did they find? The husband who rated his wife high on qualities that she didn’t think she had was not only more satisfied with the relationship today, but in the months following reported even greater levels of satisfaction, fewer sources of conflict, and fewer moments of doubt.

So there you have it. The husband who assumes that his wife possesses strengths even she doesn’t think she possesses will have a strong marriage today and an even stronger one tomorrow.

To feel happy and secure in the face of such vulnerability, individuals need to believe that their relationship really is a good one and that their partner can be counted on to be caring and responsive across time and situations.

When I tie myself to my wife, I am making one of the biggest commitments of my life. To avoid cognitive dissonance, I make myself believe that the commitment I made is a good one. My problem is that my wife is not perfect, nor does she see the world in exactly the way I do. If I dwell on these imperfections and differences of perspective, I will become insecure about my decision and, soon, about my safety in the relationship itself. As a result, I will be less comfortable with real intimacy, less forgiving, less positive in my judgments of her, and things will slowly fall apart.

Putting these conclusions together, this controlling insight can serve as the One Thing you need to know about happy marriage:

Find the most generous explanation for each other’s behavior and believe it.