Want a Happy Marriage? Do This.

happy married couple

I’m proud of the work I do here, but let’s face it: this ain’t brain surgery.

In fact  I think most of the advice doled out in this space is pretty much  common sense.

The issue for most of us is that common sense takes a holiday when it comes to the chemistry, sex, and emotion inherent in relationships.

That’s why I work so hard to give you a data-driven (not an ideology-driven) approach to dating. This stuff is not about what’s right and wrong, but about what’s effective and ineffective. In other words: “what works?” That’s what I want you to do.

Nobody has done this better than John Gottman. Back in the mid-80’s, Gottman set up a Love Lab to observe married couples.  From the data he  gathered, he  separated the couples into two groups: the  masters  and the  disasters. The masters were still happily together after six years. The disasters had either broken up or were chronically unhappy in their marriages. By monitoring their vital signs, Gottman observed something interesting:

“Masters  felt calm and connected together, which translated into warm and affectionate behavior, even when they fought. It’s not that the masters had, by default, a better physiological make-up than the disasters; it’s that masters had created a climate of trust and intimacy that made both of them more emotionally and thus physically comfortable.”

This is one of many reasons I spend so much time talking about not being a slave to chemistry and finding an “easy” relationship. If you’re always on high alert – heart pounding, blood pounding, palms sweating – in the presence of your partner, you are constantly  in fight or flight” mode. That’s not a great way to spend 40 years.

This stuff is not about what’s right and wrong, but about what’s effective and ineffective. In other words: “what works?”

Gottman deepened his research by observing couples interactions and labeled them “bids.” Bids are just  basic requests. If I ask my wife to check out a new blog post I wrote, she can either “turn towards me” (and say yes) or “turn away from me” (ignore me or say no). Which do you think is healthier in a long-term relationship? Someone who takes an interest in you? Or someone who is dismissive or hostile to your needs?

Sure enough, Gottman  observed that “couples who had divorced had “turn-toward bids” 33 percent of the time. Only three in ten of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples who were still together after six years had “turn-toward bids” 87 percent of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.”

People who give their partner the cold shoulder – deliberately ignoring the partner or responding minimally – damage the relationship by making their partner feel worthless and invisible, as if they’re not there, not valued…Being mean is the death knell of relationships.

Again, not terribly surprising, but important to realize nonetheless. We all know how we are prone to take for granted the people we love the most. We’re polite to our neighbors, to our servers, to our co-workers, but we will say the nastiest things to our partners.

That doesn’t fly. According to other studies,  kindness and  emotional stability are the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in a marriage. (I’ve cited previous work which stated that the best husbands were the ones who were sensitive to their wives’ emotional cues and helped out with housework and childrearing).

Kindness and emotional stability are the most important predictors of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.

Emily Esfahani Smith, author of the  Atlantic article from which these studies are quoted, summarizes these takeaways in one stunning paragraph.

“There are many reasons why relationships fail, but if you look at what drives the deterioration of many relationships, it’s often a breakdown of kindness. As the normal stresses of a life together pile up–with children, career, friend, in-laws, and other distractions crowding out the time for romance and intimacy–couples may put less effort into their relationship and let the petty grievances they hold against one another tear them apart. In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.

Your thoughts, below, are appreciated. And when you take a look at the comments on this thread (and others), pay attention to whether the poster sounds  kind. If not, you  might want to take his/her opinion with a grain of salt.

Mean people give shitty relationship advice.

Join our conversation (10 Comments).
Click Here To Leave Your Comment Below.


  1. 1

    Love this.

    My partner and I have been together for almost 2yrs, living together for 4months.

    I believe kindness is VERY important in relationships. After myself, my partner comes next  on my list of priorities. When he asks for cuddle time, I give it to him because it makes me happy to make him happy- even though I’m not always the most touchy feely type. When I go off on philosophical/hippie/existential/woo woo diatribes (I’m really into Danielle Laporte’s work at the moment), he’ll mute the TV and turn towards me -fully attentive with eye contact- because he knows I love to hear his thoughts.. Even though he’d rather watch the Warrior’s game.

    Call me a romantic, but being in a healthy, *easy*   relationship will feel like coming home after a long day – it may be a little untidy now and again, but it’s always warm and inviting.. And there’s never any   judgment for eating ice cream and watching Netflix all day..in your underwear 🙂

  2. 2

    Hi, Yes, Married, naive and young to a workaholic always made excuses for his lack of attention, appreciation and understanding which we all deserve. We ended in divorce due to infidelity and an attempt to verbal and physical abuse which me coming from non abusive parents I left the very next day, this came on after 8 yrs..He married the girl he had the affair with and here they are 20 yrs.later divorced due to infidelity. And who knows what else. Although he never changed due to people seeing and me hearing how was cheating through his time with her. He attempted to come back and me now at an older age figured him out completely. He is Narcissistic. He cannot love as is normal. When you meet them they are a charm, you feed their ego and once you don’t they seek other supply. They lack self esteem and will drain you. And make you feel not good enough if you allow it, I lasted only because I depended on myself to be happy. And I was always alone since he was working. It didn’t take me long to figure him out this time because as a woman now I know what I want and if I don’t get that I want no part of it.

  3. 3

    Forgiveness is in there too. When one party is forgiving and the other us not, forget it.

  4. 4

    I think this is the bridge that connects “maintaining a relationship takes work” and “good relationships are easy.”   Being good to a partner isn’t effortless, but when you’re in love and feeling loved, you WANT to make the effort.   Because his reaction to a ready cup of coffee or a simple shoulder massage is so satisfying, and because both of us trying to give as good as we get makes such a virtuous cycle.

  5. 5

    I was addressing those already in a relationship. Not those praying for a man. But we can look at that also. Let’s go back to step one.

    Be grounded in Truth! What is truth? I believe the word of God is Truth! The only way to really know the truth is to study the word diligently with the proper perspective (not an American mindset) is the first clue. In Prayer of Gods Will, Not Your Will!

    Use Strongs Concordance, Dictionary’s, Lexicons, Topic studies. Do not listen to the worlds view of Christianity ! PROVE ALL THINGS THROUGH THE WORD!

    Sure, you may have another thought as to what truth is!

    How is that working out for You???

    Relize that some trials, tribulations, troubles, and difficult sutuations are for our own good. It is in these things that we grow and   mature in spirit and in life. It may be that God knows that a particular person must grow in certain areas first in order to be successful in a relationship that would honor Him!

    Being a Christian is about serving not getting what we want, and not having some fairytale of a perfect life as set forth in the media or any other fantasy.

    Being a Christian is about serving God (first 4 commandments) (they have never changed and will not until all things are finished) and loving each other (the last 6 commandments)

    So, if we don’t know Gods will and are not doing Gods will, …will he answer our prayers? Study it and find out!

    Desperate ineffective love lives? Are we talking about sex? Sex before marriage? Could it be that the world has lied to many? As to what is considered ok, tolerable etc.?

    What would you say to a very large group of young adults I know that reside across the world that have and continue to keep themselves for their spouse only? Yes they really exist!

    Many are not in a relationship with anyone and yes they would like to have a wonderful relationship with the right person .. But they also know what truth is and they know the importance of the right match. In the meantime they have many friends that have the same beliefs that continually encourage, steer, and support one another. They have a lot of fun enjoying life, being the best they can be in all areas of their life. Education, Music, Arts, Charity, Service etc. A life built in truth is a wonderful life, content in all situations!

    Realize, you can’t and shouldn’t try to change a persons likes, character etc. they are who they are because of how they were raised and what they have been exposed to . Each person must choose to change themselves.   Now if you have found a person with good solid values, morals, integrity and are open to learning…well then ladies, you have something to work with..maybe?

    Are you looking in the right places? Are you a good example to a person like that?

    Change is why we ar e here! It is only through change, can we reach our goals of becoming Christ like. Repent means to have a Godly sorrow that brings about change! Stop Sinning!

    Does God love sinners? Yes, we all sin everyday and have to constantly strive for change. He loves us and doesn’t give up on us, as long as we show our love for him, keep trying, learning, praying and repenting!

    God may have another purpose for each of us, that we just are not familiar with as of yet! Keep the faith, and don’t give up on God, because He does not give up on you!

    With ourselves is always a good place to start and Service in one form or another is always good!

    I commend your efforts!

    I will be impressed with your courage, if you post this!

    Shar, it’s the best way!


    1. 5.1
      Evan Marc Katz

      I post everything that is not a direct insult. And yeah, I think it’s safe to say that you and I occupy very different universes.

  6. 6
    Sexy Loving Him

    This is a great topic. I think the ingredients that make up a happy marriage vary. It’s just like a recipe. There are a million ways to make a lasagna. Your family may have a total different recipe than I do.

    When it comes to what makes a marriage work, it’s really all about the people in that relationship. That is why it’s important that you marry someone you are compatible with. Happy marriages such as mine, include 6 important ingredients:







    Without these main ingredients, our marriage will burn. Not only are these ingredients important, they have to be worked at. Building a happy marriage is a second job, it doesn’t just exist because you tied the knot.   It exists because you work at it.

  7. 7

    I like your comments  and  wanted to touch on your second point. I totally agree that a large number of people do not have the skills needed to have the kind of relationship ascribe to the ‘masters’ in the above article. I think you are correct about Evan’s  target audience making the above article relevant, but what hope can we have for the majority?

    I think society does not raise people to have happy marriages. Research tells us that the  best husbands were those who were “sensitive to their wives’ emotional cues and helped out with housework and childrearing”, yet the opposite is regularly reinforced and modeled as  what makes a man valued by our society.

    I personally have left men who I knew did not and most likely would never have the skills required for a successful marriage due to a range of factors including poor role modelling, genetic factors and cultural expectations around gender. I suggested therapy but  I have definitely learnt by now that you can’t make some one change, they need to want it and bring it on themselves. I did not settle for  less though and have now been with a wonderful man who does possess these skills for one year  now.

    I  think individually if we  do not settle for less and have faith, we will eventually find someone, but if every woman was doing that there would not be enough of these kinds of men to go around. Maybe then we’d open up to pairing up with each other, as I know some women who have “given up on” men have done and it is something I have considered! I think that would make the men sit up and listen! Ultimately, it  will take generations to resolve this issue and I think education and gender equality  is the way forward.

  8. 8

    Ok with that said! My husband and I have a wonderful marriage!

    Agreed, working at your marriage really in essence means to work with yourself on a continuing basis, to fine tune , repent, change, evolve, grow some more, mature,/…..etc. All awhile not focusing on what you can get or even what you may want at the moment but what you can Give!

    When two people are using these methods on themselves to grow themselves by loving others……..

    Nothing but goodness comes from it! A sincere heart of LOVE!

    The two are unique in their likes, dislikes, needs and wants! The only things that should matter to you :    Are you loving                   1. God the way the Father and Jesus Christ asks to be loved?

    Are you loving.                  2. Your Spouse the way he/she needs to be loved?

    or are you living your life with Pride, Arrogance, Selfishness, Greed, and Full of Power Hungry Motivation??????   All Sin starts in your own Mind!

    James 1:13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am temped of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither temptation he any man:14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings   forth death.

    It is with the power of God, “the Holy Spirit” that you are able to withstand the temptation and accomplish the task!

    Work? Indeed it is!    A lifetime Committment of Work!   For the Hope from Within Us!

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