The Secret to a Happy Marriage Isn't What We Thought

happy coupleWith 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, the "secret" to a happy marriage sometimes seems more elusive than ever. But it's not. A new article in The Atlantic takes the research of psychologist John Gottman and gives us the simple answer to what makes a happy marriage: Kindness. It's that easy.

And yet it's not at all.

The reality of our current marriage crisis is shockingly stark. Only three in ten couples are in healthy, happy marriages, according to psychologist Ty Tashiro in his book The Science of Happily Ever After. The reason? They have stopped being kind to one another. But what does being "kind" mean? Is it simply smiling and looking up from our Kindles when our love walks in the room? Or is it something more?


It turns out, from Gottman's decades of research, that couples are constantly unconsciously entering "bids" to one another for attention and affection. These "bids" may be as simple as your husband pointing out a book he likes and asking you to read it. The way you respond to these can truly make or break your marriage.

According to the article:

These bidding interactions had profound effects on marital well-being. Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up 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. 

But what does it mean to respond to these "bids"? How can we be kinder in our marriages? Here are 10 ways:

1.) Put down our phones: We all love a good Facebook or email check, but that stuff is ruining our relationships. I know I hate it when my husband is playing some stupid game while I'm trying to talk to him about my day. We can assume men feel the same way about it.

2.) Read the books he recommends: I am so guilty of this. My husband and I are generally very happy, but I know he is hurt that I don't read the books he asks me to read. Putting this on my to-do list today.

3.) Celebrate his achievements: Did he get a promotion at work? Cheer for him. It's a big deal. Tell him you are proud of him. Research shows that this is part of being kind. Prop him up. Be proud.

4.) Show an interest in his hobbies: If he sends you a "bid" by way of chatting about his running, go with it. Look up an article. Share it with him. Show him you care.

5.) Do his chores once or twice: Hopefully the favor will be returned. Personally I always find my husband does the things I do FAR more than he does the things I ask him to do. So if I pick up my clothing in our bedroom, he'll do the same.

6.) Tell him he looks nice: Does he look hot in that suit? Tell him! Even men like to hear it once in a while.

7.) Smile: It's obvious, right? Except we so rarely do it. How hard is it just to show we love him with our faces?

8.) Hold his hand: This just doesn't happen enough. Reach out. Show him you want to touch him.

9.) Ask him about his day: Showing an interest in what he does, even if you don't get it, goes a long way.

10.) Kiss his boo-boos: Not literally. Unless you are into that. But when he is hurt, don't mock him or tell him to "man up" (yes, I have seen this). Nurse him the way you would your children. Why not? It shows you care.

No matter how obvious this seems to some, it's clearly not to others. So many marriages are full of barely disguised contempt and constant snapping. It doesn't have to be that way. Remember, you are playing for the same team. It's all about finding ways to be gentle to each other.

How do you show kindness to your spouse?

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