It’s the $33,900 question: How do you make a relationship last? That number is the price of the average American wedding in 2019, by the way, so many are clearly shelling out cash to start off on the right foot. But whether that actually helps … well, read on to find out, along with other do’s and don’ts for making love work long term (and, of course, some of our favorite #couplegoals for inspiration).
Fiona Zublin, Senior Editor
what to do
1. Stay Kind
Only 3 in 10 marriages last in what can be considered healthy and happy relationships, according to psychologist Ty Tashiro in The Science of Happily Ever After. And there’s a common thread to those that work: Spouses respond positively to their partner’s attempts at intimacy, pay attention to what they say and show appreciation. Kindness, respect and an impulse to be thankful, rather than resentful, were what set the relationship-haves apart from the have-nots — and the long-marrieds from the divorcés. That kindness doesn’t just mean buying thoughtful presents but also being generous when it comes to guessing at your partner’s intentions, fighting fairly and with respect, and avoiding contempt at all costs.
In past economic downturns like the Great Depression and the Great Recession, marriages became less common — partly because they’re expensive! It’s not clear that will happen again during the current trying times. Besides, marriage is already less popular now than it was during previous recessions. But one finding from the Great Depression stood out to us: People who got married in the depths of the Depression were more likely to still be married decades later, suggesting that while it may be tough to forge a relationship in a downturn, the relationship itself comes out stronger.
Just because you’re compatible with someone doesn’t mean you’re compatible with the way they sleep. In fact, nearly half of Americans in a relationship say they’d like separate beds at least some of the time, as their partner’s sleep habits get in the way of a good night’s rest. While sleeping apart is not for everybody, taking a hard look at your sleep needs can leave you better rested and able to work on your relationship. But there’s a caveat: Those who shared a bed were twice as likely to rate their degree of relationship happiness a 10 out of 10.
Known for his work tracking Star Trek fanatics in Trekkies, director Roger Nygard turned his lens on matrimony with The Truth About Marriage, a funny and far-ranging documentary following couples and experts of all stripes to learn what they know about making a relationship last. Biologists, therapists, polyamorists and platonic parents all offer their input on the topic, making this a comprehensive (and essential) look at the institution.
5. Sign on the Dotted Line
Sure, sure, you don’t need a prenuptial agreement. It’s all those other people who are going to get divorced. But think of it this way: You already have a prenuptial agreement, it’s just whatever the law of the state you live in defaults to. So prenups — which some religious authorities are now requiring before they’ll sanctify a marriage — are more about self-determination than assuming you’ll get divorced.
Speaking of solemn agreements: Have you considered a social media prenup? In the digital era, these contracts can govern what you will and won’t share with the world on your social media channels, which can help avoid conflicts later if one party feels like their life is on display in ways that make them uncomfortable.
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That $33,900 average aside, spending more on your wedding could actually increase the odds of your marriage ending in divorce. A study of thousands of weddings and the eventual outcome of those unions found that couples who spent at least $20,000 on the big day were more than three times as likely to divorce as those who spent $5,000 to $10,000. That doesn’t mean you should just elope, though: Having 100 to 200 guests at the wedding was positively associated with staying together. Just don’t feed them lobster, I guess.
Treating your partner like someone you have to defend yourself against is a key sign of self-sabotage in relationships, according to Raquel Peel, a researcher in Australia whose work focuses on how people can behave better in relationships. Instead, she says, treat them like a collaborator. Peel has developed a scale that relationship counselors can use to score struggling couples to uncover sources of conflict and better help them work together.
3. Get Bored
While one study found that infidelity and the distractions of work and children all rate high on the list of people’s biggest relationship problems, the No. 1 issue is actually boredom. To keep the spark alive, some suggest amping up physical touch, actively listening and even pretending you’re being filmed to remind you to be on your best, most attentive behavior.
4. Date for Too Long … or Not Long Enough
It’s probably pretty obvious that short courtships have a stronger association with divorce than long ones — in fact, dating for more than three years before you tie the knot makes you about 40 percent less likely to divorce than dating for six months. But there’s an expiration date too, according to relationship experts: Turns out that couples who courted for several years were hesitating for good reason.
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Even though the former first couple were voted the most admired man and woman in the world in a new YouGov poll, their relationship isn’t perfect. In fact, Michelle recently said on her podcast that she has sometimes wanted to “push Barack out of the window” — but that realness is part of what makes the high-achieving pair so relatable, with a marriage that’s seemingly (mostly) equitable and still loving after two kids and decades together.
2. Brittney and Cherelle Griner
These two, currently in the WNBA bubble (aka the Wubble) while Brittney is playing center for the Phoenix Mercury, exemplify the ability to move on and find happiness. In 2015, Brittney married fellow WNBA star Glory Johnson, but the marriage lasted less than a month and ended acrimoniously. If Cherelle’s supersweet Instagram feed is anything to go on, she and Brittney are perpetually head over heels.
The late Supreme Court justice and her witty lawyer husband were a remarkable pair for 56 years until Marty’s death in 2010. One telling anecdote, relayed by OZY’s CEO Carlos Watson on a recent episode of the OZY/BBC podcast When Katty Met Carlos, came during RBG’s prep for her Supreme Court confirmation in 1993. Watson, who was helping prepare her while working in the White House counsel’s office, witnessed the Ginsburgs simply sitting and holding hands during lunch breaks while she was testifying in the Senate.
OK, yes, they’re fictional, but hear us out: These two are madly in love after having three kids, and they get each other perfectly, never judging each other’s moods or weird proclivities — and in fact finding that weirdness sexy. Plus they both dress to impress every day. Could there be a better inspiration this Halloween?
5. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
Do we still have to call them the Sussexes? Boring. While these two have had a tough time — a very public breakup with his family, difficulty fitting in and a hostile press that’s used racist stereotypes to dress down the interloping American in their midst — it’s only seemed to make their marriage stronger, with the pair continuing to support each other unreservedly. Now they’ve signed a multiyear Netflix deal to write and produce films, following in the Obamas’ footsteps.