Understanding Society, a £49 million nationwide research project commissioned by the Economic and Social Research Council, surveys the lives of 40,000 households via annual interviews with 100,000 people of all ages for at least the next two decades. Think of it as a taxpayer-funded investigation on happiness, which will be made public so that the country can adjust its behavior accordingly.
The information they've gathered so far says that the happiest marriages are under five years long, and occur between college-educated couples with no children where the man has a job. Cohabiting couples are less happy than married ones, but women, especially, grow worn out over the course of their marriage. The news just gets better and better!
But don't worry: if you're older, are raising a growing brood of children and have been married for over half your life, you're already past the worst period of marriage, which occurs when your children are in preschool. To no one's surprise, the report says that couples expressed greater contentment once their youngest child had grown up.
Obviously, the answer here isn't to ditch your spouse after five years and find another one. Nor should you avoid procreating to prolong your own contentment. If anything, this study may serve as a reality check to bright-eyed young things who see marriage as the be-all of happiness, when maintaining it beyond five years requires a lifetime of work.
It's easy to be happy with someone when you're feeling good about life. But what about when you're not doing so well? Do you want to see him when you've been denied a raise, or your cat died or you had a plain old bad day? He should be a comfort during tough times, not a burden.
You don't want to change the essence of who he is. There may be stuff that irritates you in everyday life—he insists on wearing his favorite, holey T-shirt, he eats sugar cereal for dinner, he still watches Saturday morning cartoons—but you like him, plain and simple.
If you do have crucial differences that will impact your future together—different opinions about religion, money or something else—you want to work them out with him, and you believe you can come to a conclusion that will satisfy both of you.
Sometimes it's that easy. You feel like he understands some essential part of you that you can't explain or articulate. It's a warm, comfortable feeling—and one you should have with the person you marry.