Before we got married, for many years, Orna loved to ask long-married couples she met what their secret was. Meeting an older couple at the airport, parents of friends, even couples at the market would lead to her asking, “So, what’s your secret?” She knew that in their answers lay the key to finding and keeping long lasting love.
We knew all along that the goal wasn’t to get married. The goal was to have a happy marriage. Getting married is easy. Staying married is a whole different ball game. Staying happy while staying married was and is the real goal.
The answers she got were varied but they all revealed a mindset that was intentional. “Marry your best friend,” was the advice of a 70ish gentleman in the airport who had a sparkle in his eye and an obvious love for his wife. “Give the other person room to be themselves,” a mother of one of her friends told Orna. “Always be sure to listen,” came from an older couple while waiting for a table at a restaurant.
Each of these couples knew that having a long and happy marriage was important to them and was worth focusing on. It seemed that they had an intuitive sense that a good marriage didn’t just happen but that it took attention and care. They also knew that by giving it attention and care that they were getting benefit for themselves.
Little did we know that there were a lot more benefits to a long and happy marriage than just the obvious ones. Decades of studies have shown the mental and physical benefits of a healthy marriage no matter what your sex, age, or race. Married people live longer, suffer less depression, are healthier, have less stress and better nutrition. A happy marriage provides an emotionally fulfilling, intimate relationship, creating a sense of social connection, enhancing both physical and mental health.
Of course the same is not true of an unhappy marriage. Sometimes the responses Orna got to the “What’s your secret?” question was great advice in what not to do. “We don’t talk to each other when no one else is here,” said one friend’s mother. An in-laws father joked, “We’ve hidden the keys to the gun cabinet.” “I just let my wife always call the shots,” one man told her; a perfect recipe for resentment. These couples have been together a long time, however, it would be hard to describe them as happily married couples.
The studies are just as clear for unhappily married couples and divorced or unmarried people. Effects of bad marriages include high blood pressure, heart disease, anxiety, depression and substance abuse. According to the data, these effects are worse on women than on men. A bad marriage creates a highly stressful environment, which increases the likelihood of divorce. Research shows that divorce is associated with an increased risk of physical illness, depression, and premature death.