The Key to a Good Marriage: Yes, Dear

Loving mature couple walking at water's edge on a beach

Last year my husband and I went on vacation with two other couples. We rented a house on a tropical island, ate at great restaurants, walked on the beach. Sometimes two or three of us drove off to explore, others sat by the pool. We read books, drank mojitos, watched the sunset, played Scrabble. At the end of the trip, we congratulated ourselves on how well we all got along, how easy it was to be in each other’s company.

One reason we got along together was because we also got along with our partners. Long marrieds, all. There was no drama, no bickering, to tense moments where someone was silent and brooding.

What makes a good marriage? What makes a lasting and enduring partnership? We talked about that. One of the husbands said jokingly: “I just do whatever my wife wants.” Then I recalled my mother – happily married to my dad for over fifty years – who once told me proudly: “Daddy always does whatever I want.” He loved her, that was for sure. I never remember them fighting.

There’s an article I cut out years ago and it’s still pinned up on the bulletin board by the computer. Every once in a while, I make a copy and give it to a young couple with marriage plans. Originally, I also meant it as kind of a joke. But I think it’s true. The title of the article is: Want the key to a long marriage, men? Ask your wife, she knows.

A study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that marital success is based surprisingly not on shared interests or on “communication.” The main predictor of a good marriage was rather one where men were flexible and confident enough to ‘give in’ to their wives. Where men were capable of accepting the influence of their wives without being seen as weak. This is probably because women traditionally have more social sense than men. Men who follow their wives’ suggestions not only keep the peace in their own homes, but are more successful in interactions with others.

This does not give women license to simply boss their husbands around, the study explained. Wives need to be loving and encouraging, so that their husbands trust them. Wives need to offer ideas in affectionate and humorous ways.

The researchers, a long-married couple John and Julie Gottman, studied over 5,000 hours of taped conversation between husbands and wives and could predict with amazing accuracy which couples would remain together, which relationships were doomed to failure.

The Gottman’s list four negative traits shared by weak marriages:

Criticism: When one partner consistently points out the flaws of the other (You always leave the kitchen a mess . . . )

Defensiveness: When the criticized partner responds by making a case (The reason I leave a mess in the kitchen is because . . .)

Withdrawal: Silence may be golden in libraries, but not talking hurts a marriage.

Contempt: This is by far the worst, according to the Gottmans: When one partner talks down to the other in a disrespectful or dismissive way.

What’s the one thing you can do to turn around patterns of bad marital behavior? To create a positive marital climate, the Gottmans suggest: say small positive things often. (Thank you. You look nice in that shirt. I love you).

And husbands should remember to respond as often as possible: Yes, Dear.

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