The Secret to a Happy Marriage? Wouldn't You Like to Know.

In Depth

A favorite game of betrothed and married folks, mostly ladies, mostly at bridal showers or in the pages of women’s magazines, revolves around the question of discovering the secret to a happy marriage.

A Google search turns up story after story after story professing to offer the secret to a happy marriage. 156 million of them, to be exact.

Here’s Women’s Health offering “The Secret to a Long and Happy Marriage” and Redbook with “19 Secrets to a Happy Marriage” and Real Simple with “10 Ways to Make Your Marriage Divorceproof.”

There’s Time with “7 Scientific Secrets” to a happy marriage. (Sample: “Don’t Expect Your Spouse To Make You Happy.”) The Huffington Post weighs in with six separate pieces devoted to the topic. WebMD offers happy marriage advice for men; “Keeping separate lives” blares one section header.

Now, the reasonable answer to the question, “What is the secret to a happy marriage?” is that the secret to a happy marriage is finding the secret to your happy marriage. Every person is different, every relationship is different, no set of circumstances match up to the point where one couple’s secret to a happy marriage will be the key for another couple to achieve marital bliss.

But that answer takes all the fun out of the “What is the secret to a happy marriage?” game.

I was reminded of how much fun this game is to play because of a recent tweet from Nicole Cliffe, co-editor of The Toast, in which she laid out the rules to her happy marriage (in an email, Nicole points out that these are “my exacting requirements for being married to me,” which I know because I know Nicole but mention lest you think she expects that these rules apply to everyone, which she does not.)

Part of the reason why this game is so fun is that arbitrary rules are often a source of great humor. Another reason is that they offer a tiny glimpse into the private life of a couple, and voyeurism is irresistible. Sometimes that glimpse makes you laugh (me: “Ha! Nicole is hot and horny”). Sometimes it makes you melt a little bit, like the couple who plays Scrabble together every Friday night. Sometimes it makes you go, “If my spouse did that I would go to the store for milk and never come home,” which is what my reaction was to a couple who told me that every night before bed they list three things about the other person that they were thankful for that day. Which is entirely adorable but not a ritual I could ever see myself participating in while maintaining a straight face.

For years, I’ve told the story of a bridal shower at which the women were asked for their secrets to a happy marriage. Many a familiar old chestnut was trotted out, “Don’t go to bed angry!” “Have a short memory!” “Enjoy activities together, but also pursue your own hobbies and interests!” When it was my mother’s turn, she deadpanned, “The secret to a happy marriage is separate bathrooms.”

It’s not bad advice, actually.

Turnabout being fair play and all, if you were to ask me for the secret to a happy marriage I would tell you that separate blankets have kept me and my husband from murdering one another in our sleep. Separate blankets solved the problem of my tendency to roll myself up in the covers like I’m a burrito while I sleep, separate blankets solved the problem of my husband sleeping much hotter than I sleep, separate blankets provide my husband with a buffer from the tossing and turning that goes on during my middle-of-the-night insomnia sessions. (Pun somewhat intended, I am a nightmare at sleeping.) I’ve mentioned separate blankets to a goodly number of newlywed friends who, while they may not yet have adopted it as a strategy, have been fairly intrigued by the concept. (“I didn’t … know that was allowed?” “It’s allowed and it is amazing.”)

Other than separate blankets, though, I don’t have much for you — but ask me in 20 or so years and I might be able to offer more thoughts. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your secrets to a happy marriage — profound, silly, whatever. Like I said, I love this game.

Image via Shutterstock.

This is I Thee Dread, Jezebel’s site dedicated to weddings, marriages, and all the fuckery within.

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