Is a marriage really at its happiest before life sets in? If so, then how depressing. Your marriage is like driving a new car off the lot. It's instantly devalued. No turning back.
I don't think so and a study by Michigan State University scientists supports my conclusion. There is more to a marital union than butterflies and novelty. However, marriage experts often seem to say otherwise. They will argue that with increased longevity, we now overstay our welcome. Then they may add that we are really designed to be promiscuous so the whole monogamy thing is unnatural. Lastly, there are your own observations. Who look in love? Young couples dreaming of a future together or people who have been washing each other's soiled laundry for the last 50 years?
I think that this is where a mistake in judgement is being made by the experts who inform those of us who have been married for years that we should just get used to being depressed. A good marriage has a lot more to offer than depression. They are confusing hormones with effort.
Before a couple has had time to realize that their spouse is lazy, selfish, demanding and immature, their brains have been filled with hormones designed to get them to bond. This is a very effective biological strategy. Then, with time, the euphoria caused by a flood of hormones wears off. Simultaneously, experience after experience proves that they may have not been such good decision makers after all and that they are going to end up like everyone else.
This is when the marriage really begins. Up until this point, each partner was to some degree projecting what they wanted to see in each other. Eventually, they realize what they don't want to see. Their "partner" was a fantasy figure and not a whole person. At this point, there are two options: grow apart or realize your potential. The first option is simple. Time will do all of the work. Just hang around and join the 50% who divorce.
The second option is tougher. It means that each partner needs to start going against what may be easier and take emotional risk. They must admit to what makes them feel hurt. Their partner in turn must be willing to acknowledge that they are not perfect and need to improve. There is a back and forth to these conversations. True love blossoms as you see your partner struggle to make you happy. They may not be perfect. They may mess up from time to time. But, they are committed to the real you and not their fantasy of you.
Yes, the hormones may not be obscuring reality. But, in a healthy marriage, there should still be a good supply of feel-good hormones. Over time and with shared experience, partners mature as does their love.
In the beginning of a marriage, love is about how good your partner makes you feel. With time and effort, that love deepens because of all of the effort you have made to make your partner happy. That is why the young couple looks so different from the older couple. The bride and groom are enjoying the high of how good they feel about themselves. After years of marriage, the older happy couple see in each other all of the energy that has gone both ways. But, only if they have grown over the years. Therefore, when you see the bride and groom, don't feel sorry for their future. After all, you can't compare new love with the love that is experienced after years of giving and growing together.
You may have noticed that I have used love and happiness interchangeably. The two emotions are different of course. Nonetheless, there is a great correlation between them. If you want to remain a happy couple, then you need to deal with one other issue. It was suggested earlier. Novelty is great for a marriage. So, what is a couple to do? I am not suggesting being disloyal. Just the opposite. Loyalty is to each other. It is not to always doing the same thing. New careers, hobbies and projects can bring new energy into a relationship.
This is when you get to see older happy couples. Their love is rich. They enjoy each other's company and they energize their relationship by staying interesting.
Natasha Burton reviewed the original study's results for the Huffington Post and you can read it here. What are your thoughts on whether marital happiness can increase over time? My wife, Aliyah, and I have been married over 17 years and, with a lot of work, we're happier than we've ever been. How about you?