VERY BRIDE and groom who stand under the chuppah expect that after the wedding and the honeymoon is over, they will settle down to live a long and happy life together. Yet the statistics suggest that a very large minority of those people will end their marriages via the divorce courts.
Rather than trust to fate that you will be one of the lucky ones, there may be steps you can take from the outset to ensure that your own marriage runs smooothly. Relate counsellor Christine Northam feels that marriage is not a blank canvas, because everyone brings baggage from their childhood. Although there are positive steps you can take to increase the odds in your favour, the fact remains that if you want a happy marriage you should choose your parents carefully. “Coming from a happy family and having a happy childhood will leave you feeling grounded and reasonably confident in yourself. A lot of the problems we encounter come from people with poor negotiating skills.”
But if both partners are willing to work at these skills, they will increase the odds in their favour. Northam maintains that if these issues are addressed at the outset of a marriage, there is a vastly increased opportunity for long-term happiness. “There’s a very good Relate book called Before You Say ‘I do’, by Elizabeth Martin. It goes through all the things you need to consider . Where do you want to live? How important is having a family to you? How many children do you want to have? Do you both want careers, in which case how are you going to manage that with children? That’s a big one these days. Who is going to do what in the house? Will you buy a house or will you rent?”
Starting off on the right foot is clearly vital, but is there one piece of advice couples can hang on to in the quest for long-lasting contentment? Oliver Burkeman, the author of Help: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done, feels there is. He thinks that you should forget about compatibility — that this is an artificial construct put on relationships and one which has little meaning. He says that the key to conjugal bliss is simply to find someone and stick with them. “Longterm studies of couples seemed to determine that compatibility only arose as a problem when the relationship was in trouble. All you really seem to need to make a relationship work is the basic chemistry of attraction plus the willingness to create that compatibility. That is, two people who want to make the relationship work.”
Simone Chinman has seen both sides of the equation, as someone who married young and divorced several years later but who is now blissfully happy with her second husband, Robbie. She feels that maturity has certainly helped in terms of her ability to concentrate on what matters in a relationship, but that there is one huge difference between her first and second marriage. “The essential thing is that I know Robbie is the right person for me. I didn’t need to marry again so if he wasn’t completely and utterly the right person for me I wouldn’t have married him. We got married purely because we loved each other so much. Living together wasn’t enough, we wanted to make that commitment. More or less every day we say to each other, ‘we’re so lucky aren’t we?’. And that’s after two-and-a-half years.”
However, she does feel that there is more than just luck to a happy relationship. “We’re a unit, but we maintain our independence so that we’re not crushing each other. We give each other space. We’re both quite assertive, so that we know that one of us is not going to take advantage of the other. We both are on an equal level and neither of us is dominant.”
But beyond the negotiating skills and the ability to respect each other, there is one massive fact that gives the Chinmans a huge advantage along the road to long-term happiness. Simone says: “In the past I’ve always craved the friendship of my girlfriends. But with Robbie I never need to, because I have him. He is my best friend.”