Rebecca Kamm

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Rebecca Kamm: The secrets to a happier marriage

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Keep holding hands with your partner.Photo / Thinkstock
Keep holding hands with your partner.Photo / Thinkstock

Calling all the hubbies and all the wifies! That thing you did when you put on fancy garb, swapped tiny metal loops, and promised everyone you knew I WILL WEAR THIS LOOP UNTIL I AM DEAD - well, we now know more about it than ever before. Marriage, that is. Specifically, how men and women tend to behave within its confines.

Thanks to a research professor and therapist by the name of Dr Terri Orbuch, the results of a 27-year study on 373 hetero couples - all newly married in 1986 - are now public. It's the longest running study so far on what makes a marriage successful, and what makes it a fizzer, says Dr Orbuch, who calls herself "The Love Doctor" and will soon give away all the study's secrets on a show on PBS called Secrets From The Love Doctor.

In the meantime, we get a few titbits thrown at us. Dr Orbuch tells marriage magazine Hitched, "Some of the most interesting findings from the study pertain to gender differences ...

Men and women have real differences when it comes to what they want and need in order to stay happy and together in the relationship."

Here are some of those findings, plus some practical things to try:

Feeling-talks are frightening him.

As soon as a woman starts talking about 'us' a man gets on the defense. Photo / Thinkstock
As soon as a woman starts talking about 'us' a man gets on the defense. Photo / Thinkstock

Study: Given half a chance, ladies would dribble on forever and a day about "us", or how things are going - but that makes Husband sad and scared. "When wives say, 'We need to talk,' or 'Let's talk about us,' husbands automatically believe they're in trouble and feel upset," says Orbuch. "Too much relationship talk causes real distress and is a predictor of divorce down the road."

Solution: If you simply have to talk about things, write it down on a little pass-the-parcel, with one word on each layer. He will absorb your message more slowly this way, and suffer less distress. In the middle, put a little treat to thank him for his time - I suggest a lump of steak he can eat up straight away, but you know your man best! Also, leave the room immediately after presentation of the feelings parcel, because your face looks like divorce when you're bubbling over with the urge to converse. Scary/gross.

Redistribute your affection quota.

Keep holding hands with your partner.Photo / Thinkstock
Keep holding hands with your partner.Photo / Thinkstock

Study: "Men crave frequent compliments, hand holding, attention, and validation, known as affective affirmation. Unlike women, who get this good stuff on a regular basis from girlfriends, family, co-workers, and even strangers, men get it mostly from wives. Husbands who report a lack of affective affirmation from their wives are two times more likely to divorce."

Solution: The problem here is all the "good stuff" you're getting from strangers and colleagues. You're so saturated with affection by day's end - your hand held so long and lovingly by everyone except Husband - his needy tentacles have become a thing of distaste. This is a real issue, with no simple answers. Try building the walls of your office cubicle high up into the air with a "boss only" pigeon hole. This may lessen the effect of colleagues' affective affirmation. As for holding hands with unknowns, just remember that strangers are only friends we haven't met yet, and not all that much more exciting or mysterious than Husband after all.

Fight his mother.

It's best for women not to befriend their mother-in-law.Photo / Thinkstock
It's best for women not to befriend their mother-in-law.Photo / Thinkstock

Study: "Men need to be close to their in-laws. When men are close to their mother-in-law and other key members of the wife's family, the couple is 20% less likely to divorce .... The same is not true for wives, however. When wives have a very close bond with their in-laws, the couple is 20% more likely to divorce!"

Solution: You heard the Love Doctor: a close bond with his mother means a higher chance of divorce. This whole time, you were pushing Husband away with every smile at the woman who birthed him. Luckily, there are things you can do to swiftly dismantle the brittle affection built up painstakingly over years of patient suffering. Pretend she's woken you every time she calls, even at 3pm, and groggily take her through that kerrr-azy dream you just had. Interrupt family gatherings to perform slam poetry about your period pains. Host X-mas dinner and serve nothing but chicken nuggets. (Tailor to suit.)

Since Dr Orbuch's study commenced, 46 per cent of the then-newly weds have divorced. (Presumably Love Doctor hid around the corner, so as not to help out and thereby skew the study results.) This matches the United States' national divorce-rate average.

For a look at how many New Zealand marriages end in divorce, which is roughly a third, see here.

The longest-married couple in the world are Karam (age 100) and Kartari (age 100) Chands of Bradford in England. They swapped loops 87 years and 301 days ago, in 1925. Talking to the Yorkshire Post last year, Mrs Chand said: "We just get along with each other and we are family focused. It's simple really."


And here is a lovely piece of wisdom from Ann Betar, the wife of the longest married couple in America, who wed in 1932: "There are so many things in a lifetime that can make you very, very happy and very, very sad, but if you can do it together then it's happiness".

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