Life, as most people recognise, is a lottery. The accidents of birth determine our genetic inheritance and the family and social environments in which we begin our lives.

Although some are tempted to claim that some personal and moral virtue justifies any advantage they may gain from these factors, they are givens and are simply the luck of the draw - as they are for those on the other side of the coin who are disadvantaged.

But there are other major factors in our lives which are not simply a matter of chance. I have always believed that an important factor in whether or not we lead happy and fulfilled lives is the choice of the right (or at least "a" right) partner with whom to spend our adult lives.

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To deliberate over such a choice is not necessarily to get it right. But it is worth spending some time and consideration over, since the penalty for getting it wrong is so severe.

Choosing the wrong partner is or can be a life sentence, yet so many (relatively) young people take the decision on the flimsiest of grounds, with little thought for the future.

Hooking up with (perhaps a more "with-it" term these days than "marrying") the wrong person leads to a range of unfortunate outcomes. It can mean decades of unhappiness as two people struggle at close quarters to rub along with - even to like - each other.

These days, however, with the growing incidence of divorce, that outcome is thankfully less likely; women, in particular, and quite rightly, will not these days unendingly endure - for the sake of appearances - an unhappy marriage with all that can mean by way of domestic violence and psychological abuse.

The alternative, however, is often an acrimonious separation or divorce, and that in turn can create a host of other problems.

If there are children, there are all the difficult questions of custody, access and financial support, the attempted resolution of which can further exacerbate already heightened emotions.

If there is property, there are all the fraught issues of who gets what. If there are other parties involved, there are the inevitable feelings of loss, resentment, betrayal and jealousy to contend with.

Nor are the adult parties the only ones to suffer. If the union has produced children, those children can also be adversely affected. They will quail at having to witness parental dispute; they will wonder if they are to blame for their parents' failure to get on; and they will wish that they could be like other children, with a proper family and with a mother and father who like each other.

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Making the right choice, on the other hand, provides a first-class ticket to a happy life.

Sharing one's life with someone one truly loves is an uplifting experience; it provides a rose-coloured lens through which to view and evaluate all of life's pleasures and vicissitudes.

For many couples, it will allow a deeper kind of love to develop - a love based on shared goals and ideals and experiences. For the truly fortunate, they will not only learn to love in this way, but they will remain "in love" with each other throughout their lives.

There are other beneficiaries as well. Children who grow up in a happy and caring family will start life with a sunny disposition and confident that human relationships can be rewarding.

Today, of course, this idealised picture of a happy marriage and a fulfilling family life is no longer limited to the standard "nuclear family".

Marriage - in the sense of a loving commitment made by two people to each other - can now take many forms. But the basic principles still remain.

That commitment will still work best if the partners take care at the outset to fully understand the value of what they undertake to do together; and if they understand that the essence of a successful partnership is giving, not taking.

Nor is their success or otherwise a matter just for them. Happy and fulfilled families make for a more successful and happier society - one in which there are more winning tickets in the lottery of life.