WATCH: What research has to say about maintaining a happy marriage


Those Valentine's chocolates remain in stores (at a cheaper price we hope), prompting a little contemplation about our relationships. 

True, romance is hardly the top priority in the lives of those raising tiny humans together – but just as much as Valentine's Day might be aimed at the yearning and hopeful, it's a good bookmark to check in on where things stand with your partner in the parenting game. 

In 2015, Stats SA found that of the 25 260 marriages that ended in divorce that year, 55,6% involved children younger than 18. But as alarming as stats and data may be, they can also be really useful. 

There is no shortage of studies, surveys and experiments of both successful and unsuccessful marriages – looking at everything from spending and drinking habits to bedroom antics and arguments – all geared at understanding what sets successful unions apart. 

We might not all be cut from the same cloth, and we all have unique lifestyles and issues to deal with. But hey, couldn't hurt learning from decades and decades of research, right? 

Here's a look at what science has to say about what makes a happy, longstanding marriage tick.

1. Greased elbows, happy marriage

Yep, the way to a woman’s heart is through the dishes. 

A 2007 Pew Research Center poll revealed that for 62% of Americans, equally sharing household chores ranked third in response to the question: “What Makes a Marriage work.” 

It came in third place after fidelity and a satisfying sex life.

Yes, seriously. 

During an 8-year study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) it was found that for married couples, the division of household duties like cleaning, cooking and tending to children (or lack thereof) was a significant source of tension, and had a notable impact on the way couples relate to each other on an intimate level. 

2. Two peas in a pod does not necessarily a happy marriage make

Twin flames be damned! Turns out, not sharing similar personality traits is better for marital longevity. In 2007, a 12-year study of longstanding couples aged between 40 and 60 found that the perfect spouse is not (and should not be) an exact replica of ourselves.

In fact, difference in personality was found to be a major contributor to a happy marriage. 

But be warned: For the Gottman Institute, leaders in relationship research since the 1970s, a key shared similarity for couples should be their meta-emotions; how they, as individuals, handle emotions. 

If how we express, convey and process emotion is at odds with our partners’ emotional style, conflict is unavoidable. 

3. Those who save together, stay together 

When it comes to partnering up, people tend to choose a partner with mismatching spending styles to their own, as reported by researchers of the University of Michigan, and that this mismatch often spells disaster for couples. 

The 2009 survey of 1 000 married and unmarried individuals revealed that when it comes to spending, opposites (unfortunately in this instance) really do attract, but that savers and spenders eventually end up clashing over money. 

4. Fights fan the flames of love 

Okay, not exactly. But according to research, fighting should be seen as a component of marriage rather than a problem in itself, and that the positive resolution of a fight inevitably determines marital success or failure. 

In the game-changing study Predicting Marital Happiness and Stability from Newlywed Interactions conducted over 6 years, it was found that if one or both partners are unable to defuse an argument through either empathy, laughing off the issue, or encouraging positive physical touch, marital success was highly unlikely. 

5. Shall we drink? 

It depends on your partner. From 2006 to 2016, more than 2000 married couples over the age of 50 participated in a study focused on their drinking habits

Researchers at the University of Michigan wanted to find out if there was any connection between drinking and marital success, and turns out there is. 

Couples who shared a love of drinking (which made up more than 50% of the participants) reported greater marital happiness than those in which only one partner drank, and that when a woman in a couple was the sole drinker, dissatisfaction was particularly pronounced. 

6. When it comes to sex, 1 is the magic number 

How much is enough and how much is too little? 

In the study Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always Better, Amy Muise and her team of researchers observed that although a higher frequency obviously couldn’t hurt, having sex just once a week was sufficient for marital bliss, and those who did have more sex were not any less or any more happy than the once-a-weekers.  


What's the best and worst advice you've received about marriage since you tied the knot? Email to and we could publish your tips and tricks. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous.  

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