By Aaron Earls
As millions of Americans celebrate love this Valentine’s Day, there are several statistical facts that can help a marriage start off healthy and stay that way for the long run.
Here are 11 tips to keep your marriage healthy.
1. Use premarital counseling. If you aren’t married yet, make sure you include this in your marriage preparation. Research finds couples are 31 percent less likely to get divorced if they have some pre-marriage training.
2. Don’t live together before marriage. While some may claim cohabitation is needed to test compatibility, it actually increases the likelihood couples divorce before their 20th anniversary.
Women who refrain from living with their future husband have a 57 percent probability the marriage will last at least two decades. Those who cohabitate decrease the likelihood of a lasting marriage to 46 percent. The same trends hold true for men.
3. Don’t assume divorce is inevitable. You shouldn’t even assume half of marriages fail. In reality, nearly three-quarters of currently married people (72 percent) are still with their first spouse.
4. Make church attendance a priority. Couples who regularly go to church together report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t. More than 3 in 4 regularly attending couples (78 percent) say they are “very happy” or “extremely happy” in their relationship.
5. Pray together. Almost 8 in 10 couples who pray together almost every week or more (78 percent) say they are “very happy” or “extremely happy” in their relationship. By comparison, only 61 percent who prayed less frequently report the same level of happiness.
6. Be involved in your church. Having friends who also attend religious services increases a couple’s likelihood of happiness. More than three-quarters of couples who have friends who attend church with them (76 percent) say they are very or extremely happy.
Among regular churchgoing individuals who divorce, 7 in 10 report attending church once a week or more three months prior to their separation. For those in healthy marriages, the weekly attendance is 87 percent.
7. Sweat the small stuff. Social researcher Shaunti Feldhahn says small things really matter. “By far the biggest surprise to me was how big these little things were,” she says.
Simple day-to-day habits like saying “thank you,” showing affection, leaving a voice mail or sending a text to say “I love you,” or praising a spouse in public were commonplace among the happiest couples.
8. Think the best, but don’t expect perfection from your spouse. Even in the midst of an argument, 99 percent of highly happy couples believe their spouse cares for them. Among struggling couples, only 59 percent believe that to be the case.
Fewer than half of happy couples (46 percent) are bothered when their spouse doesn’t live up to their expectations, while 3 of 4 struggling couples (75 percent) say they are upset by it.
9. Try to outdo each other. Among Feldhahn’s highly happy couples, most were competitive at trying to serve their spouse and family. If one has a hard week or has taken extra responsibilities, the other tries to pay them back.
Feldhahn says happy couples try to keep score; they just keep score differently. They look to be the one who serves the most.
10. Fight smart. It’s not that happy couples never argue, but they fight differently than those who are struggling. Happy couples may go to bed upset, but they deal with any hurt feelings that remain when both people are thinking more clearly.
Happy couples also have a signal to let the other person know things will be fine. Seven in 10 happy couples say they have a “we’re OK” signal after they fight. Only 22 percent of struggling couples have a similar signal.
11. Ditch “Plan B.” Feldhahn says the happiest couples are “all in” and have no backup plan in case the marriage doesn’t work out. She says many newlyweds think they need to keep a separate bank account or set aside a nest egg in case their marriage fails. That’s counterproductive, she says.
“The act of trying to protect yourself—in case it all goes wrong—is more likely to make it all go wrong,” she says.
Aaron is the senior writer at Lifeway Research.