First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then comes…Love: Choosing Sustained Marital Happiness

First Comes Love, Then Comes Marriage, Then comes…Love: Choosing Sustained Marital Happiness September 15, 2014

Dear Shaunti:

My wife and I have been married for five years, and I’ve had back surgery more pleasant than my marriage is right now. We know most marriages aren’t great, but thought we would be the exception to the rule. But since we’re not, I think it would be best to cut our losses before we have kids, part ways and go on with our lives. I should have listened to my brother and gotten a dog and a gym membership instead. My wife’s parents insist we stick it out and keep saying we’ll be so glad we’ll be if we do. I know it’s your job to go around telling people how great marriage is because you write marriage books, but I need your blunt, honest opinion. Should I waste another year trying to pretend we can beat the odds, or should I start shopping now for a bulldog? I’ve already picked out a collar.

-Barely Hanging On

Dear Barely:

Blunt and honest? You need to change your attitude! No wonder your marriage is circling the bowl. And you need to get your facts straight, while you’re at it.

First, just so you know, you’re dead wrong about “most” marriages being not-so-great. If you’ve had a lot of divorce in your family or you have a lot of friends who got divorced, I could see how it might seem that way, but you’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the whole married population. And guess what? All the studies done – dozens of them – have found that the vast majority of marriages are happy.

The most realistic studies (the ones that compare the answers of the husbands and wives to each other!) find that about a quarter of couples are extremely happy in their marriage, roughly half are generally happy, and only the bottom quarter are where you are: in a marriage that is so-so or struggling. In other words: you’re the exception, not the rule. And if all those other marriages can figure out how to get to a great marriage, you can, too.

Just so you know: It’s not my job to go around “telling people how great marriage is.” I’m a social researcher, and my job is to investigate and report the truth that will make a difference in people’s lives. So you don’t have to take my word for it. When I did the research for my latest book, The Good News About Marriage, I came across tons of data that blows away the misguided notion that marriage is miserable and dying in America. And since I cite it all, including all the URLs, you can look at the facts for yourself. Here’s one example: look up the General Social Survey (GSS) which found that 98 percent of respondents say they are either happy or very happy in their marriage! I could go on and on, but I only have so much space in this column.

Now, you may think this is irrelevant to you and your wife because you’re not happy right now. Think again. In many of these studies –including my own – the happy marriages had not always been that way. Some marriages had hit speed bumps, some had hit brick walls. But one groundbreaking study actually tracked the most miserable couples for years, and found that among those who stuck it out and didn’t “cut their losses,” almost 80 percent were “very happy” five years later!!!

Return the dog collar. I mean it. Right now – get up and return the dog collar and use the money to take your wife to dinner and tell her you’re not going anywhere.

I just destroyed all of your bachelor dreams– and you’re welcome.

You didn’t mention if you’re in marriage counseling or not, but I highly recommend it. If “five years” seems more like a million years, then a counselor can help you set more realistic goals and help you lay out the steps you need to take to get there. If you belong to a church, join a small group with other encouraging and positive couples. And until you’re back on solid ground in your marriage, stay away from any friends (or brothers!) who are encouraging you to do the equivalent of cutting the spinal column of your marriage just because your back hurts. Take that energy and focus on the very real and simple things that will heal you instead. (If you want some ideas, start here.)

On a day to day basis, do whatever will allow you to spend time around happy, healthy couples who can encourage you, model what works (and help you both catch what doesn’t), and give you something to shoot for.

Or, you can bail out on a lifetime of love, companionship and friendship for a buddy who licks himself, does his business on the driveway and will probably only live 12 years, if you’re lucky.

I hope you choose wisely, and that five years from now, toasting your great marriage, you and your wife can go pick out that dog together.

Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.

Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages and her newest, The Good News About Marriage. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her findings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit for more.

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  • z–man

    If he wants to divorce, he better do it now, before they have kids. Otherwise, he’s going to be paying child support. Paying Alimony is like buying oats for a dead horse, but at least that doesn’t last for 18 years.

  • TN_Lizzie

    Dear Barely, there are a few things Shaunti didn’t mention:

    #1: Love is a decision. I decide I will love my husband, at least daily. Do I like putting away shoes and laundry? No, but I love the man who kicked his boots off at the door instead of tracking mud all through the house. I decide I will put his socks in the dirty clothes basket, because I am glad he took them off in my house instead of anywhere else.

    #2: God is interested in your holiness more than He is in your happiness. Happy is an emotion, that can and does change on a whim. Your wife is cooking your favorite casserole for supper, so you’re happy. Supper burns, so you’re not happy. A man who is growing in holiness won’t get ruffled by blackened casserole.

    #3: 5 years is the point for many couples to step back and reconsider their investment in the relationship. The honeymoon is over, and you may be bored. Rather than trade in your wife for a dog, I dare you to invest more of yourself in her life.

    At some point in your life, you decided you loved your girl enough to get married. Did you expect every day would be easy? Sorry – relationships take work, and the more important the relationship, the more you may have to work. So, now is the time to get to it!

    If you’ve seen the movie Fireproof, you know what happens when you glue the salt and pepper shakers together. (That’s marriage) If you separated the two shakers, one or both of you will get broken. Hint: Divorce due to laziness is NOT a recipe for happiness.

    If you haven’t seen the movie, I recommend this for an at-home date-night, asap!

    My marriage is not always happy, but after 22 years, it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever decided to do.

    Your emotions are the shallowest part of you. Marriage is a deep work. God is not going to do His deepest work in your shallowest part.

    Hang in there, Barely. I suspect that Mrs. Barely would step up her game if she knew that she was about to be traded for a dog! Love is worth fighting for!