Marriage is definitely under pressure nowadays, particularly among graduates. Like right now, career oriented individuals - especially women - are often still single into their late 30s. And many will probably never marry, or have children.
They say that's because modern marriage is so hard, and divorce so common. But a good marriage is still the best thing that ever happens to you. Successful couples are far happier than any other group in society. So the real question is why are some marriages so much better than others.
Is that something to do with declining moral standards?
No, I don't think so. There've always been good and bad people in society - and always will be. Couples usually become unhappy because they do bad things to one another. Drink too much, abuse or neglect one another, fight, flirt, you name it. They've just developed some bad habits, which have undermined the relationship. Find what's causing those, and they'll soon be back on track.
So what are the fundamentals of a happy marriage?
A happy marriage is basically all about attitudes. Because happy couples have very different attitudes to those that are unhappy. Like successful couples have figured out that getting married means a fundamental shift in your viewpoint. From a single's 'Me' to a couple's 'We.' Relationships only go well if you're willing to merge your whole life enthusiastically with your partner's. While couples who're always hiding something from one another, are never truly happy. Good couples communicate well and think like team players. They can truly be themselves with each other, and constantly share everything about each other's lives, jobs, schedules, problems and goals.
Can two people really be that open? Aren't there some things you need to keep private?
Yes it is difficult! Most people aren't honest with anyone at all. Not their friends, their parents, colleagues or children. And often for very good reasons! But the one person you can be honest with is your spouse - and it's a wonderful feeling having someone like that in your life
So make sure you choose the right one! Don't even think of marrying someone who's secretive about their time or money. Or their friends. Or who won't talk about their emotions. They won't change, and your marriage will never truly be happy.
But what about being independent? That sounds like you can't have a life of your own once you're married!
The idea that you need to be completely independent and autonomous is a real problem in modern marriage. It's come about because we're now spending more of our lives living on our own. And so we get used to doing whatever we want without reference to anyone else. No one ever thought like that in the past, and it creates lots of problems in marriage.
Successful couples create a new balance. Their lives are completely shared, but they also do their own thing. They still have their own friends and interests. And spend time alone. But none of it's secret. You know each other's friends. And how you're spending your time.
But that still doesn't mean sharing every thought that passes through your mind. Like most couples keep their thoughts about their mother-in-law's cooking to themselves!
So what does completely sharing your life really mean?
It means that you do the fundamental things as if you were one person instead of two. Supporting and encouraging each other in your shared and individual goals. So I often tell struggling couples that they're not really married if they don't merge their finances. Or have a good sex life together. Which means being able to talk about both openly.
Are there any other deal breakers?
Bad sex can be a deal breaker, because good sex - lots of it - is the best cement there is for holding relationships together. So make it work for you and not someone else! Few couples realise just how important sex is to a happy relationship. So they don't make enough time for intimacy. While the best couples always have that little spark going between them.
Not having clearly agreed goals is another deal breaker. Like when to start a family. Or whether to go back to school.
You mentioned bad habits. What's that about?
It's all those bad things you brought with you into the relationship. Or which develop over time. Like going on behaving like you're still single. You have to drop friends who're still leading a single life - whether or not they have a marriage certificate - or they'll get you into all sorts of mischief! Instead, you need to develop good habits. Like socialising as a couple with other couples. Like saying 'I love you,' and 'Thank you' to each other, every single day, and never taking each other for granted. Like being positive. Smiling, complimenting each other, and seeing the good in your life. No one wants to live with someone who only ever sees the downsides in everything. Like not trying to change each other. You and your partner are unique. So accept your differences, and find ways to turn them into strengths. There's nothing better in life than loving someone for who they really are. Like learning to listen. Always giving your partner a chance to speak before jumping in with a reply. Most problems can be resolved by listening well. Because marriage is never about being right. It's about understanding.
That all sounds wonderful. But things do still go wrong, don't they?
Of course! So couples have to learn to deal with disputes and disasters. To learn from every fight, and once it's over, to let it go. And to go into discussions looking for solutions rather than wanting to get even or take control. Good relationships aren't win-lose battles. They're win-win partnerships.
Separate difficult discussions from everyday life, by agreeing when to talk about them rather than ambushing one another. So that the rest of the time you can enjoy yourselves without worrying about a row erupting.
Admit when you're wrong, and acknowledge when your partner's upset. Just saying 'I'm sorry!' can calm everything down. And if your spouse's angry about something you're doing? Fix it. Commit yourself to actions that resolve the issue. And when your spouse apologises for something, really forgive them. Understand what forgiveness really is - it's understanding that 'there but for the grace of God go I.' Practice forgiving the small stuff, and you'll be able to resolve bigger things if you need to. And live happily ever after!