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Marriage is the process by which two people make their relationship public, official, and permanent. It is the joining of two people in a bond that putatively lasts until death, but in practice is often cut short by separation or divorce.

How to Make Marriage Work

Marriage brings great joy to many but it also brings challenges, often profound ones. How a couple manages them often determines whether their relationship collapses or holds firm. Preserving long-term connection may require one or both partners to jettison misguided beliefs or dysfunctional habits that they themselves hold, while bearing in mind that trying to change a spouse tends to fail unless the individual also wants to change.

How does marriage change people?

Marriage does more than change people’s living situation and daily routines; becoming a spouse appears to change one’s personality as well, especially in the early years of marriage. Men, for example, tend to become more conscientious and introverted than they were when single, and women more emotionally stable. But both tend to become less agreeable.

What are the strongest signs that a marriage will succeed?

Relationship researchers John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman maintain that couples reveal the state of their bond in the way they speak about each other. Specifically, they refer to each other fondly; use “we” more than “I’ when speaking about their relationship; speak expansively and with detail about their past together; and express pride in surviving challenges rather than dwelling on their problems.

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Sex in Marriage

A core aspect of marriage is the commitment to have sexual relations with only one partner for the rest of one’s life. Sex tends to be a highly positive aspect of most couples’ early days together, but like any other aspect of a relationship, struggles inevitably arise. Physical and emotional issues may change how one or both partners feel about the frequency or style of physical intimacy in a relationship or fuel insecurity that manifests as anger or avoidance. Learning how to address sexual concerns together honestly and openly, experts agree, is the key to maintaining intimacy long-term, but that’s often easier said than done.

What is the biggest challenge to satisfying sex in marriage?

Couples that have open discussions about their sexual concerns are the most satisfied with their relationships, but many partners endure unsatisfying sex for years just to avoid such conversations. Individuals may worry that sexual concerns could threaten the relationship, hurt a partner’s feelings, or upset their own self-image. Finding the courage to speak openly about sex, though, should only strengthen a bond.

What if one person wants to have sex more often?

An estimated 80 percent of couples experience discrepancies in desire at some point. Couples high in sexual communal strength, or the motivation to meet each other’s sexual needs, tend to navigate these challenges more successfully. They are less focused on the negatives of sex than the benefits to their partner of feeling loved and desired, and the benefits to themselves of being in a happy relationship. More persistent differences in desire may be best addressed with a therapist.

How We Find Partners

The choice of spouse is among the most important decisions most people ever make, but it’s a choice that comes with no guarantees of long-term happiness. The science of relationships offers some insights into how successful partners tend to find each other, but whether or not a marriage will last ultimately depends on the specific characteristics of the individuals deciding to unite.

What do partners need to know about each other before getting married?

Love and sexual chemistry are not always enough to sustain a marriage. Experts urge couples to learn as much about each other’s values and priorities as possible before becoming engaged, such as how they approach chores, money, and work, what their triggers and past traumas are, and whether they hold traditional notions about gender roles in marriage.

Can marriage succeed with a partner who’s much older or younger?

In surveys, heterosexual men and women express preferences for relationships in which the male is two to three years older than the female, but, contrary to stereotypes, many couples with more significant age differences also thrive. Individuals within the relationship may perceive each other's age differently than outsiders and some people may choose partners based on factors other than age.

Monogamy vs. Polygamy
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Most marriages are monogamous, based on a romantic commitment to only one mate. Polygamy is the practice of being married to more than one person at a time; men with multiple wives engage in polygyny, and women with multiple husbands engage in polyandry. In polygamous relationships, the primary, or first, wife or husband tends to have more power than other, younger spouses. In some polygamous unions, the spouses live in the same household, while in others, separate homes are maintained.

How did people become monogamous?

Human cultures generally did not embrace monogamy until the rise of monotheistic religions and the rise of urban communities. Before that, mankind was primarily polygamous. Evolutionary biologists believe that men being larger than women, dying younger, and being more interested in mating with multiple partners are all remnants of millennia of polygamy.

How common is polygamy today?

Polygamy remains an accepted or tolerated practice in some parts of the world, primarily in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. It is illegal in the United States and Europe, due in part to concerns over coercion and child marriage, even though it is often portrayed in pop culture, in shows like Sister Wives and Big Love. But polyamory, or consensual nonmonogamy, is much more common in those regions than elsewhere.

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