What’s the best way to secure a long and happy marriage?

Low-key weddings and fewer expectations, according to the dozens of Irish couples interviewed about married life for an RTÉ TV programme

Happily ever after? Lower your expectations and it will all work out. Photograph: iStock

Happily ever after? Lower your expectations and it will all work out. Photograph: iStock

 

Sober couples who have low-key weddings and start out with few expectations about what life has in store for them have the best chance of a long and happy marriage, at least according to someone who spent much of last year interviewing dozens of people who have been married for at least 50 years.

Sally Roden was the producer behind Golden: Our 50 Years of Marriage broadcast on RTÉ Television late last year which told the stories of couples whose relationships have stood the test of time.

“We spoke to an awful lot of couples, including many who didn’t feature in the documentary, and 99 per cent of them told us that when they started out their expectations were so much lower than couples expectations are today,” she said.

“It wasn’t so much about what their relationships were going to be but what life had in store for them. They were happy when they had somewhere to live, when they had a house and everything else was a bonus.”

People seemed to be less driven by material acquisitions, Ms Roden continued. “But now, I think younger people have an underlying belief that stuff matters. I’m pretty sure stuff did not matter to the couples we spoke to. If you see some of the hardship they endured – they lost children, they dealt with ill health and financial struggles. I’m not sure couples today would survive as easily. People nowadays see themselves as having other options and in the past that really wasn’t the case.”

Focus on romance

Ms Roden also said couples of past generations tended to marry younger than people do today and so lacked life experience. “I don’t think many of them have put a huge amount of emphasis on romance.”

I do think that people put more pressure on themselves to acquire more now and that was noticeable during the boom

She said when she started making the programme her plan was to devote a significant portion to the couples’ weddings “but we dropped that idea almost immediately because it became very clear very quickly that they didn’t put a whole load of emphasis on the weddings or the trimmings”.

She said the one constant among virtually all the couples she spoke to was – those featured in the programme and those who did not – was the fact that they were teetotal. “So many people said it was the great blessing of their marriage.”

Religion and shame

Dr Mark Harrold is a clinical psychologist and he warned against drawing too many inferences from anecdotes. “I do think that people put more pressure on themselves to acquire more now and that was noticeable during the boom but it is unwise to make generalisations as every relationship and every person is different.”

He did suggest that one reason why the older relationships might have endured was the religion-induced societal shame attached to the alternative. “One thing that has certainly changed is that there is no judgement attached to couples when relationship break down. When the church had a vice-like grip on society anyone who strayed outside the mores of the time struggled.”