Couples, lots of sex is the best cement- psychotherapist Chris Hart

Bad sex can ruin a relationship
  • Bad sex can be a deal breaker, because good sex - lots of it - is the best cement there is for holding relationships together
  • Not having clearly agreed goals is another deal breaker. Like when to start a family. Or whether to go back to school
  • Happy couples also need to spend a lot of time together. Doing chores together, eating together and preparing for bed

Marriages have been getting a bad rap lately giving the illusion that they are plagued with boundless problems.

Chris Hart, a counselling psychotherapist, explains how to get that awe-inspiring beautiful marriage.

SUNDAY: Is it just me, or is the idea of marriage falling apart these days?

Chris Hart: 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 that 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.

So when couples come to me for counselling, it's usually about getting past bad behaviours like that.

And that's almost always possible, because couples rarely set out to be unkind to one another. 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 does psychology say 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.

So, for example, my experience is that happy couples are always completely open and honest with each other, and share every aspect of their lives.

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.

That sounds really difficult! 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.

Couples also need to learn to share their thoughts without criticising, or giving each other a hard time. Or telling anyone else.

Because if you know you're likely to get your head bitten off, or worry that your partner might gossip, then you'll start editing what you tell them. And so the seeds of distrust begin to grow.

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.

But what about people who insist on doing their own thing financially?

That's a deal breaker, in my opinion. So if financially independence is that important to you, then you shouldn't marry.

Because to be happily married, you need to be comfortable running your finances together. That means managing your incomes, expenses, savings and investments as if you were the director of a small organisation. Which is what you are - Mr and Mrs Ltd!

In my experience, nothing but unhappiness comes from keeping financial secrets in a modern marriage.

 Though many couples do agree small private allowances for each other, so what she spends on shoes is her business, for example, or what he spends on drinks for his mates. But all the bills, investments and so on are managed together.

Are there any other deal breakers like that?

Oh yes! 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.

Not putting each other first's another.

Because your relationship must come first in your priorities, before work, friends, parents, your wider family, even your children.

Happy couples also need to spend a lot of time together. Doing chores together, eating together and preparing for bed. Some of that time they need to be alone together, so they can talk over important matters.

They also schedule longer times for themselves. Nothing expensive - maybe just a day when the kids go to see grandma. But that time alone gives them the chance to unwind and reconnect.

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!