Five minutes could save your marriage

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Five minutes could save your marriage

The headline “Marriage is a bit like a bed sheet that can never be straightened” caught my eyes as I read the newspaper a few days ago. The intriguing title made me read an entire interview with Alain de Botton, a Swiss-born British writer particularly popular among female Korean readers.

“When we seek to perfect or ameliorate one side of it, we may succeed only in further wrinkling and disturbing the other,” the writer says. So, you should not pursue perfection in marriage, the logic goes.

But almost everyone dreams of a perfect marriage; all marriages begin with a passionate pledge “to love and to cherish ’till death do us part.” But the shelf life of passion seems to be only two years. That’s probably how human brains are programmed.

Prof. Richard Lucas at Michigan State University surveyed 24,000 Germans over 15 years and concluded that the sense of happiness established by marriage shrinks over time until returning to the premarital state after two years. So, Lucas claimed that a couple’s initial passion should be converted into affection, care, compassion and partnership in order for love to last. But this is not as easy as it sounds.

Many couples say things that hurt each other. Some even cross a line and say things that should never be uttered no matter how horrible a fight may seem. Instead of giving compliments and encouragement, they hurt each other with constant belittling and insulting remarks. It is only natural to grow tired of nagging and become dissatisfied.

Indifference often leads to severed communications, and when the spouse turns into an enemy, people consider divorce. Though deciding to end a marriage is never easy, it is the reality for more and more people.

In 2011, 329,000 couples married and 114,300 divorced in Korea. For almost every three marriage certificates, a divorce decree was signed. The number of divorces per 1,000 people in Korea is 2.3, one of the highest such figures in the world. And in particular, the divorce rate for couples 55 years of age or older is growing rapidly.

But all hope is not lost. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, succinctly illustrates the impact that five minutes of attention can make in her book, “The How of Happiness.” Every morning, if you think about how to make your partner happy for just five minutes, married people can maintain the elevated level of happiness they had on their wedding day, she advises.

It is not grand strategies that will solve the problem of divorce. Rather, it’s the simple ones like a welcoming greeting, warm smile, caring glance, attentive listening, a pat on the back, an embrace or holding hands that make all the difference.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Bae Myung-bok
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