There’s a saying that all happy couples are the same, but every unhappy couple is unhappy in its own way. Which may or may not be true—but what are the common threads? And how do we even know if we’re one of the “happy” couples?
The best way to gain some insight in your marriage is to know how it compares to other people’s—it’s what we all secretly want to know, and use as a barometer to judge our own unions. Still, it’s difficult to separate dinner-party appearances from reality.
Enter The Normal Bar: The Surprising Secrets of Happy Couples and What They Reveal About Creating a New Normal In Your Relationship. The book, written by a writer and two sociology professors, consists of the results of an online survey answered by over 25,000 respondents. The questions—and there are over 1,000 of them—delve into every last crevice in the marriages of strangers. It’s like they rounded up all the couples in your neighborhood and got them to spill their deepest secrets, and then compiled them into a book.
Here’s a roundup of the most surprising findings.
The No. 1 thing all couples want more of isn’t sex…it’s communication.
According to 28% of the “unhappy” men surveyed, their biggest gripe was that their partners don’t talk or listen to them attentively enough. More affection came in second, and sex was third.
For unhappy women, the complaints weren’t all that different: 40% wanted more communication, with affection coming in second. Third place was more financial security.
For happy couples, the results were similar—25% of women wanted more communication, while the same number of men wanted more sex.
Men are more bothered by a lack of romance than women.
Globally, more women than men feel romance-deprived. But more than a third more men than women said it bothered them “a lot” that their significant other wasn’t more romantic. Both genders agreed on what constituted “romance”—the attempt to create a special occasion with some privacy, excitement, sex, and feelings of deep connectedness.
The one thing almost all happy couples have in common is date night.
According to the book, “the vast majority of couples who describe themselves as extremely happy also take care to spend time together alone, away from family and work routines. Even after marriage, in other words, they ‘date.’ And those dates boost their intimacy and happiness.”
We think we’re good communicators. We aren’t.
“When we asked men and women if they thought they communicated well in their relationships, 90% of men and 92% of women rated themselves as good to great communicators.” Of course, “when we asked women if they consider their partners to be good communicators, 30% said no way! And one-fourth of men said they are very dissatisfied with their partners’ communication skills.”
We care very deeply about our partners’ weight.
“When asked if they liked their partner’s current weight, 40% of both men and women said no. When asked if they’d mind their partners gaining weight, 54% of men said they would mind, and 42% of women agreed.” And overall, “more than 68% of all respondents said they [themselves] would like to lose some weight.” The correlation between insecurity about weight and unsatisfying sex was clear—of the respondents who said they’re dissatisfied with their sex lives, 83% said they think they’re too heavy.
Having more money does NOT make for a happier relationship.
The respondents were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being extremely unhappy and nine being extremely happy as a couple, and “about 72% of respondents registered in the upper scale of happiness—with almost no correlation to financial income. If anything, the richest couples in our study were marginally less likely to be happy.”
But we THINK it will.
The question, “Do you wish you were in a committed relationship with someone who makes more money than your partner does?” led to 35% of women and 23% of men answering “yes”—a pretty substantial amount.
We lie to our friends about how happy we are.
More than half of the respondents (53%) who classified themselves as “unhappy” or “slightly happy” in their relationships admit that they also pretend to be happy when talking to friends. And 39% of the people who are “downright miserable” hide their unhappiness from their social circles.
We lie to our partners about everything else.
A whopping 75% of men and 71% of women said they lie to their partners to some degree. Only 27% said they never ever lie. Granted, lying doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship is unhappy—even among the extremely happy couples, 69% said they’ve lied to their partners at some point.
Temptation—it’s a bitch.
48% of women and 69% of men said that “if they were propositioned to have sex by someone they were attracted to” (and that someone was not their spouse), they would be tempted to act on it. Granted, “tempted to act” isn’t the same thing as “will act.” But the old “people cheat because they can” adage certainly comes to mind.
The biggest reason people cheat? Boredom.
Boredom was the reason 71% of unfaithful men and 49% of unfaithful women gave for acting on sexual temptation with another person. So yeah—fear monotony in the bedroom.
But through it all, we would risk our lives for our spouses (or at least, we say we will)
When the question, “Imagine a situation where you’d have to possibly sacrifice your own life to save your partner’s life; would you?” was posed, 78% of women and 93% of men said “yes.”