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What Is a Happy Marriage?

by Dr. Barb DePree

A couple of weeks ago, I talked about an article I’d seen about how sexual intimacy is linked to marital happiness. The research, by Adena M. Galinsky and Linda J. Waite, found that continued healthy sex-lives help couples dealing with physical illness, especially chronic health problems.

Couples who had sex frequently (and sex was defined broadly—it didn’t need to include vaginal intercourse) were more likely to say they had a good relationship.

"Happiness, not in another place, but this place... this hour."This is, of course, a chicken and egg: More sex doesn’t automatically make a relationship good. It’s more likely—and perfectly reasonable—that an unsatisfying relationship will include less sex. And the women I meet through my practice as well as the rest of life show me that this is often a time when our relationships get some re-evaluation.

Sometimes it’s the empty nest, and the change in schedules and priorities that comes with it. Sometimes it’s retirement, for one or both partners, which means a lot more together time. Sometimes it’s the stress of caring for aging parents along with everything else. Whatever the prompt, when some of us look at our relationships, we say, “Is this really what I want?”

So it was interesting to me to read the details of the Galinsky Waite study, to see how they measured the quality of relationships. These are the questions they asked:

  • How close do you feel your relationship with your partner is?
  • How often can you open up with your partner if you want to talk about worries?
  • How often can you rely on your partner for help with a problem?
  • How often does your partner make too many demands?
  • How often does your partner criticize you?
  • How happy is your relationship with your partner?
  • Do you like to spend your free time together, separately, or some of both?
  • How emotionally satisfying is your relationship?
  • How often does your partner get on your nerves?

If you’re feeling some vague discontent, those questions might help you with a conversation with your partner—or with a couples therapist if you decide some outside perspective and coaching would be helpful. If you’re feeling angry, or resentful, or isolated in your relationship, it’s no surprise that you’re not feeling sexy.

And you deserve to.


  • It sounds like you have tried the gamut. I’m heading out to a women’s health conference later this week. Today I was reviewing the meeting agenda and syllabus. One of the topics is sexual health and one particular slide in the deck stood out to me, and I thought of your post, this is what it said:

    Critical to the Survival of a Relationship
    When sex is good, it adds 15-20% additional value to a relationship
    When sex is bad/non-existent, it plays an inordinately powerful role in draining the relationship of all positive value, about 50-70%
    (it then cites the author/journal)

    I think this is exactly what you are now experiencing, the draining effects on the relationship in the absence of intimacy/sex. I’m not sure what else to suggest that you haven’t already tried. It underscores the significance of ‘desire discrepancy’ and the impact on a relationship. A friend recently shared his frustration with the lack of interest/intimacy from his wife, he then commented that over the years he has wondered why marriages that had survived 20 – 30 years fell apart, he acknowledged that he now had a different perspective and understanding of the possible issues.

    Dr. Barb on

  • I have been married to my second husband for 20 years. He is dedicated, thoughtful, helpful with the household-he cooks and shops and will run a vacuum. He just retired. We have not had any intimacy or sexual activity for the past 8 years. We have tried pills,gels, injections, physical exams and sex therapy-2sessions. He says he really has no interest. I have mourned the loss of intimacy continually and do feel I deserve it. I have though often about leaving. we get along as roommates. I try to fulfill my sexual self by myself….but not feeling fulfilled or desired. Not sure what to do next.

    Eva on

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