If you ask philosopher Alain de Botton, spouses should take comfort in the fact that they piss each other off every now and then.
It could just be a sign that a marriage is running smoothly.
In a recent op-ed for the New York Times, entitled "Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person," de Botton challenges the romantic notion that successful marriages contain no conflict.
People can't be perfect for one another, he argues. Suffering is inevitable, which means the only important choice is " which particular variety of suffering we would most like to sacrifice ourselves for."
As bleak as this premise may seem, de Botton argues that his philosophy is actually liberating for couples. People who embrace their significant other's flaws -- and stay mindful of their own imperfections -- don't get nearly as upset when their partner does something offensive like forget a birthday or leave dirty clothes on the floor.
"It might sound odd," he writes, "but pessimism relieves the excessive imaginative pressure that our romantic culture places upon marriage. The failure of one particular partner to save us from our grief and melancholy is not an argument against that person and no sign that a union deserves to fail or be upgraded."
De Botton's pessimism has research on its side -- relationship psychologist Dr. John Gottman has repeatedly determined that successful marriages necessarily include fights.
Gottman published a study in 1998 suggesting that 15-minute video tapes of couples' conversations held enough clues to predict whether they'd get divorced with 83% accuracy. Later, Gottman published additional research that bumped the rate up to 91% after just five minutes of observation.
His main observations about relationship pitfalls have since been distilled into the so-called "Four Horsemen": four behavioral patterns that can signal an unsustainable partnership. Those negative indicators include acts of contempt, such as eye-rolling; accusations against the other person; stonewalling techniques; and absolute declarations like "You always leave the seat up" or "You never help with the garbage."
Learning to avoid these behaviors is crucial, Gottman has found, because the way in which couples handle disagreements may be the biggest predictor of a relationship's durability.
"Many couples tend to equate a low level of conflict with happiness and believe the claim 'we never fight' is a sign of marital health," Gottman wrote in Psychology Today in 1994 . "But I believe we grow in our relationships by reconciling our differences. That's how we become more loving people and truly experience the fruits of marriage."
Both de Botton's philosophy and Gottman's research echo the same truth: Marriages inevitably involve disagreements because people are naturally flawed. The two also agree that the manner in which people attempt to resolve those differences says more about their compatibility than whether conflict arises in the first place.
"Compatibility is an achievement of love," de Botton writes. "It must not be its precondition."
So suffer -- you're bound to. But for the sake of your relationship, make sure you're suffering productively.
It’s no secret that marriage takes work. After all, we’re only human, and humans make mistakes, have bad days.
Nevertheless, some couples are able to foster happy, healthy, totally awesome marriages that actually do last a lifetime. How? The following are some secrets to marital success.
1. Be nice.
Choose kindness whenever you can — you should be AT LEAST as nice to your spouse as you would a stranger or you were when you started dating.
2. Enjoy each other’s company.
My wife and I are each other’s best friend. We like each other’s company. We like having fun. We like doing stuff together. We are honest and direct with one another.
3. Say I love you as much as possible.
Overuse ‘I love you’. Seriously. Just say it to him/her like five times and MEAN IT. This lets your SO know that you care. Look at them and say ‘I love you so much, you mean the world to me, I appreciate all the things you do for me and our family.’
4. Be honest.
Be honest about shit that pisses you off, don’t sweat the small stuff, and have good sex.
5. Limit outside influences.
Out of state in-laws.
6. Small tokens of love go a long way.
Lots of wee lovings. Frequent demonstrations, in the form of gifts, and expressions of affection, which indicate your emotional addiction.
7. Distance can and will make the heart grow fonder.
Have alone time. I believe that it helps if you or your partner goes away for a couple of hours, a weekend or maybe a week once in a while. My wife travels to Europe every four months and I get to play video games and eat fried dumplings all day long and I enjoy it — until day four at which I start missing her and wish she was here. So when I pick her up from the airport we are both happy to see each other again.
8. Be realistic.
Me and my wife constantly acknowledge what we love about one another, but also we never forget about the 80/20 rule. No one person will ever give you a 100 percent of what you need, we estimate that we each give each other about 80 percent of what the other person needs in a relationship. Recognizing this allows you see the reality of your partnership and not over-romanticize it.
9. Cherish each other.
Don’t forget how important the little things are, like a hug or a compliment. Don’t take each other for granted.
10. Be your own person.
One must understand the importance of we, but also remember there will always be a you and I. It’s so easy to the think of yourselves as one person once you get married or start dating. But you always have to remember that you’re both completely separate individuals in that, as close and as similar you are, you will have differences in opinion and taste.
11. Build a strong foundation of friendship.
You have to be friends. Your husband or wife should be someone that you’d want to hang out with. Of course you have to have the sexual aspect but that’s not enough to sustain a relationship. You’re going to go through hard times and you need someone who you want to spend your time with.
12. Know that relationships are a two way street.
Be honest about what you want and need and listen to your spouse about what they want and need.
No marriage is perfect — and that’s okay.
Understand that nothing is perfect forever. There are going to be disagreements. There will be times when your partner says or does something that hurts you. The happy relationships will talk about it and work through it. The bad relationships will let it stew until it becomes an even bigger problem.