Stephanie Coontz on Redefining our Notions of Love

Stephanie Coontz

What makes for a happy marriage?

Stephanie Coontz, director of research and public education for the Council on Contemporary Families and the author of Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, says the answer lies in understanding that marrying for love is a radical idea.

Coontz notes that little interactions between couples are important indicators of a successful marriage. It reveals how much interest and respect a couple has for each other.

What also counts in a marriage, say Coontz, is how well a couple can manage household duties together. Here, it should come as no surprise that men and women have different understandings of marital satisfaction.

The best predictors for marital satisfaction among men? The answer, perhaps not surprisingly, is how little criticism and how much sex he gets. According to Coontz, that has not changed since the 1960s. What has changed is how he gets it. A modern-day marriage, says Coontz, requires much more give and take—and much more help around the house. One of the predictors of a woman’s happiness in a marriage directly relates to how much a spouse contributes to household and childcare tasks.

Coontz concludes with a win-win situation scenario for each sex: The more that household and childcare duties are split between a couple, the less criticism and more sex that the man is likely to get, and the happier the woman is likely to be.

(Photo credit: Kris Krüg)

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