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What You Don’t Know About Marriage by Jenna McCarthy (Transcript)

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Jenna McCarthy at TED Talks

Full text of author Jenna McCarthy’s talk: What You Don’t Know About Marriage at TED Talks conference.

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Every year in the United States alone, 2,077,000 couples make a legal and spiritual decision to spend the rest of their lives together – and not to have sex with anyone else, ever.

He buys a ring, she buys a dress. They go shopping for all sorts of things. She takes him to Arthur Murray for ballroom dancing lessons. And the big day comes. And they’ll stand before God and family and some guy her dad once did business with, and they’ll vow that nothing, not abject poverty, not life-threatening illness, not complete and utter misery will ever put the tiniest damper on their eternal love and devotion.

These optimistic young bastards promise to honor and cherish each other through hot flashes and mid-life crises and a cumulative 50-pound weight gain, until that far-off day when one of them is finally able to rest in peace. You know, because they can’t hear the snoring anymore.

And then they’ll get stupid drunk and smash cake in each others’ faces and do the Macarena, and we’ll be there showering them with towels and toasters and drinking their free booze and throwing birdseed at them every single time — even though we know, statistically, half of them will be divorced within a decade.

Of course, the other half won’t, right? They’ll keep forgetting anniversaries and arguing about where to spend holidays and debating which way the toilet paper should come off of the roll. And some of them will even still be enjoying each others’ company when neither of them can chew solid food anymore.

And researchers want to know why. I mean, look, it doesn’t take a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to figure out what makes a marriage not work. Disrespect, boredom, too much time on Facebook, having sex with other people.

But you can have the exact opposite of all of those things: respect, excitement, a broken Internet connection, mind-numbing monogamy — and the thing still can go to hell in a hand basket.

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So what’s going on when it doesn’t? What do the folks who make it all the way to side-by-side burial plots have in common? What are they doing right? What can we learn from them? And if you’re still happily sleeping solo, why should you stop what you’re doing and make it your life’s work to find that one special person that you can annoy for the rest of your life?

Well, researchers spend billions of your tax dollars trying to figure that out. They stalk blissful couples and they study their every move and mannerism. And they try to pinpoint what it is that sets them apart from their miserable neighbors and friends. And it turns out, the success stories share a few similarities, actually, beyond they don’t have sex with other people.

Wife thinner, better looking than husband

For instance, in the happiest marriages, the wife is thinner and better looking than the husband. Obvious, right. It’s obvious that this leads to marital bliss because, women, we care a great deal about being thin and good looking, whereas men mostly care about sex … ideally with women who are thinner and better looking than they are.

The beauty of this research though is that no one is suggesting that women have to be thin to be happy. We just have to be thinner than our partners. So instead of all that laborious dieting and exercising, we just need to wait for them to get fat, maybe bake a few pies. This is good information to have, and it’s not that complicated.

Focus on positives

Research also suggests that the happiest couples are the ones that focus on the positives. For example, the happy wife. Instead of pointing out her husband’s growing gut or suggesting he go for a run, she might say, “Wow, honey, thank you for going out of your way to make me relatively thinner.” These are couples who can find good in any situation. “Yeah, it was devastating when we lost everything in that fire, but it’s kind of nice sleeping out here under the stars, and it’s a good thing you’ve got all that body fat to keep us warm.”

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Husband willing to do house work

One of my favorite studies found that the more willing a husband is to do house work, the more attractive his wife will find him. Because we needed a study to tell us this.

But here’s what’s going on here. The more attractive she finds him, the more sex they have; the more sex they have, the nicer he is to her; the nicer he is to her, the less she nags him about leaving wet towels on the bed — and ultimately, they live happily ever after. In other words, men, you might want to pick it up a notch in the domestic department.

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