There are a lot of factors that we can probably agree contribute to marital happiness—communication, stress, quality time, and intimacy, just to name a few—but is there such a thing as a formula that can predict the success of your marriage?
Yes, according to a series of studies done in the 1970s. And it’s a simple formula at that:
frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels
Work out the number for the past week or month. Is it a positive number? You’re in the clear. Negative? You may be heading for trouble. The formula came from a few studies—one, looking at married couples at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, found that almost all self-described happy couples had sex more often than they argued, while all the self-described unhappy couples argued more than they had sex. A small study of 26 couples in 1974 had similar results—all 23 self-described happy couples had sex more, and all 3 self-described unhappy couples argued more.
Of course, we don’t recommend making any rash relationship decisions based off your score. John Howard and Robyn Dawes, the researchers behind the 1974 study, make a good point when discussing their findings in “Linear Prediction of Marital Happiness”:
“If a previously positive difference shifted to a negative score, the couple would at least be forewarned, and might seek the cause (and cure) of their problems.”
And if you’re thinking of solving your arguments by just having more sex, think again. Howard and Dawes do admit that correlation does not imply causation—and even if it did, there’s the whole chicken-or-egg argument to consider, too: Do you fight more because you have less sex or do you have less sex because you’re fighting more? Howard and Dawes caution, “It does not, for example, follow that we can increase marital happiness of people who argue a lot by encouraging them to have intercourse more often–but it would be an interesting technique to try.”