What Makes a Happy Marriage? Lust, Laughter and Loyalty

I came across an article on the BBC by Adam Gopnik called “Is there a secret to a happy marriage?” and naturally I was curious. Now, I’m not married, but I think you can substitute “marriage” with “relationship” and the advice would still hold.

Gopnik starts off by saying that “Anyone who tells you their rules for a happy marriage doesn’t have one. There’s a truth universally acknowledged, or one that ought to be anyway.” But while reading Charles Darwin’s list of pros and cons on the idea of marriage, Gopnick thought about his own years of married life and came to a formula for a happy marriage.

You can find an excellent summary of Darwin’s thought process on Brain Pickings, but some of his reasons against marriage were:

  1. Limited Means. Feel duty to work for money.
  2. Freedom to go where one liked.
  3. Travel. Europe, yes? America????
  4. Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle.
  5. Anxiety & responsibility.

His reasons for marriage included:

  1. Children.
  2. Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one.
  3. Charms of music & female chit-chat.
  4. Object to be beloved & played with.
  5. Better than a dog anyhow.
  6. Home & someone to take care of house.

Clearly Darwin was clear on his priorities, particularly on how a wife is better than a dog. In the end, he decided to indeed marry his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and as Gopnik writes, they had a great marriage. “As he lay dying in 1882, the distinguished scientist, who had irrevocably altered the consciousness of the world, and knew it, said simply: ‘My love, my precious love.'”

After considering marriage, Gopnick says:

Marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty – but the three have to be kept in constant passage, transitively, back and forth, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise….The trick is that marriage is played upon a tilted field, and everything flows downhill towards loyalty.


Lust and laughter need no explanation. You have to physically want your partner, be attracted to them. And you should enjoy your time with them. They need to be someone you can laugh with, even during the bad moments.

Loyalty is the interesting element. Gopnik says, “Marriages from which lust fled decades ago, and laughter became hollow back in the 1990s, but which continue to run on loyalty alone….Loyalty alone can sustain a marriage, but not happily, and not for long.” Loyalty is the absolute necessity that no marriage can do with out, but it is not sufficient for a happy marriage.

Several people commented on this article, and one noted the absence of love in Gopnik’s happy marriage formula. However, I think that romantic love is strongly implied. What differentiate my feelings for my significant other from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers are that all three elements are present: lust, laughter and loyalty. I am loyal to my friends and family and have a lot of good times, but clearly there is the absence of lust (as there very well should be where family is concerned!). I can have a lot of laughs with, and possibly even lust for, acquaintances and strangers I just met, but I would be lying if I said I felt any loyalty to them. My boyfriend is the only person I can say I have lust for, laugh with and am loyal to, and coincidentally, I’d also say I love him.

So…while Gopnick doesn’t specifically mention love as the secret to a happy marriage, I think it has a strong presence in his equation. What do you think?

African Pygmy Hedgehog(LOVE this! And I want! )