Couples Who Have Been Married 20 Years Are The Happiest, Study Finds

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

If I had to guess what the one relationship question that's asked more often than any other is, my money would be on this classic query: "What's the secret to a happy marriage?" As much as we all want to believe that there's one easy, foolproof way to ensure marital bliss, the reality is that forever is an awfully long time to spend with someone, and life's ups and downs will make certain that marriage isn't always an easy ride (no matter how much you love each other).

But when can married couples expect to experience the *most* marital bliss, generally speaking? While you might assume that the honeymoon phase would be the most idyllic part of any marriage, a new study has found that newlyweds might actually have to wait a while for their happiest married days to come.

For the study, researchers from Pennsylvania State University and Brigham Young University analyzed the marriages of 2,034 couples (with an average age of 35-37) and how their marital satisfaction changed over the years. Somewhat surprisingly, they found that married couples were actually happiest not at the very beginning of their marriage, but when they reached the 20-year (!!) mark in their relationship. Not only did they spend more time doing activities together than younger couples, but they also had a "deeper sense of appreciation" for one another, the study found.

"As our values change and deepen, we are often able to let go of some of the petty things that had us bogged down when we were younger."

"After 20 years of marriage, we’ve seen friends divorce, parents pass away, people get sick... I think a couple starts to have a real sense of what’s important in life," relationship therapist Aimee Hartstein, LCSW, tells Bustle. "If the couple is solid to begin with, they can really grow to appreciate and value one another as they witness some of life’s hardships. As our values change and deepen, we are often able to let go of some of the petty things that had us bogged down when we were younger."

The more experiences — both good and bad — that you successfully navigate through with someone over the years, the stronger and happier your marriage can become. That's not to mention that, over the course of two decades, you also have tons of time to hone your communication skills and learn how to work through issues with your spouse — as well as let go of some of the problems that might have plagued your marriage early on.

"By the time a couple is married that long, they have obviously decided not to divorce during the early years of their marriage," Hartstein says. "Also, by the time a couple hits 20 years, they have hopefully worked through some of their big areas of contention. All couples fight, and often have the same fights over and over! By the time 20 years has passed, many of those fights have lost their intense edge. We may still be annoyed at our partner for A, B, C — and even still argue about it — but we are generally not as easily triggered or enraged."

Essentially, couples who've been married for a longer time amount of time have an advantage when it comes to being happier, simply because they've had more time: time to move past their early relationship issues, and time to figure out how to grow together during conflict, rather than growing apart.

However, none of this is to say that newlyweds or younger married couples can't be equally happy *before* they reach that 20-year mark. Because at the end of the day, the secret to a happy marriage at any stage in life is simple: make an active effort to be a good partner, communicate, and never stop working on keeping your connection and your marriage strong.