(By Mark van Dijk, republished with permission from ChangeExchange.co.za)

Roses are red, violets are blue… is living happily ever after something anyone can do? We explore the research to find out what makes a married couple stay together.

It’s one of the oldest and most enduring questions in human history: what do you need to do to make sure your marriage works? While humanity is still asking the question, science is helping us get closer to the truth. Here are six things that, according to research, you can do to increase your chances of living happily ever after:

“There’s enough scientific evidence to suggest that if you make a few small changes, you and your spouse can at least stand a pretty good chance of lasting.”

1.     Don’t rush the dating phase.

After studying 3 000 married couples in the US, two researchers at Emory University, Atlanta, concluded that couples who spent at least three years dating before getting engaged are 39% less likely to get divorced than couples who dated for less than a year.

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2.     Have a big wedding (and honeymoon).

The same Emory University researchers found that, surprisingly, a wedding with 200 or more guests makes its hosts 92% less likely to get divorced than a shotgun wedding with just the couple in attendance. And don’t think you can save on the honeymoon; going on one reduces your changes of divorce by a whopping 41%!

3.     Communicate – even when you’re angry.

Researchers at the University of Tehran found that communication – together with seeing each other as equal partners, and having interests and personality traits in common – is one of the common factors in happy couples. That’s not to say that communication means always agreeing with each other. In a surprising finding, researchers at Florida State University determined that couples who are able to be openly angry in the beginning of their relationships end up being happier in the long term. As lead researcher James McNulty put it, the “short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation” can be healthy for the relationship in the long run.

4.     Share the household chores.

A UCLA study found that couples who agree to share chores at home are more likely to be happier in their relationships… as long as those responsibilities are clearly defined.

5.     Have a stable social group.

According to researchers at Brown University, married couples are 75% more likely to get divorced if a friend or close relative has already done so. That likelihood comes down to 33% it’s a friend of a friend. “We suggest that attending to the health of one’s friends’ marriages might serve to support and enhance the durability of one’s own relationship,” the researchers said.

6.     Nurture your friendship.

The US National Bureau of Economic Research found people who consider their spouse to be their best friend are almost twice as satisfied in their marriages as other people. “Maybe what is really important is friendship, and to never forget that in the push and pull of daily life,” said researcher John Helliwell.

Hawthorn agrees. “One of the great fears is that as you and your spouse grow older, you’ll grow apart,” he says. “But if you give each other space to grow as individuals, you’re likely to find that you’re growing together too.”

“There’s no one thing that makes a marriage work,” says Anthony Hawthorn, a marriage counsellor with Famsa, “so if you’re looking for a single, silver bullet, you’re not going to find it.” Having said that, there’s enough scientific evidence to suggest that if you make a few small changes, you and your spouse can at least stand a pretty good chance of lasting – and loving each other to the end.

This article first appeared on the Change Exchange, an online platform by BrightRock, provider of the first-ever life insurance that changes as your life changes.