Photo: Matt Romack PhotographyWith Valentine's Day around the corner, many of us have romance on our minds. For those of us in marriages and committed relationships, there can also be a tendency to compare ourselves to other couples. "What's normal?" is a question I've been known to ask my husband on occasion, and that's exactly what researchers and psychologists have asked several thousand Americans in an attempt to define 'normal.'
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The online study, which forms the basis of a book called The Normal Bar, to be released on February 5, surveys almost 100,000 self-professed happiest couples. Co-author Pepper Schwartz explains, "This normal is different from most normals... What we want to know is which normal is correlated with happiness." In other words, they're looking for that magic formula guaranteeing marital bliss that we'd all love to find.
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So what have they found? Forty percent of couples have sex 3-4 times a week. Men are quite romantic, with 48% saying they fell in love at first sight; only 28% of women say the same. Surprisingly, 43% of men and 33% of women say they're keeping a major secret from their partner - whatever that may be. Even among the happiest couples, 27% were keeping a secret of some kind.
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As for romance in the relationship, almost 29% of women and 44% of men say it "bothers them a lot" that their partner isn't more romantic. Schwartz suggests that because couples are "starved for romance," that's why we often make such a big deal out of Valentine's Day. Forty-four percent of American couples hardly ever or never go out on a date, so V-Day offers a chance to catch up on the romance that we fail to maintain throughout the year. The study suggests that sexual happiness can be increased by sleeping nude (only 34% of women and 38% of men do this) and kissing regularly.
Despite our curiosity about the behavior of others, I find it hard to believe that 'normal' can ever be defined for married couples. There are so many factors that affect marital wellbeing and sexual frequency that it's probably pointless to compare. The best gauge, in my opinion, is one's own heart. If I'm happy and satisfied in my own marriage, then why care about what's normal?
Katherine Martinko blogs at Feisty Red Hair.
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