Bridget Jones, the fictional single woman penned by novelist Helen Fielding, and played by Renée Zellweger in two eponymous films, cheekily coined the term “smug marrieds,” referring to couples who were overly proud of themselves for having tied the knot, and who encouraged everyone else to do the same.
But the data suggests that many married people aren’t feeling so self-satisfied and are hating marriage.
In 2014, the General Social Survey was conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. In an attempt to monitor social change, they found that Americans reported a big drop in marital happiness.
Also in 2014, barely 60 percent of married people said that they were happy with their marriage. This was lower compared to more than the reported 65 percent in 2012.
Only 57 percent of women said their marriage was happy in 2014, compared to nearly 65 percent reported two years before. And 4.4 percent of women confessed they weren’t-at-all happy with the state of their union, which was the highest reported level in 25 years.
For both genders, the numbers were among the lowest levels of marital happiness reported since researchers started asking the question back in 1973. Even then, more than 68 percent of men and 66 percent of women said they were very happy in their marriage.
Why Married People Hate Their Marriages
Maybe it’s just a statistical fluke, some experts suggest, since, in previous survey years, the percentage of happily-marrieds had been on the rise. But maybe it was related to families’ ongoing money problems from things like unemployment, debt, and wages that wouldn’t budge.
Other data showed that a record proportion of Americans in 2014 delayed marriage or never got married at all. You have to wonder, what was going on with couplehood in this country?
Stephanie Coontz, the author of Marriage, A History, said it might have something to do with changing expectations.
“[Women] feel more entitled to fairness and equality and at the same time, our expectations of ourselves as working women, and society’s expectations of us as mothers have been rising as well. It’s a lot of pressure on you,” she said.
The historical habits of marriage was a disadvantage for women, Coontz explained. Women were expected to do more housework, childcare, and executive tasks like making doctor’s appointments and planning vacations.
“It’s not ill-intentioned; it’s just habit,” she added. But the beneficiaries of all their hard work (ahem, dear husbands and kids) were oblivious to it. Still, the old adage “happy wife, happy life” had been borne by some studies.
How to Make Your Marriage Happier
You can try these tactics to make your marriage better.
1. Share the household work from chores to childcare.
Women value equality in the division of daily labor.
2. Communicate openly.
Open communication is necessary because “women have a tendency to hint and hint and hint until they’re so mad, they’re over it. Ask for what you want directly,” Coontz suggested.
3. Really work at it.
In the past, couples didn’t have to work so hard to make their marriages work because they had no other alternative.
Coontz said, “We’re doing something unprecedented. We were trying to organize equal marriages between people who have the total option to marry or not, to stay married or not, so marriages required more work than ever before.”
Of course, statistics have shown for a long time that married people report being happier more than people of any other relationship status, including widowed, divorced, separated, or never married. For example, twice as many married people say they’re happy, compared to those who’ve never married.
So, keep working at your marriage, even through the “not so great” times, and you’ll probably end up happier for it.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted in June 2015 and was updated with the latest information.
Rebecca Webber is a journalist who covers women’s lifestyle and personal finance for ValuePenguin.com, including topics like family budgeting and healthcare. She regularly contributes articles to magazines and websites.