11:18
TEDxAmericanRiviera

Jenna McCarthy: What you don't know about marriage

Filmed:

In this funny, casual talk from TEDx, writer Jenna McCarthy shares surprising research on how marriages (especially happy marriages) really work. One tip: Do not try to win an Oscar for best actress. (Filmed at TEDxAmericanRiviera.)

- Writer
Jenna McCarthy writes about relationships, marriage and parenting. Full bio

Every year in the United States alone,
00:15
2,077,000 couples
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make a legal and spiritual decision
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to spend the rest of their lives together ...
00:24
(Laughter)
00:28
and not to have sex with anyone else,
00:30
ever.
00:33
He buys a ring, she buys a dress.
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They go shopping
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for all sorts of things.
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She takes him to Arthur Murray
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for ballroom dancing lessons.
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And the big day comes.
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And they'll stand before God and family
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and some guy her dad once did business with,
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and they'll vow that nothing,
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not abject poverty,
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not life-threatening illness,
01:00
not complete and utter misery
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will ever put the tiniest damper
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on their eternal love and devotion.
01:09
(Laughter)
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These optimistic young bastards
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promise to honor and cherish each other
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through hot flashes
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and mid-life crises
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and a cumulative 50-lb. weight gain,
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until that far-off day
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when one of them is finally able
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to rest in peace.
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You know, because they can't hear the snoring anymore.
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And then they'll get stupid drunk
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and smash cake in each others' faces and do the "Macarena,"
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and we'll be there
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showering them with towels and toasters
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and drinking their free booze
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and throwing birdseed at them
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every single time --
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even though we know,
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statistically,
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half of them will be divorced within a decade.
01:55
(Laughter)
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Of course, the other half won't, right?
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They'll keep forgetting anniversaries
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and arguing about where to spend holidays
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and debating which way
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the toilet paper
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should come off of the roll.
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And some of them
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will even still be enjoying each others' company
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when neither of them can chew solid food anymore.
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And researchers want to know why.
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I mean, look, it doesn't take a double-blind, placebo-controlled study
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to figure out what makes a marriage not work.
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Disrespect, boredom,
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too much time on Facebook,
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having sex with other people.
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But you can have the exact opposite of all of those things --
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respect, excitement,
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a broken Internet connection,
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mind-numbing monogamy --
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and the thing still can go to hell in a hand basket.
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So what's going on when it doesn't?
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What do the folks who make it
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all the way to side-by-side burial plots
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have in common?
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What are they doing right?
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What can we learn from them?
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And if you're still happily sleeping solo,
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why should you stop what you're doing
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and make it your life's work
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to find that one special person
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that you can annoy for the rest of your life?
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Well researchers spend billions of your tax dollars
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trying to figure that out.
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They stalk blissful couples
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and they study their every move and mannerism.
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And they try to pinpoint what it is
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that sets them apart
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from their miserable neighbors and friends.
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And it turns out,
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the success stories
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share a few similarities,
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actually, beyond they don't have sex with other people.
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For instance, in the happiest marriages,
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the wife is thinner and better looking than the husband.
03:52
(Laughter)
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Obvious, right.
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It's obvious that this leads to marital bliss
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because, women, we care a great deal
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about being thin and good looking,
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whereas men mostly care about sex ...
04:05
ideally with women
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who are thinner and better looking than they are.
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The beauty of this research though
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is that no one is suggesting
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that women have to be thin to be happy;
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we just have to be thinner than our partners.
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So instead of all that laborious
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dieting and exercising,
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we just need to wait for them to get fat,
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maybe bake a few pies.
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This is good information to have,
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and it's not that complicated.
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Research also suggests
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that the happiest couples
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are the ones that focus on the positives.
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For example, the happy wife.
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Instead of pointing out her husband's growing gut
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or suggesting he go for a run,
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she might say,
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"Wow, honey, thank you for going out of your way
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to make me relatively thinner."
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These are couples who can find good in any situation.
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"Yeah, it was devastating
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when we lost everything in that fire,
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but it's kind of nice sleeping out here under the stars,
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and it's a good thing you've got all that body fat
05:08
to keep us warm."
05:10
One of my favorite studies found
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that the more willing a husband is to do house work,
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the more attractive his wife will find him.
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Because we needed a study to tell us this.
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But here's what's going on here.
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The more attractive she finds him, the more sex they have;
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the more sex they have, the nicer he is to her;
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the nicer he is to her,
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the less she nags him about leaving wet towels on the bed --
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and ultimately, they live happily ever after.
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In other words, men, you might want to pick it up a notch
05:40
in the domestic department.
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Here's an interesting one.
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One study found
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that people who smile in childhood photographs
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are less likely to get a divorce.
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This is an actual study,
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and let me clarify.
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The researchers were not looking
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at documented self-reports of childhood happiness
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or even studying old journals.
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The data were based entirely
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on whether people looked happy
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in these early pictures.
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Now I don't know how old all of you are,
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but when I was a kid,
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your parents took pictures with a special kind of camera
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that held something called film,
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and, by God, film was expensive.
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They didn't take 300 shots of you
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in that rapid-fire digital video mode
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and then pick out the nicest, smileyest one
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for the Christmas card.
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Oh no.
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They dressed you up, they lined you up,
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and you smiled for the fucking camera like they told you to
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or you could kiss your birthday party goodbye.
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But still, I have a huge pile
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of fake happy childhood pictures
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and I'm glad they make me less likely than some people
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to get a divorce.
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So what else can you do
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to safeguard your marriage?
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Do not win an Oscar for best actress.
06:57
(Laughter)
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I'm serious.
07:02
Bettie Davis, Joan Crawford, Hallie Berry, Hillary Swank,
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Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon,
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all of them single
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soon after taking home that statue.
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They actually call it the Oscar curse.
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It is the marriage kiss of death
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and something that should be avoided.
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And it's not just successfully starring in films
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that's dangerous.
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It turns out, merely watching a romantic comedy
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causes relationship satisfaction to plummet.
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(Laughter)
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Apparently, the bitter realization
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that maybe it could happen to us,
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but it obviously hasn't and it probably never will,
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makes our lives seem unbearably grim
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in comparison.
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And theoretically,
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I suppose if we opt for a film where someone gets brutally murdered
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or dies in a fiery car crash,
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we are more likely to walk out of that theater
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feeling like we've got it pretty good.
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Drinking alcohol, it seems,
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is bad for your marriage.
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Yeah.
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I can't tell you anymore about that one
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because I stopped reading it at the headline.
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But here's a scary one:
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Divorce is contagious.
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That's right -- when you have a close couple friend split up,
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it increases your chances of getting a divorce
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by 75 percent.
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Now I have to say, I don't get this one at all.
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My husband and I
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have watched quite a few friends divide their assets
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and then struggle
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with being our age and single
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in an age of sexting and Viagra
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and eHarmony.
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And I'm thinking they've done more for my marriage
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than a lifetime of therapy ever could.
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So now you may be wondering,
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why does anyone get married ever?
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Well the U.S. federal government
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counts more than a thousand legal benefits
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to being someone's spouse --
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a list that includes visitation rights in jail,
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but hopefully you'll never need that one.
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But beyond the profound federal perks,
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married people make more money.
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We're healthier,
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physically and emotionally.
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We produce happier, more stable
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and more successful kids.
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We have more sex
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than our supposedly swinging single friends --
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believe it or not.
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We even live longer,
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which is a pretty compelling argument
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for marrying someone you like a lot
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in the first place.
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Now if you're not currently experiencing
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the joy of the joint tax return,
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I can't tell you how to find a chore-loving person
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of the approximately ideal size and attractiveness
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who prefers horror movies and doesn't have a lot of friends
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hovering on the brink of divorce,
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but I can only encourage you to try,
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because the benefits, as I've pointed out,
09:52
are significant.
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The bottom line is, whether you're in it or you're searching for it,
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I believe marriage is an institution
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worth pursuing and protecting.
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So I hope you'll use the information I've given you today
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to weigh your personal strengths
10:07
against your own risk factors.
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For instance, in my marriage,
10:11
I'd say I'm doing okay.
10:13
One the one hand,
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I have a husband who's annoyingly lean
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and incredibly handsome.
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So I'm obviously going to need fatten him up.
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And like I said, we have those divorced friends
10:25
who may secretly or subconsciously
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be trying to break us up.
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So we have to keep an eye on that.
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And we do like a cocktail or two.
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On the other hand,
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I have the fake happy picture thing.
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And also, my husband does a lot around the house,
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and would happily never see
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another romantic comedy as long as he lives.
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So I've got all those things going for me.
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But just in case,
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I plan to work extra hard
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to not win an Oscar anytime soon.
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And for the good of your relationships,
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I would encourage you to do the same.
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I'll see you at the bar.
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Jenna McCarthy - Writer
Jenna McCarthy writes about relationships, marriage and parenting.

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More profile about the speaker
Jenna McCarthy | Speaker | TED.com