The day my baby brother stabbed my Stretch Monster with pencils, I wanted to sell him to the neighbor down the street. (You don’t know what a Stretch Monster is? Seriously? How could you possibly not?) As for my older brother, on the day he punched me in the face after I accidentally (okay, perhaps somewhat intentionally) kicked his boom box, I wished for him to disappear—forever.
I wished for the disappearance of my brothers a lot. Fortunately, my wish never came true.
Yet my brothers taught me more than they hurt me, and one of the more perverse lessons of all just might be this one: the secret to a happy marriage.
According to a 40-year-long Ohio State University study of 57,000 adults presented at the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, this is no anomaly. Each additional sibling we grew up with reduces our likelihood of divorce by 2 percent. In other words, people who grow up with six brothers and sisters tend to have happier marriages than people who grow up with just one or two. What do people from big families know about staying happily married? Here eight couples share their hardest learned lessons.
Laugh Together 1 of 8
As a baby of five in an Italian-Scotch-Irish family, Jan Juliano Balzer, a life coach and author of Hiding My Bruises While Singing in the Choir, experienced more than the usual about of ribbing. Her siblings tossed her in a trash can, flushed her down a toilet, and even convinced her that she was adopted. "It was all done with humorous love," she says. "Without humor, I would have just ended up crying too often." She and her husband Douglas (shown) have been married 29 years. "When given the choice, I'd rather laugh. My husband and I have fun, and we try to find the good in every situation. The family that laughs together stays together," she says.
Accept Every Quirk 2 of 8
Growing up with three sisters taught Hilary Phillips, MS, how to accept and cherish the unique qualities in others, including her husband. An individual and couples therapist who runs the site WeWantMoreNow.com, Phillips has been married Richard (shown here with sons Luke and Spencer) for 12 years. "When you can truly accept your spouse with all of his quirks, you reach a whole new level of connection," she says. "Never forget you are on the same team. Always have each other's backs."
Be the Spouse You Desire 3 of 8
As Brooke LaRue Miceli grew up, her parents told her over and over again, "Treat others the way you would like to be treated." "In marriage the golden rule forces you to look at yourself, your behaviors, your reactions, and your demonstrations of love," she says. Brooke married Alessio (second from the right) in Italy eight years ago. "Do you want your spouse to be more affectionate? Show him affection. Do you want him to spend more time with you? Make time for him. Do you want him to be a better lover? Be a good and frequent lover to him. Do you wish he wouldn't argue all the time? Don't argue back, but listen and respond respectfully," she says. "Anytime there is something that you wish would change or improve in your relationship, start acting like it already is that way and your behavior will jump start the improvements in your spouse."
Only Occasionally Push Back 4 of 8
Ann Logue, author of Socially Responsible Investing for Dummies, is the oldest of five. "I learned to roll with most of it and only push back if needed, which helps me a lot in marriage," she says. She's been married 20 years to Rik (shown).
Act in Love 5 of 8
Gina Parris, a coach and relationships blogger, grew up with four sisters and then went on to have four children of her own. She's now been married 23 years. "Love is about our actions more than our feelings," she says. "So be kind because we are family." Here she's shown with her own big family: sons Jordan (back, left), Matthew (front, left) and Nathan, daughter Kristan and husband Paul.
Savor Every Disagreement 6 of 8
As the baby of six children, Kristen Gough learned how to see the world through the eyes of others. "Growing up with five siblings meant there would be plenty of different opinions—on just about everything," says the mother of three who blogs about her family's eating adventures at MyKidsEatSquid.com. "I learned to value that those closest to me might not see things exactly the same way I do. And that's a good thing." She's been married to James (pictured) for 17 years.
Learn How to Give In 7 of 8
In addition to her three siblings, Shela Dean also grew up with four male cousins who were around so often it seemed as if they were brothers. The relationships coach, speaker and author says, "Siblings may share a gene pool, but they are far from clones! Thriving in a big family means learning to live with and respect differences that are sometimes irreconcilable. You learn to give in when what's at stake is more important to the other guy. Learning to accept your siblings as they are and to respect and admire them as individuals is a great foundation for accepting your spouse and to live peacefully with differences." She's been married to Dale (shown) for 15 years.
Take “I’m Sorry” For An Answer 8 of 8
Paul Breau, of Newburgh, NY, was the oldest of five: two sisters and two brothers. His aunts and uncles also contributed countless cousins to the mix. "When my siblings grew up and married, I watched my sisters and brothers in their relationships. They demonstrated the importance of commitment and forgiveness," says Paul, who had three children of his own (shown left to right: Keith, Melissa, and Matt) and now has been married to Sheryl for 29 years.
What did you learn about life, marriage and happiness from your siblings? Did they teach you important lessons that shape your life to this day?
Read more of Alisa’s writing at ProjectHappilyEverAfter.com.