Looking for a Long and Happy Marriage? Learn From the "Experts"

An older man pushing an older woman in a wheelchair.Do you know any loving older couples who seem like they know the "secrets" to a long and happy partnership? If so, maybe you've already been lucky enough to hear their advice on a lasting marriage. These conversations can be really meaningful.

But what if you don't have any such role model couples in your life? Don't despair. Cornell professor Karl Pillemer recently completed a major project interviewing over 300 Americans over age 65, all of whom had been married for more than 30 years. His new book based on those discussions shares wisdom gleaned from their decades of experience--advice that many of us might enjoy reading. Curious to hear more?

Here are some thoughts from these elders on how to know when and who to marry.

  • Choose someone with similar values and interests.
    According to these experts, things go better when partners are well aligned in most ways.
  • Look out for meanness, and especially abuse.
    Of course, physical abuse is a huge red flag, but even smaller issues like losing your temper over a missed bus should be considered a danger sign, according to their interviews.
  • Don't marry a "stranger."
    Is your significant other still mysterious to you? Not a good pick, according to these veterans. They recommend really getting to know someone very well before tying the knot.
  • Don't assume you'll be able to change him or her.
    If you don't like something about them now, don't assume you'll be able to "fix it" later down the road, they advised.
  • Make sure you have similar life goals.
    Does he or she want children? How do you want to spend your money and where do you want to live? Have these conversations long before you marry, they say, or face discord later.

What about after the wedding? Here's the advice the older adults had:

  • Do small acts of kindness for each other.
    Forget the diamond earrings and the new golf clubs, they counsel. Instead, surprise your spouse by doing a disliked chore for him or her, giving compliments, or just taking 5 minutes to do something, anything, that will make that person's day brighter. Practice this often!
  • Believe in marriage, even when the going gets tough.
    These experts strongly suggested continuing to have faith in the idea of marriage and your own particular marriage, even when times are hard.
  • Don't "scorekeep."
    Everyone makes mistakes, messes up, and needs help. At times, all of us will rely on our spouse to be the bigger person or to keep things going. Try not to worry about who owes who what, the interviewees advised. It will balance out.
  • Communicate.
    Couple after couple stressed the importance of really talking to each other—sharing your joys, your frustrations, and your feelings. In short, they counseled, if you can't talk, you won't make it.

So, how do the suggestions from these "experts" compare to those offered by therapists, professors, and others who know a lot about marriage? As a matter of fact, much of what you read here is echoed by people who study marriage for a living—a pretty neat realization. 

Want to make it your own golden wedding anniversary? There's plenty more about sustaining your marriage here on SMARTCouples. And to learn more about Pillemer's interesting interviews and what he heard, you can read his book: 30 Lessons for Loving.

Pillemer, K. (2014). Love Advice from the Elders: Our Valentine's Day Gift to You!  Retrieved from this link
Pillemer, K. (2015). Advice for the Bachelorette – One Thing to Know about Choosing a Mate. Retrieved from this link
Pillemer, K. (2015). Have You Finally Found "The One?" The Elders Tell You How to Decide. Retrieved from this link
Pillemer, K. (2015). Love Advice – From the Real Experts. Retrieved from this link
Pillemer, K. (2015). The Best Gifts for Your Partner? You May Be Surprised at the Elder's Advice…Retrieved from this link
ScienceDaily. (2015). Love, factually: Gerontologist finds the formula to a happy marriage. Retrieved from this link

From University of Florida UF/IFAS Extension. For more relationship articles, visit www.smartcouples.org