If you want the whole happy marriage thing, just keep these tips in mind.
Being that I’m a commitment-phobe in the worst possible way, I’m not sure if marriage is in the cards for me. I feel like the only way I’m ever going to be in a successful relationship, let alone a happy marriage, is if I don’t realize I’m in one. (No, but seriously.) If pukey couples who rub in their happiness like a scene from “The Sound of Music” make you feel like you didn’t get the memo either… well, you could be right.
Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer recently completed the largest in-depth interview study (like, ever) of people in successful, long-ass marriages. He surveyed over 700 individuals who have been collectively married for nearly 40,000 frickin years. (Yeah. I know.) Pillemer asked questions about how to find a compatible partner and for advice on love and relationships. In subsequent interviews with people who’ve been married for 30, 40, 50, or more years, he also gained insights on how to overcome murky waters.
The average age of interviewees was 77 years old, and included 58 percent women and 42 percent men. The average length of marriage was 44 years, with the longest married couple being married for 76 years! (Like, WOW.) Responses were then coded into frequently occurring pieces of advice and suggestions, resulting in a roundup of the most common lessons for a successful, happy marriage.
“Rather than focus on a small number of stories, my goal was to take advantage of the ‘wisdom of crowds,’ collecting the love and relationship advice of a large and varied cross-section of long-married elders in a scientifically reliable and valid way,” Pillemer said in a statement.
Here, the top five lessons on what makes a happy marriage:
1. Learn to communicate
How many of our past relationships have ended because of a communication breakdown? Probably most of them. If you want your marriage to last, participants told Pillemer you need to “talk, talk, talk” about your problems in order to solve them. One cutie patootie in his 80s told Pillemer you need to “keep yapping at one another.”
2. Get to know your partner very well before getting married
Despite the fact that the people Pillemer surveyed married crazy young, they actually advise against it. (In other words, no rose ceremony for you.) Don’t get married until you have oodles of shared experiences under your belt, participants suggest. Another key piece of advice that came up: Never get married expecting to change your partner.
3. Treat marriage like an unbreakable, forever bond
Many of us don’t take marriage as seriously as we should. I mean, the second we learn he hates our favorite cereal, it’s off to a divorce lawyer. “Rather than seeing marriage as a voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does, the elders propose a mindset in which it is a profound commitment to be respected, even if things go sour over the short term,” says Pillemer. “Many struggled through dry and unhappy periods and found ways to resolve them—giving them the reward of a fulfilling, intact marriage in later life.”
4. Learn to work as a team
Yes, you’re still an individual, and yes, people who fuse your names together make you want to vom, but it’s important to deal with every life decision as a couple. “Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner’s responsibility,” says Pillemer.
5. Choose a partner who’s very similar to you
Opposites attract, but the only reason you should marry your opposite is if you’re a fan of banging your head against the wall. “Marriage is much easier with someone who shares your interests, background, and orientation,” says Pillemer. “The most critical need for similarity is in core values regarding potentially contentious issues like child-rearing, how money should be spent, and religion.”
What are your keys to a happy marriage?
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