For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, what is it that makes a marriage last (and last)? To answer this age-old question, family sociologist Karl Pillemer, PhD, launched the largest in-depth survey of long-married couples ever conducted, interviewing 700 people who had been hitched an average of 43 years. Their sage advice is collected in hisÂ new book, 30 Lessons for Loving ($26,Â amazon.com).
Here, a few of our favorite practical relationship tips from husbands and wives whoâve discovered the true meaning of commitment.
Start the day with a small kindness
âWhen you wake up in the morning, think, What can I do to make his or her day just a little happier? The idea is you need to turn toward each other and focus on the other person, even just for that five minutes when you first wake up.â
âAntoinette Watkins*, 81
Remember that being close doesnât mean youâre the same
âYou have to be able to tryâand sometimes this is very, very difficultâyou have to try to understand what the other person is thinking in any given situation. The main thing is that everybodyâincluding your partnerâhas their own ideas about their world. Even though youâre in a very intimate relationship, the other person is still another person.â
âReuben Elliot, 72
Stop worrying about your wrinkles
âSomehow as you get older you kind of get blind to the infirmities that affect the other party. And you always see them the way they were. You donât see aging. Itâs a wonderful thing. I donât know if the brain is wired for that, but thatâs the way it is.â
âAlfredo Doyle, 77
FindÂ your âfight number 17â
âThis may sound like a flip thing, but it works for us. We came up with it at some point along the way: We call it jokingly 'fight number 17.' â¦ It means weâve had this one at least 16 times before. Weâve decided we donât even bother to have it anymore. We see it coming and we just shut up and donât even start with it. Because itâs not going to go anywhere. My theory is that in every marriage there is one of those issues.â
Nurture the friendship
"I think itâs hard when youâre young and hot on one another to back off and say, 'Do I like what is behind these hands and these body parts?' But that is the piece that doesnât wear out, that grows and deepens. The sexual aspect deepens, too, in its own way, but it becomes less important and the friendship becomes more important as the years go by. It will be challenged by kids and hardships and losses of parents and changing interests and patterns, but an abiding friendship is at the base of a solid marriage."
âLydia Wade, 73
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Surround yourself with happy couples
âIf youâre hanging around with negative people, find some positive people and hang around with them instead. You know, success imitates success. So if you see people who seem to have a very successful happy marriage, well, you hang around with those types of people. It does rub off. Avoid the ones with a defeatist attitudeâget out of there before they drag you down.â
âJeremy Bennett, 80
Repeat back to each other
âWe realized early on that disagreements often came about when we werenât really understanding where the other person was coming from. So I will say, 'Are you sayingâ¦.?' Or 'Do you meanâ¦?' Because sometimes we really are in the moment and we say things that we really donât believe. So I always repeat back to him what I think heâs saying and then heâll either say yes or heâll say, 'No, whereâd you get that idea?'â
âLucia Waters, 75
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Divvy up chores based on your strengths
âYou just need to share at homeâ¦It needs to be cooperative. And hereâs the way to do it: Whatever needs to be done, the person who can do it best is the one who should do it.â
âDixie Becker, 84
âIf conflict occurs, well, there is the Chinese saying, 'Take a step back, and you can see the whole sky.â Just step away, a little bit. Just step back and then you see other things.â
Know that thereâs always more to learn
âIt seems to me that marriage is a process. You never get there; youâre always in process. Itâs always more work than you can possibly imagine. In my case, it was worth it."
âSamantha Jones, 80
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*All of the participantsâ names have been changed.