5 Ways to Make Your Marriage Last—Old Folks Weigh In

By Lela Nargi

On June 17, Cornell University released the results of a large-scale study by gerontologist Karl Pillemer, called the Cornell Marriage Advice Project. Interviewing 700 long-time married folks aged 65 and up (who combined have been married for a staggering total of 40,000 years), Pillemer sought to answer the nagging question: What makes a marriage successful? It turns out, we have a lot to learn from our elders!

The top five biggest pieces of advice—from men and women with an average age of 77, who have been married for an average of 44 years:

1.  Communicate! Yes, it sounds obvious, but perhaps that should drive home for us just how true and crucial this skill is. Talking things out with your spouse—or as Pillemer reports he was told by an 80-something-year-old subject, “Keep yapping at one another”—is an absolute must if you want to make your marriage last.

2.  Get to know your partner before you tie the knot. OK, so it’s too late for that, unless you’ve lost a spouse and are in the process of seeking another one. Pillemer says the elders he interviewed were agreed that having lots of shared experience was important to a relationship. As was: “Never get married expecting to change your partner.”

3. Think of marriage as forever. If you imagine you’ve always got an out in the form of divorce, then likely you won’t be inclined to work on your marriage through the inevitable “dry and unhappy” periods we all hit at one point or another. Positive thinking and seeing your relationship as something you want to endure for the long-term, is critical, according to the study’s participants.

4. Work as a team. Problems in a marriage should not be categorized as “His” or “Hers.” They should always be viewed as “Ours.” The same goes for the things that go right in your relationship. Just like when you participate in a sports team, you win, or lose, together.

5.  Find someone who is similar to you. Again, unless you’re on marriage #2 or #3, it’s too late to change this. But it’s never too late to try to reach consensus about the things that matter most in making a family successful: how you spend your money, and what matters to you both when it comes to raising your children. 

Photograph by Charlie Foster via Unsplash