Wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit down with a group of happily married couples, couples who were all celebrating significant wedding anniversaries (read 30, 40 and even 50 years of wedded bliss) and have an opportunity to ask them for love advice? To be able to glean advice from people who can reflect on years of successful happy marriages? Guess what? We’ve done it for you! Here are some of the highlights from that conversation; words of wisdom that you can reflect upon, straight from the life experiences of the “wise elders.” Get ready to learn from experience!
You must first love yourself before you can love others
Rita, 55, explains why self-love is the basic ingredient in a successful partnership. “People who don’t feel they are worthy tend to attract partners who will feed into that belief. So they pair up with mates who criticize them or abuse them or take advantage of them. They don’t think they deserve anything better because they haven’t yet learned to feel a sense of their own self-worth.” If you have issues with self-esteem or come from a background where you experienced abuse or neglect, it is a good idea to work on these problem areas with a counselor. Developing a firm sense of your own inherent worthiness is necessary in order to attract healthy, happy people into your life.
You are responsible for your own happiness
Making your partner be your only source of happiness is a recipe for disaster. Mark, 48, remembers when he was in his early twenties and would burn through relationships at a rapid pace. “I kept expecting the woman I was dating to take away my depression and make my life joyful. And when they didn’t, I’d move on to the next woman. What I didn’t understand is that I had to create my own happiness. Having a woman in my life would be an extra dose of joy, but not the only source of it.” Once Mark realized this, he started concentrating on doing things that gave him pleasure. He began running and competing in local races; he took cooking classes and learned how to put together amazing gourmet dinners. He spent a couple of years just on his own, building a baseline happy personality, taking pleasure in his self-development. When he eventually met his wife (through his running club), she was drawn to his bubbly personality and a big smile, not to mention his delicious cooking.
Be realistic about your relationship expectations
Real love does not look like a Hollywood movie. Sharon, 45, divorced her first husband after only a couple of years of marriage. “He was a great guy but I had this idea that a husband should be like in the movies. You know, bring me roses every night. Write me poetry. Charter a private plane to take me on a surprise weekend. I had clearly grown up with unrealistic ideas of what love should look like, and my first marriage suffered for it.” Fortunately, Sharon did some serious soul-searching after her divorce and worked with a therapist to help her identify what real-life love is made of. When she met her second husband, she was able to recognize the true signs of healthy, grownup love. “He doesn’t buy me diamonds, but he does bring me my coffee just how I like it every morning. Each time I take a sip, I’m reminded how lucky I am to love this man and to have him in my life!”
Marry someone you like
Everyone in the group stressed the importance of both liking and loving the person you marry: “The sex will come and go during your marriage. You’ll have a lot of it at the beginning. Then kids, and work, and age…these all will affect your sex life. But if you have a strong friendship, you’ll get through those dry spells.” If your relationship is based uniquely on sexual attraction, you’ll soon get bored. When falling in love, ask yourself if you would choose this person for a friend, even if you couldn’t have sex with them? If the answer is a solid “yes”, move forward with confidence. As Pat, 60, says: “Looks fade. Personality will always be there.”
It takes two to love
Jack, 38, loves this simple piece of advice. “I fell in love countless times. The problem? I was the only one in love,” he says. “I eventually realized it is not really love unless both of us are feeling it 100%.” You can have crushes and unrequited feelings, but these are not relationships and should not be seen as such. Recognize the difference between one-sided partnerships and relationships that are mutually-supportive and loving. “If you don’t sense the other person feeling the same type of love for you as you are feeling for them, get out. It isn’t going to get any better,” Jack advises. “I wasted a lot of time trying to ‘make’ women love me. When I met my wife, I didn’t have to work at it. She loved me as I was, right there, right then. Just as I loved her.”
Love should feel like driving with the brakes off
Bryan, age 60: “Sure, you’ll have problems that need to be worked through, but your marriage should never feel like work.” If you are with the right person, you tackle problems together, not as adversaries but as people on the same team. Your communication is respectful and effortless. Long-term couples all say the same thing: with a loving partner, the ride is smooth and the journey delightful. And you get to the same place together.
Pursue your own interests
“We were like chalk and cheese at the beginning, and we’re still like chalk and cheese forty years later,” says Bridget, 59, a London-born nurse. “What I am saying is that we did not have many interests at all in common when we met. And we still don’t have many. He likes competitive professional sports, and I couldn’t even tell you the rules of American football. I love fashion; he wouldn’t know who Michael Kors or Stella McCartney is. Yet, what we do have is chemistry. We have laughed together since the very beginning. We appreciate discussing international events. We respect each other and give each other time and room to pursue our own interests, and then sit down over dinner and discuss one of our common interests.”
When he shows you who he is, believe him
“The one thing I wish I’d realize was important, is that you can’t change the fundamental beliefs or lifestyle of someone,” stated Laurie, 58. “I really thought that I could change Steve’s feelings about having kids. He seemed fine playing with my brother’s kids when we would go visit them. He had so many good qualities. We got married when I was 27, and I thought in the back of my mind that he would change his mind about wanting to be a father. He had so many good qualities: great sense of humor, professionally he was at the top of his field, and he treated me so well—never forgetting an important date. Yet, on kids, he just would not budge. I was in my mid-thirties when I realized that my child-bearing years were coming to an end. I loved Steve, but I wanted to experience motherhood. We had an amicable but sad break-up. I knew that I wanted to be a parent, and I made sure when I started dating again, that my partners felt the same way. I am extraordinarily happy now with Dylan. Our three kids make both of our lives meaningful.”
Opposites can attract
“Remember that old nursery rhyme about Jack Sprat? You know, the one about the marriage of opposites? Well, that’s Bill and me, stated Carolyn, 72. She continued: “Bill is six four and I am five one in heels. So physically there’s almost a foot and a half difference in our height, but that hasn’t kept us from being the ballroom champions of our condo complex! Five years running now! “Carolyn began listing other differences: “He’s a workaholic, and often brings homework. Me? When I leave the office, I leave the office. He loves deep water fishing. I do not even like to eat most fish. But you know what? I love taking those fish he has caught, sautéing them, throwing in a little white wine, finishing it off with a sprinkle of parsley, and sitting down to eat his catch with him. And it’s just like that with us: we complement each other rather than having the exact same interests. We still have a lot of different interests, but next August we will have been married for fifty years. I appreciate his interests and he appreciates mine.”
Humor is important
“We just laugh and laugh,” said Bruce with a wide smile. He continued: “We met in 10th grade. It was in an algebra class. Lady Luck was on our side. Mr. Perkins, our teacher, made all of his classes sit alphabetically. Her last name was Eason, and mine is Fratto. It was fate in the form of Mr. Perkins who brought us together fifty-two years ago. She turned to me on that first day and cracked a joke. And we’ve both been laughing ever since!” Certainly having a sense of humor is an attractive and important quality. “I may be in a bad mood, and Grace will notice and tell s joke. Immediately, my mood shifts and I fall in love with her all over again.” So a shared sense of humor has cemented this five-decade-plus marriage. Must have a sense of humor used to be the most common words on dating profiles, but recently there has been a change.
You don’t have to be together 24/7
“I know our marriage will sound like we barely see each other, but it works for us,” Ryan asserted. “I’m a pilot and spend between ten and fifteen days a month away from home, and Lizzie loves staying home.” Ryan served in the Air Force, and after he did his twenty years, he joined an international airline, where he has just finished his twentieth year. “I met Lizzie on a layover in Manila. She had a sparkle in her eye, and I just knew she was the one.” Lizzie chimed in about their meeting, “I didn’t believe in love at first sight, but I took one look at Ryan, and I too, knew he was the one. We married two months later. I had visited America before, but never thought I would live here. I work as an appraiser and we have two college-age sons. What makes our marriage work so well is that we both enjoy our careers, have time for ourselves and when Ryan is home, he really is home, and we spend long stretches of quality time together.” Ryan added, “And respect. I have so much respect for Lizzie. I know that she did more than her share raising our sons. She left her family and friends to start our married life in the United States.”
So there you go: The words of wisdom from our long-time married couples
Different perspectives, no one magical formula for marital bliss, varied opinions about what works and what does not. Pick and choose from what our experts have shared, and reflect on what you feel will lead to a long and happy marriage for you.