Karl Pillemer of Cornell University interviewed nearly 1500 people age 70 to 100+ for his book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” What did they have to say about long, happy relationships?
Here’s the “refrigerator list” of lessons for successful married life:
1. Marry someone a lot like you. Similarity in core values and background is the key to a happy marriage. And forget about changing someone after marriage.
2. Friendship is as important as romantic love. Heart-thumping passion has to undergo a metamorphosis in lifelong relationships. Marry someone for whom you feel deep friendship as well as love.
3. Don’t keep score. Don’t take the attitude that marriage must always be a fifty-fifty proposition; you can’t get out exactly what you put in. The key to success is having both partners try to give more than they get out of the relationship.
4. Talk to each other. Marriage to the strong, silent type can be deadly to a relationship. Long-term married partners are talkers (at least to one another, and about things that count).
5. Don’t just commit to your partner— commit to marriage itself. Make a commitment to the idea of marriage and take it seriously. There are enormous benefits to seeing the marriage as bigger than the immediate needs of each partner.
And what single piece of advice was given more than any other? Don’t go to bed angry.
…if there was one ubiquitous recommendation about marriage it was this: “Don’t go to bed angry.”
Why might this be so powerful?
The experts are telling us something profound: namely, most things that couples disagree upon aren’t worth more than a day’s combat…The old know this lesson, but the young must take it seriously too. Wilma Yager, seventy-five, opened up my understanding when she said:
NEVER GO TO BED without saying “I love you.” I don’t care if you have to grind your teeth and say, “I love you.” But you do it. You’ve got to do it. You never know what’s going to happen during the night.
“You never know what’s going to happen during the night.” That statement is something elders know in their hearts, and we should too. The night, when we are unconscious, is an uncertain time; who knows what will happen? The joy that many of the experts express on waking in the morning next to a partner of decades is the flip side of this insight. Each additional day together is a gift. The end of the day means the end of hostilities, the recognition that the underlying shared values and commitment to the relationship trump the need for one last dig or self-righteous justification. Because the end of the day could, of course, be the end.
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