My book, The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples looks at the habits uncommonly happy couples practice to keep their marriages going strong and growing stronger day by day. In a new study, gerontologist, Karl Pillemer, has taken a similar approach, asking long-time happily married couples what makes their relationships work well. His research uncovered common advice for couples walking down the aisle or decades into marriage. To capture the voice of lived experience, the study included a random national survey of nearly 400 Americans age 65 and older, asking how to find a compatible partner and other advice on love and relationships. In subsequent in-person interviews with more than 300 long-wedded individuals — those in unions of 30, 40, 50, or more years — the study captured more insights for overcoming common marriage troubles. The team of researchers interviewed divorced individuals, too, asking how others might avoid marital breakups. You can read the whole article here, but the following represent the 5 highlights from Pillemer’s study.
1. Learn to communicate: “For a good marriage, the elders overwhelmingly tell us to ‘talk, talk, talk.’ They believe most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication.”
2. Get to know your partner very well before marrying: “Many of the elders I surveyed married very young; despite that fact, they recommend the opposite. They strongly advise younger people to wait to marry until they have gotten to know their partner well and have a number of shared experiences. An important part of this advice is a lesson that was endorsed in very strong terms: Never get married expecting to be able to change your partner.”
3. Treat marriage as an unbreakable, lifelong commitment: “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. 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: “The elders urge us to apply what we have learned from our lifelong experiences in teams — in sports, in work, in the military — to marriage. Concretely, this viewpoint involves seeing problems as collective to the couple, rather than the domain of one partner. Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner’s responsibility.”
5. Chose a partner who is very similar to you: “Marriage is difficult at times for everyone, the elders assert, but it’s much easier with someone who shares your interests, background and orientation. The most critical need for similarity is in core values regarding potentially contentious issues like child-rearing, how money should be spent and religion.”
For help developing these skills, check out The Exceptional Seven Percent: Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples, For Better…FOREVER! The Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage, and When Divorce is NOT An Option: How to Heal Your Marriage and Nurture Lasting Love.