It’s so easy to fall in love. Buddy Holly told us this in 1958 and it’s still true. The chemical reaction that happens when two different energies merge is the stuff of pop culture and great art. But while falling in love is easy, staying in love is hard, as divorce rates and pop songs will tell you. (Many relationships even crash and burn at the “six month hump.”) So how do the couples still flirting through dinner after 60 years keep their relationship strong? We went straight to the love longevity experts to find out. Whether you’re currently solo or hoping to make your romance go the distance, read on for the secrets of couples who have made it work for a lifetime.
If You’re Still Just Window Shopping:
There is No Secret
Joi-Marie McKenzie of ABC News asked four couples married more than fifty years for their relationship secrets. One couple was Sam and Macie, who were married in a courthouse just before he left to fight in WWII.
Macie: “I don’t really know if there’s any secrets. We just respect each other and we love each other.”
Couples who have gone the distance will tell you there’s no magic formula for lasting love. It’s just the basics – love and respect.
Pick Someone Who’s Into What You’re Into
Frank, married to Thelma since 1949, said: “Your relationship should be one that you like to do the same things or you think about doing the same things.”
If you want to spend the next several decades with someone, pick someone whose company you enjoy. An pre-dawn hiker and a late night clubber will have less to bond over than a couple who both love poetry readings and foreign films. Simply choosing a mate who shares your interests can maximize your chances of reaching that silver anniversary.
Similarity Breeds Longevity
Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and professor of human development at Cornell University interviewed hundreds of couples married for decades. They advised choosing a mate similar to yourself.
Your ideal life partner will share your sense of humor, level of education, and political outlook. They’ll also match you in physical attractiveness, intelligence, and income level. No, you don’t have to marry your twin but the more you have in common, the more likely you’ll stay together. And while love can conquer some stuff, it cannot conquer all. Touchstone issues like religious convictions, kids vs. no kids, where to live, and gender roles are too big and too personal to compromise on. A lack of harmony on the big stuff doesn’t bode well for a long marriage.
Before You Make the Leap:
You must have an absolute belief that this person is the right one for you. If you don’t full on feel it, giving someone the expectation of a life with you is setting you both up for heartbreak. Hold out for fireworks and butterflies.
Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, clinical psychologist and author who has been married for 50 years, says “Accept your partner just for who they are. Don’t try to change them.”
Marrying someone hoping they’ll change isn’t fair to them or to you. It will leave you frustrated and dissatisfied, while your efforts to customize your partner will push them away. If you can’t accept them as they are, release them to find someone who can. And keep looking for someone right for you.
If You’re Already Paired:
Communicate Communicate Communicate
Virginia, married to James since 1954, says, “Talk it over. If you don’t get it done today, talk about it the morning, talk about it in the afternoon.”
Betty, married to John since 1965, says it’s not enough to talk. “You have to hear what the other person has to say and try to put yourself in their shoes and try to feel the way the other person is feeling.”
Barbara and Lester “Phil” Lawrence, married 69 years, reinforce that empathy is key, advising, “Listen to each other with love and patience.”
Communication demonstrates that your relationship is important to you. The intimacy which results from sharing yourself and trying to see the world through your partner’s eyes is irreplaceable.
Let It Go
“If you want to make things work, you have to let things go,” recommend Charlie and Joyce Walsh, married 50 years.
Any couple that’s weathered some time together has old scars. The ones who last let them heal. If you’re constantly bringing up past hurts to score points in a fight, you’re not having a relationship. You’re having an emotional boxing match. Remember to argue with empathy. You’re a team and a problem for one of you is a problem for both of you. Ban the words “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. They’re rarely accurate and they often escalate a disagreement. Focus on what you’re feeling and what you need, rather than on how you are right and your partner is wrong.
Don’t Let Yourself Go
“It’s important for couples to maintain a sense of vanity and take care of themselves as part of a happy marriage. It’s nice if you can stay in shape,” advise Sherri and Charlie Sugarman, married 51 years.
Physical attraction is a major component of love. Swapping your fitness routine for sweatpants sends the message that you no longer view your relationship as sexual. You don’t have to be a cover model and you’re allowed to change with time. But making an effort to look good in a way that feels genuine to you tells your partner that you still want them to want you.
Take Care of Each Other
Marian Longstreet, married to Harvey for 67 years, says, “You have to pay attention to each other. Don’t take each other for granted.”
Think about what makes your partner happy. Anticipate their needs. Respond to their requests promptly. Always speak well of them to others. Never ever stop touching each other.
And heed this final gem of wisdom from Robert and Bernadine Higgins, married 61 years:
“Never hang wallpaper together.”