The 'Wisest' Americans Share Love & Marriage Advice We All Need to Hear

Maressa Brown | Jan 8, 2015 Love & Sex
The 'Wisest' Americans Share Love & Marriage Advice We All Need to Hear

couple holding wedding bandsWhether you got hitched one or 20 years ago, the secret to a lasting, happy marriage may still seem to evade you some days. But if anyone should know what it takes to keep a long-term relationship afloat, it's probably people who have decades of experience, right? That's what Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist and author of the new book, 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage figured when he made it his goal to interview 700 people over the age of 65 who've been married for an average of 43 years. Yow!

Pillemer and his team have spent the past four years talking to these relationship veterans -- some who were widowed, some who are gay, some who've been happily married for years, and others who have been through multiple marriages and divorces -- for the Marriage Advice Project. One of the most jaw-dropping marriages he looked at lasted 76 years between a 101-year-old woman and 98-year-old man. Wild!

Clearly, these people know a bit more than those of who've been married for mere minutes by comparison! Here, 11 pieces of sage advice they shared about what it takes to make a marriage work.

Check out their insights below, then tell us: Which of these do you know to be true? Which comes as a surprise?


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  • Follow Your Heart


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    Don't let your head do the decision-making when it comes to choosing a spouse, the marriage vets said.

    Pillemer told USA Today that most of his interviewees said "you've got to experience that in-love feeling with the person you marry, and if you don't have that almost indescribable feeling, you probably shouldn't get married. All too many people get married with a not-in-love or this-is-wrong feeling, but you have to trust your instinct. ... If you lack that feeling, and you are just going into marriage because it's time, they say it's very likely not going to work out well."

  • But Also Use Your Head


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    The interviewees said that you can't be 100 percent sure that the person you're marrying is right for you, but you can and should think logically about whether you're compatible, and they're a suitable spouse in terms of being financially responsible or a good parent. And are they faithful, funny, honest, dependable, etc.?

  • Take Values Into Consideration


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    The long-married retirees say "a little bit of difference is good, but the fundamental lesson is to marry somebody a lot like you," according to Pillemer. In other words, similar values about religion, money, child rearing, how you want to spend your time, the importance of career, etc. are all integral to making it work over the long-haul.

    More from The Stir: Marriage Therapists Solve the 10 Most Common Fights Couples Have (PHOTOS)

  • Talk It Out


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    We've heard it time and again, but the interviewees agree: Communication with your partner is essential. One of the biggest Qs they ask: Can you go out for a two-hour dinner and keep an interesting conversation going? If not, working on your communication skills could save your marriage.

  • Get Your Timing Right


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    When you're married, and thus, so close to your spouse, it's easy to feel like you don't necessarily have to think before you speak. But judging from this survey's findings, treading carefully when talking about tough topics is key.

    Pillemer's interviewees suggest reading cues from your partner to decide the best time to raise an issue. When things aren't going well in a discussion, back off.

    A funny, surprising point related to this: Apparently, lots of couples admitted that sometimes their marital arguments are related to one or both of them needing to eat. Getting a nosh seems to smooth over conflicts to an extent. Blame low blood sugar!

  • Prioritize Your Relationship


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    Therapists will often tell you that you should make sure that you and your spouse are in a bubble, and kids can come in and out of that bubble, but ultimately, you have to be a united front.

    That seems to reflect what interviewees had to say that your relationship with your spouse has to come before kids, in-laws, jobs, friends, etc. After all, you don't do any of those people, especially your kids, any favors if your marriage falls apart.



  • Play Nice With In-Laws


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    The veterans say you don't marry a person, you marry his or her family, and that means that you need to make a concerted effort to have a healthy relationship with your in-laws, even though it may mean compromise, withholding opinions, and searching for points to respect and admire. Hard? Sure. But necessary? Probably.

  • Steer Clear of Debt


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    Money stress can tear couples apart, so it's no surprise Pillemer says the seniors advise living within whatever amount of money you make and avoiding debt, especially for luxury items and credit-card debt.

  • Get It On


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    Pillemer learned that -- surprise! -- physical intimacy keeps couples happy. He notes that many older people in relationships "are having very fulfilling sex lives. People really enjoy the sense of intimacy with a lifelong partner. One of my favorite quotes in the book was a guy who said, 'Look, at our age, this is recreation, not procreation.'"

  • R-E-S-P-E-C-T


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    The theme song of a long, happy marriage could easily be Aretha Franklin's anthem. The interviewees say it's important to respect one another, which in part means paying attention to how you say things, and listening and showing you are listening to what your partner says.

    Pillemer explains that "long-married retirees say the real danger of marriage is that you know someone so well that they are extremely vulnerable to you. You have the ability to hurt them more than anybody else you know. Respect is the protection against that."


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