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Family & Relationships

Love Is in the Air: Long-lasting Relationship Advice from People Who Know

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Author and journalist Mignon McLaughlin said it best: “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person.”

In the nearly 10 years that I’ve been with my husband (we’ll celebrate our fourth wedding anniversary in October), that sentiment certainly rings true. We’ve watched one another learn and grow and change, and, thankfully, continue to fall in love with that ever-evolving someone.

And yet, 10 years is a flash in the pan compared to many relationships. I know I still have a lot to learn, but I’m grateful to have had two excellent models: my own parents, who have been married 46 years. It’s hard to imagine either of them not with the other. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t taken work on both of their parts. My mom, Jeanne, and my dad, Ed, both recall a time in their early 50s when their lives were pretty stressful because of work and other responsibilities. My dad came up with the idea that they should start dating one another again. So they took turns planning a date night every week, with intention, making time for one another despite the busy schedules. “It really made us think about each other in a different light,” says my mom.

Today, nearly 20 years later, they still “date” one another, and are at their happiest when they’re spending time together traveling, hiking, canoeing, or just hanging out at home.

To get insights on how to keep relationships feeling fresh and connected, I asked my parents and a number of other people in long-term relationships, ranging from 16 to 52 years, to share one or more pieces of advice on how they make it work. Here’s what they said:

“Scream/yell fights are not, cannot, will not be allowed. Think about issues and approach them once the emotions (if there were some) fade.

Find things you can do together, whatever they might be. But also give the other plenty of room in whatever their endeavors might be.

Care for one another and express it. Loving/touching/kissing is always allowed.”
Ed Silver (the author’s father), married 46 years

“Remember that you are friends, not cell mates. Friends share the new and different. It’s easier to stay out of ruts.

It’s helpful to enjoy doing things together and separately – keeps things from getting dull and predictable.”
Jeanne Silver (the author’s mother), married 46 years

“Don't take your partner for granted. Thank him/her for things they've done, even simple things like putting away the dishes (even if it's his/her job). It's nice when someone notices you've done something. Plus it reminds you of how he/she contributes to the relationship.

Keep your eyes on the prize. When adversity hits, remind yourself of your core beliefs, your joint goals, and your adaptability. I was supposed to get a job transfer overseas. [My husband], Jim, quit a job he didn't like, and we were within weeks of leaving. Then I learned the company was sold, and we were all laid off. So we were both unemployed. Jim could have gone back to his old job, but we used this time to review what we wanted. He decided to go back to school to get his high school teaching certificate. I found the first job I could so he could go full time to finish as quickly as possible. He got his degree and found a full-time job, and I also eventually found full-time work in my field. It would have been easier to have him go back to his old job and be miserable just for security, but we look a long-term view that paid off.” 
—Debbie Carlson, married 24 years

“If you’re going to share your life with someone, it’s helpful to also share a few passions. When I met my wife (randomly at Logan Airport in Boston), one of the first things we connected over was our love of bicycling. That was 16 years ago, and we still go for bike rides often. We’re also both super curious people, which means we love checking out anyplace we’ve never been ­– from a new neighborhood to a new country, visiting landmarks, nature areas, and quirky attractions. So while we may continue to age, our explorations never get old!”
—Diane Daniel, together 16 years

“The monotony of day-to-day life can create the sense of a married couple being just roommates or just caregivers to children and/or aging parents. Sometimes it helps if you can look at your spouse and recall that once he/she was a fun-loving child, and as a couple, you were sweethearts who liked to be silly and playful, sexy, and imaginative.

There is a tendency for two people who marry to wish, maybe consciously or unconsciously, that their partner will “complete” them and make them whole. One may love that his or her partner is a hard-working nerd (especially if they’re not). Another may find joy in the playful and humorous aspects of their partner’s personality. Isn’t it ironic that the couple can then proceed to have a lifetime of arguments trying to morph the other person into being more like themselves? To be able to recall and keep alive with appreciation and celebration the qualities you once found enjoyable and refreshing in your partner is an aspirational as well as achievable goal.

Unhappily married couples tend to attribute their unhappiness to the failings and disappointments in their spouse.  The most important question that can improve your marriage is not ‘what is it like to be married to your spouse?’ but ‘What is it like to be married to me?’ Reflective answers to this question can improve your relationship.

Often situations occur in marriage where you get to be right, or you get to be happy, but not both at the same time. Choose happy.”
—Rosalind S. Dorlen, psychologist in New Jersey who provides couples/marital therapy, married 52 years

“Being in a long relationship takes a lot of patience. You should try your best to always be kind and have respect for one another. If you do not agree on the same thing, think it out and compromise. Never walk away if you find yourself mad at one another. Take some deep breaths, sit down, and discuss it. If you are getting ready to go out the door and you are upset with one another — which happens to everyone — make sure you turn back and give them a kiss and hug and tell them you love them. Once you walk out that door or they do, you never know what can happen while they are gone, and life is too short. 

Always talk to them if you have something on your mind that you need to discuss because they cannot read your mind.

And always kiss them and tell them you love them when you go to bed for the evening.”
Darlene Marx, married 39 years

“Always be thankful for him or her, and always be happy to see him or her. And giving is not just giving material things, or going shopping for their favorite products for them, but also be giving with your time and attention. Listen to them. Truly listen to them. Have real conversations. Let them also have their own hobbies and own lives: If he likes baseball games and you don't, let him go to games anyway or let him watch them. If she likes flower classes, or going out to certain movies with the girlfriends, let her do that. These are basic things which we have always done anyway, kept up our own hobbies and parallel social lives while also having a happy marriage.”
Lynn Wood, married 27 years

“My husband and I just celebrated our 50th anniversary. Although we are both working three days, we have a date night dinner at least three to four times per week! No reason to stay home, and it's fun exploring new places. We also buy each other little gifts as we have done our entire dating life and marriage.  I'd say we are as much in love now as we were in the ’60s!”
—Joanne Levine, married 50 years

Every couple forges their own path, whether they’ve been together five months or married 50 years. What advice would you share with others to keep their relationships tuned in and tuned up?

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