A few months ago, I came across an article (written in April of this year) by Matt Christensen, offering marital advice from 25 people who have been married 25+ years. As my wife and I are just three days away from our 34th wedding anniversary, I thought now would be a good time to write about this.
Here is a quote from the first paragraph of this article: “We recently asked 25 people who have been married for 25 plus years about what makes their relationship work. Clichés didn’t enter the equation. Instead, their answers reflected a simple truth: long-term relationships are both easy and hard, but made better by honesty, fun, and a shared sense of unity.”
Rather than list all 25 pieces of advice, I’m going to mention what I think are the most important ones, with a quote and brief commentary on each. I will then add a couple of my own. I’m sequencing them not in terms of their importance, but rather in the order in which they appear in the article, which you can access here: https://www.fatherly.com/life/marriage-advice-from-couples-married-25-plus-years
- Imagine life without your partner. Jerry, age 56, who’s been married 30 years, says, “Life would be possible without each other, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as fun, special, or full of great moments.” Enough said!
- Do the work. Monte, age 64, has been married 40 years, and he says, “Opposites can create a great deal of conflict over time if you don’t learn how to accept them. It can be a difficult process, but it’s necessary to stay happily married long term.” Interestingly, my wife and I both came out with the same personality type on the Myers Briggs personality test many years ago, but scored very differently on the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis. Regardless, we are very different in some ways, and yes, marriage requires work! That’s true whether you and your spouse are very similar or not.
- Bite your tongue. Romy, 52 and married 26 years, says, “My rule is: bite your tongue for at least 24-48 hours
afterbefore speaking when tensions are high. If you are overly emotional and/or upset about something, doing so gives you time to cool off and then reflect on the situation with greater space, perspective, calmness, and clarity. If you still want to talk about it, schedule a mutually agreed upon time to do so.” One thing I would add along the same lines is tiredness: Sometimes my wife and I have scheduled a time to talk, especially if one or the other of us is too tired at the moment.
- Ask for space when you need it. Curt, 64 and married 36 years, says, “We’re not shy with each other when we need a breather. Sometimes it’s just a few hours with a good book. Other times, one of us wants to get a coffee and run errands on a Saturday.” For a few years when our kids were growing up, my wife would take them somewhere overnight (usually to her parents’ place) to give me my annual “day off,” or as we like to joke about it: a day for me to accept passivity and reject responsibility! If you’ve read my manhood posts, you’ll understand this better.
- Learn each other’s love language. Gene, who’s 54 and has been married 28 years, says, “You can take the tests and stuff to figure out what each other’s love language is. That’s easy. The more fun part is finding out how you can try to speak to your partner using them every day.” My wife’s top two love languages and my top two are very different. Understanding these differences, and especially “speaking” them to each other, have significantly enhanced our marriage.
- Never assume. Christine, 51 and married 26 years, says, “No matter how connected you both may be, you’re not mind-readers. You need to communicate as clearly as possible, and as frequently as possible.” Had my wife and I understood this principle better early in our marriage, we would have had less conflict later.
- Nurture the friendship. William, 57 and married 30 years, says, “Not every conversation you have should be about life decisions, finances, or being married. I love my marital relationship with my wife, but I’d dare say I love our friendship more.” At a church we used to be a part of, one of our pastors (now in heaven) spent almost all of his time counseling. One very important distinction he made was between communication and conversation. The former is about decisions, schedules, and the like; the latter is about fun stuff! Any successful marriage needs both.
- Stay intimate. Natalie, 60 and married 35 years, says, “Intimacy is more than sex. And, as you get older, that’s a great thing to realize.” She gives the examples of holding each other’s hands and kissing. My wife and I agree!
- Show gratitude. Robin, who’s 60 and has been married 34 years, says a few words about how she and her husband are “overthankers.” While my wife and I do not “overthank,” we definitely thank each other! Yesterday, for example, after I drove us and three others back home for two and a half hours through rain and fog, my wife thanked me.
- Learn how to apologize. Robert, 63 and married 33 years, says, “Apologizing doesn’t necessarily mean you concede or believe what you did was wrong. It means that the situation resulted in something — like hurt feelings or miscommunications — that made your partner feel bad.” While I agree, I have to say that there are times when couples do and say things to each other that are just wrong; at those times, a heartfelt apology is necessary, and asking for forgiveness takes it a step further. For my wife and me, the best times of apology have been when the Holy Spirit has brought conviction and we haven’t even had to confront each other.
One piece of advice I would like to add is simply to laugh together. That’s easy because my wife and I both read and hear things that are just funny! We also like to reminisce, with each other and our kids, about fun and wacky experiences. Additionally, I like to tease my wife; for example, she sometimes parks too far to the front of the garage, making it hard to access the washer and dryer there, so I ask, “Can you park closer to the washer and dryer next time?” You have to know your spouse, however, because although this question invariably makes my wife laugh, it might infuriate your own wife or husband! One time when we were eating out during our first few months of marriage, I carefully removed one end of the paper covering the straw and then blew on the open end, shooting the paper at her. My friends and I used to have fun doing that to each other, but my wife let me know that she didn’t think it was funny!
As a Christian, the other piece of advice that I have is to grow together spiritually. Ways to do this in my own marriage have included attending church together; praying together; serving others together; and discussing the Bible and Christian books together.
A couple of notes about the title of this post. First of all, you may have noticed the word “successful” as it pertains to marriage. By this I mean not just staying married but enjoying each other’s presence. (I have been with couples who have been married a long time but who don’t enjoy being together.) A final note, in regard to the word “more” in the title: two years ago, I wrote a similar post, based on a different article that I had come across; it was based on interviews with couples who had been married at least 10 years. If you’re interested, you can check that out here: https://keithpetersenblog.com/2020/12/29/keys-to-a-successful-marriage/
If you have any more keys to a successful marriage, and/or thoughts on which key you think is most important, I would be very interested in reading them!