40 Fascinating Marriage Tips From People Who’ve Been Married for 40 Years
"I feel like we’re having one very long sleepover."
Few people walk down the aisle assuming that saying “I do” means “for the time being.” But with the rising number of couples over 50 calling it quits—so-called “gray divorces” now account for 25 percent of splits—it seems harder than ever to make a marriage last until death do you part these days.
So, what do those couples who make their unions last for decades know about love that the rest of us don’t? From the small gestures that keep the romance alive to tips on overcoming the challenges most twosomes face, we’ve gathered advice from couples who’ve stuck it out for 40 years or more. Here are their secrets to marital success!
Start with friendship, not just lust.
Being friends before you enter into a romantic relationship may cement your bond years down the line. “We were friends for several years before we started officially dating,” explains Silvana Clark, an author and speaker who has been married for 40 years. “This gave us time to know each other and have a realistic understanding of our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.”
And be sure to maintain that friendship.
As your relationship progresses, don’t forget to maintain your friendship along with the romantic side of your relationship. “We have always been able to spend a great deal of time together and a true friendship was easily formed,” says Barbara Adoff, who has been married to her husband Bill for 45 years. “Best friends are there for each other, support each other, and like to have fun together. I often tell my hubby I feel like we’re having one very long sleepover.”
Relish one another’s company.
With work, social commitments, and other family members competing for your time, it may be difficult to allocate one-on-one time with your spouse. But making a point to do so—and enjoying it—can keep your relationship stronger in the long run. “One of the very most important things is enjoying doing things together,” says Tom Wilbur, who has been married for 49 years.
Keep saying yes to new experiences.
Who wants to spend half their life hearing “no” over and over? If you want your relationship to last, make “yes” a priority. “Marry someone who is fun to be with. Then throughout your marriage, say yes to each other,” suggests Clark. “‘Yes, we can paint be dining room red if you want.’ ‘Yes, we can go to a musical, even though I don’t like singing and tap dancing.’ ‘Yes, let’s get a sheep to mow the yard because it takes too long to use a lawn mower.’ We’ve found, by saying ‘yes!’ to each other, our lives have been filled with new experiences and amazing times together.”
Decide what’s a dealbreaker before you tie the knot.
Your spouse isn’t likely to change just because you got married, so it’s important to know what your dealbreakers are before you walk down the aisle. “Of course, we all have problems, but if you are thinking of marrying someone who drinks heavily when upset, is moody and has fits of rage, stay away!” says Clark. “Those traits won’t disappear when you get married. Even marrying someone who is a homebody while you love to travel can be a factor in causing stress in a marriage.”
Spice up your to-do list.
Turning otherwise boring activities into occasions to do small romantic gestures for your spouse can keep the passion alive, no matter how long you’ve been together. “Simply stopping at Wawa for a coffee on our way to run errands makes it special,” says Barbara Adoff. “We often take time to make things fun, or enjoy the moment. If a good song comes on at home we’ll stop and dance, we go to the movies and for walks.”
Self-care is important—and performing those restorative acts with your partner can often make your relationship stronger along the way.“We manage to get in to our hot tub most days and this relaxing down time is a treat,” says Barbara. “Treats are being good to yourself and to each other.”
And take any opportunity to be together.
Want to keep your marriage strong? Take any opportunity to spend time together. “Just going to the grocery store together should be treated like a date,” says Barbara’s husband, Bill.
Make sure you have the same financial priorities.
While savers and spenders can happily coexist, it’s important to see eye-to-eye on your longer-term financial goals to keep your marriage on steady footing. “The biggest problem long-term couples have is finances,” says Bill. “Get on the same page right away. Don’t let money get in the way.”
Have a sense of humor about yourself and your relationship.
Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you’d planned. Instead of picking a fight with your spouse or getting down, try having a good laugh about things. “Laugh at yourself and at each other,” suggests Barbara. “Laugh with each other. Humor is the way to enjoy a marriage and to raise children.”
Say no to distractions when you’re communicating with one another.
“What makes our relationship work is trying not to multi-task when we are communicating with each other,” says author Bracha Goetz, who has been married for 40 years. “And when we try to focus on each other completely when communicating, it’s like we are in the middle of a first exciting date forever.”
Reminisce about why you first fell in love.
Your passion for one another may wax and wane over the years, but remembering why you first fell in love can help pull you back in when you feel like you’re drifting away from each other. “Keep close in your mind some poignant memories of the first rushes of love—when you knew that you never wanted to be far from this person, when your heart felt a physical jump at the sight of them,” say Lewis and Marsha McGehee, who have been married for 42 years. “The daily obstacles will work out if the resolve to hold on to your love story is strong.”
Make your partner feel wanted.
Knowing (and regularly hearing) that your spouse loves you is important, but knowing they want you can make your marriage last a life time. “Being attractive…means doing little things for each other and feeling needed and desired,” says Lewis McGehee. “I want my spouse to want me.”
Take pride in your appearance.
“I think that maintaining physical attractiveness is also important,” Lewis adds. “I don’t mean just in a superficial way. Being attractive to your spouse means multiple things, like trying to stay in shape by working out. This has the added benefit of keeping one’s mental attitude strong and positive.”
Maintain a life outside of your relationship.
Codependence can quickly sour any relationship—and maintaining your personal interests outside the marriage might just be the key to enjoying a solid union. “I want my spouse to be engaged in a productive life and care about herself,” says Lewis.
Don’t look for excuses to end things.
Throwing out the “D” word in arguments—or even thinking that this fight might be your last one—will inevitably cause tension in your marriage that you may be unable to fix. “Never go into an argument thinking that it could be the end of the relationship,” the McGehees advise. “That means speaking your mind, but not saying or doing anything that is not recoverable. Healthy marriages are not always smooth, but should always be respectful.”
Celebrate one another just because.
You shouldn’t wait for holidays or anniversaries to celebrate all the wonderful things you love about your spouse. “I have always celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and it simply being a Wednesday on what started as a crazy work week,” says Carol Gee, author of Random Notes (About Life, “Stuff” And Finally Learning To Exhale), who has been married for 46 years. “Celebrate occasions, big and small. These celebrations don’t have to be big deals—a cake and coffee to celebrate a birthday, or because it’s Friday and you simply love being together.”
Maintain your spontaneity.
Sweeping your significant other off their feet is something that can keep those fires lit even after you’ve been together for decades. “I plan trips where he only has to pack his bag,” Gee says. “He, on the other hand, will surprise me by bringing home dinner, or buying the lottery scratch-offs that I adore, and hiding them where I can find them. The unusual locations such as in the dishes in the cabinet, or hidden in our bed, show the thought he puts in just because it tickles me when I find them.”
Keep your spouse guessing.
Keeping your spouse on their toes can go a long way. “One day I asked my husband what he thought the secret to our marriage was,” says Gee. “A quiet man of little words, he said, ‘I never know what you are going to do from one minute to the next, and I find I like that.'”
Make intimacy a priority outside the bedroom.
Having an amazing sex life can keep both partners interested, but exploring intimacy outside the confines of the bedroom is equally important. “Intimacy is more than sex,” says Gee. “It’s holding hands, it’s kissing each other good morning and goodbye. It’s spending time together without outside distractions, cell phones, televisions, that sort of thing.”
Perform small gestures of kindness on a regular basis.
Over time, many people get so used to their partners being around that they no longer feel the need to perform those little acts of kindness, like pulling out chairs, holding an umbrella for one another, or tackling a chore just so their significant other doesn’t have to. “No matter how long we have been married, my husband holding doors open for me makes me feel special,” says Gee.
Have a daily mealtime check-in.
Sharing at least one daily device-free meal can make all the difference when it comes to the health of your relationship.”We have always tried to eat at least one meal together daily,” says Gee. “As a working couple (before both retiring) with different work hours, it’ typically dinner. Not only do we enjoy a meal together, but we also use this time to talk about our day.”
And make dinner at home a special occasion.
Even if you’re just heating up last night’s leftovers, you can make meals with your spouse feel like a special occasion every night of the week. Light some candles, open a bottle of good wine, or put on a romantic playlist to set the mood. “Casseroles more often than not are served in our dining room on good china,” says Gee.
Learn what you want in bed—and don’t be afraid to tell your partner.
If you want to keep your relationship strong over the years, make sure you’re letting your partner know what you want in the bedroom—especially if it’s changed over time. “We have learned how to excite each other and how to please each other,” says Beverly Solomon, a creative director who has been married for 42 years. “Part of having a great sex life is staying healthy. We eat correctly, exercise, rest enough, and stay positive. And as your love grows, so does the quality of your sexual intimacy. As you age, you really appreciate the shared pleasures of true love.”
Being thankful can help put things into perspective, keeping you and your spouse from spiraling into despair just because things aren’t going the way you expected. “[We] give thanks everyday for the blessings we have and for the blessings to come,” says Solomon.
Keep company with positive people.
Want to see your relationship through a rosier lens? Try spending time with friends who share your positive outlook on life. “We avoid negative people and negative situations,” Solomon notes. “Being around negative people with negative outlooks can poison your life.”
Take time to cool off if things are getting too heated.
If you find yourself getting a little bit too passionate during an argument with your spouse, it’s often better to back off for the time being and return to the discussion later when you’re feeling calmer.
“When we have disagreements—as all couples do—we do not lose our tempers and we do not say things to each other that are insulting. We stick to the issue at hand,” says Solomon. “If one or both of us feels that we are too upset to discuss an issue in a sane and respectful way, we give ourselves some time to cool down.”
And don’t let your arguments spill over into other relationships.
While venting to your friends about your spouse’s seeming inability to pick up his or her socks may be cathartic, spilling the intimate details of what’s going wrong in your relationship every time you and your partner disagree may do more harm than good. “We never badmouth each other to others,” says Solomon.
Learn to tune out the noise.
Learning to not let others’ opinions and advice infiltrate your marriage will keep you and your spouse in sync as time goes by. “When we were first married, there were many expectations placed on us by our parents,” says Dana Kichen, a real estate agent who has been married for more than 40 years. “After four years of tug and pull, we moved out of state and learned to totally rely on each other. This has continued throughout our marriage.”
Speak using “I” statements when you argue.
Instead of enumerating the many ways your partner has upset you, present those issues from your perspective using “I” statements, like, “I feel hurt when you’re on your phone when I’m talking to you.” “This allows discussion without putting the other person on the defensive, and therefore avoids the escalation of an argument,” explains Kichen.
Learn to really apologize.
Apologizing to your partner is essential for keeping your marriage strong and healthy over the years—but that doesn’t always mean concession after a big fight. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ does not have to mean ‘I was wrong,'” Kichen points out. “It can refer to being sorry for hurting feelings, shouting—anything. This allows you to put hurt feelings aside and go on without one person being right and the other wrong.”
Be physically affectionate with one another.
Making your spouse feel loved and wanted sometimes means more than just listening to their wants and needs—physical affection is still important, too. “A hug and a kiss go a long way,” says artist Sheilah Rechtshaffer, who has been married to her husband, Bert, for 56 years.
End the night on a positive note.
Before you turn in for the evening, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about the disagreements you had earlier in the day. “Don’t go to bed angry,” says Bert.
Don’t bring work into the relationship.
When work stress spills over into your relationship or relationship stress spills over into your work life, it’s a recipe for disaster. “We both did our own thing,” says Dr. Gayle Carson, a life coach who was married for 45 years before her husband passed away. “I had my own business and eventually my husband had his. We didn’t interfere with each other and when we came together, it was glorious.”
Pursue the same interests.
Having a few activities you both love can mean the difference between decades of marital bliss and seemingly endless strife. “We did have common interests for entertainment,” says Carson. “Most of our activities with the kids were water-based. Every weekend was spent water skiing, swimming, and out in the boat. We loved going to movies, eating out, and watching TV.”
But remember that opposites attract.
While enjoying some of the same things certainly makes it easier to spend time together, don’t operate under the impression that you have to share a personality to happily share a life together. “Although I was the extrovert and he the introvert, it worked because we didn’t push each other in either direction,” says Carson.
Let your partner know you’re thinking about them throughout the day.
If you want your partner to feel both desirable and desired, make sure you’re letting them know just how often they’re on your mind. “Let your partner know you are thinking about them and putting them first in your mind,” suggests Beverly B. Palmer, Ph.D., a professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, and author who has been married for 50 years.
And let them express their feelings first.
Instead of always letting your partner know exactly how you’re feeling first, make space for them to express themselves before you start sharing. “Understand your partner’s point of view and let your partner know that,” says Palmer. “After that, you can express your point of view.”
Accept your partner for who they are.
Houses are fixer-uppers, but viewing your spouse that way is a recipe for disaster. “Accept your partner just for who they are. Don’t try to change them,” Palmer recommends. After all, people can only change if they want to. “Just accept their strengths and weaknesses that make them unique and that you love them for that.”
Imagine what your life would really be like without them.
Just because your relationship gets rocky from time to time doesn’t mean you and your spouse aren’t a good match—just try imagining life without them and you’ll realize just how important they are to you.
“Sometimes, when I have a couple in counseling who are either antagonistic toward one another or apathetic, I tell them: ‘Think about that you may not have tomorrow with the one you love,'” says Palmer. “‘What would you wish you had said or done today that would have made a difference?'” And for more on the long haul, here are 40 Ways Your Marriage Changes After 40.
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