When I got married, a friend of the family told me, “Love is easy, marriage is hard.” I’m not sure if he took that from a movie or a book, or maybe it was his own, but I didn’t really understand what he meant at the time. It was only after my first argument as a married couple that I realized he was right: Marriage is hard. Because that’s the case, and even the most in love and tranquil married couples will agree, a new study, the largest in-depth of its kind, was conducted by Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer regarding the key to a happy marriage. Pillemer talked to 700 married people, who, when their wedding years were added up, equaled 40,000 years of marriage. All of those interviewed were 65 or older, and had been married for at least 30 or more years, with the median marriage being that of 44 years. With only one year under my belt, 10 years, let alone 44 sounds, well, trying, to say the least.
Of those who participated in the study, the longest marriage was ― wait for it ― 76 years, and the happily married couple were ages 98 and 101. Wow.
As Pillemer explains, his major goal for this study wasn’t to focus on stories, but rather focus on the “wisdom of crowds,” as the most common bit of advice all these married folks had to share. After decades and decades of marriage, here are the top nine pieces of advice from people who know a thing or two about marriage, and how to make it work.
1. You Have To Learn To Communicate
Well, of course! The same can be said for any relationship. But as the participants told Pillemer, you need to “talk, talk, talk,” if you want to get through issues and resolve problems. Too many marriages come to an end because there is a lack of communication.
2. Getting To Know Your Partner Before Marriage Is Key
Although many of the people in the study had gotten married young, they were adamant to advice against it. According to them, it’s important to wait to get married, to know your partner in and out, be witness to them in different scenarios, and just understand what makes them tick, before you take on the forever route.
3. Have A Lot Of Shared Experiences Before You Settled Down
You don’t want to just know your partner in one place or setting; you want to know what it’s like to travel with them, to see how they are under pressure, to make sure they can at least tolerate your crazy uncle, and they can get through a work Christmas party without drinking themselves under the table. You want to have solidified your relationship with shared experiences before you walk down the aisle.
4. Don’t Hope You Can Change Your Partner
In addition to getting to know someone before tying the knot, Pillemer also found that another big piece of advice was, “Never get married expecting to be able to change your partner.” Unless, of course, you like banging your head against a wall.
5. Regard Marriage As The Commitment It Is
As a woman in her mid-30s, almost half the people I know who married in their late 20s or early 30s are either divorcing or in the midst of a divorce. Frankly, nowadays, people don’t see marriage as the commitment that it is, and because of that they half-ass it. Don’t see marriage as a “voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does.” Instead, people should see it as something “unbreakable.”
6. Accept That It Won’t Be Easy
As Pillemer found, “Many [couples] struggled through dry and unhappy periods and found ways to resolve them.” As opposed to throwing in the towel and taking the easy way out, these couples pushed through the rough times. When you do, you struggle through the bad and come out the other side with the reward of having a marriage that stood the test of time.
7. Remember You’re A Team
Not only is there no “I” in “team,” but there’s also no “I” when you’re married. Sure, you’re still yourself and your identity is still your own, but you’re a partnership when you get married. If you think of yourselves as a team, then you always have each other’s back, and when things get rocky, you know you always have a support system.
8. Learn To See Things Through Your Partner’s Eyes
Along with seeing your union as a team, it’s important to take the time to see things through your partner’s eyes and view things as a couple, instead of just as an individual. It will give you greater perspective and insight into your marriage, as well as into the person you married.
9. Choose A Partner Similar To You
Although people say that opposites attract, the participants in the study felt that choosing someone similar to you is really the best way to make this whole marriage thing work out. It’s important to have shared interests and backgrounds, they claim, and when it comes to raising kids, how to spend money, and religion, you want to absolutely be on the same page.