I have a crush on couples who have been together forever, and are clearly still crazy in love. Maybe it's because I grew up with grandparents who frequently demonstrated their affection for one another on holidays, sure, but also at the dinner table from which my grandpa invariably excused himself early so my grandma wouldn't have to touch a single dish. When I see elderly couples walking arm-in-arm down the sidewalk, my heart swells.
My own marriage is so young by comparison. I don't feel envy, but whatever stirs in me is something like that: maybe longing, maybe hope that one day I'll be one of these together-forever pairs, still swooning after all these years.
Unfortunately, hope and longing don't satisfy me. I want practical guidance, stuff I can do to get results.
To that end, I'll call on Karl Pillemer's "experts" for my assignments. In his book, 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage , Pillemer culls time-tested wisdom from his experts, aka married couples, so you can make your union last a lifetime, too.
Believe Your Commitment Will Last a Lifetime
You know how important positive thinking is when you're trying to get through a slog of a spinning class? Pillemer's experts don't make that exact comparison, but they do suggest thinking of your marriage as a marathon rather than a sprint. Lucy, who's been married for 60 years, puts it this way, "Be prepared to come into this relationship for a lifetime. It's the most important decision you'll make in your life. And don't give up to easily."
Respect Is a Right
Your partner should respect you, and you should respect your partner. The end! Going into a long-term relationship believing your partner is in some way better than you (or vice versa) is toxic. After all, Pillemer notes, marriage is paradoxical: it's "the closest adult relationship most people have" yet "we can hurt the one we love and do so more effectively than in any other relationship." How do you focus on ensuring you and your partner aren't hurting one another? By cherishing one another's individual quirks and admiring one another's strengths.
Respect Is a Word
Or a tone of voice. "The content of what we say, according to the experts, is often less important than the tone of voice in which we say it." That's right, Aretha: your daily conversation can spell out R-E-S-P-E-C-T.
Be In the Moment
Couples who have been together for decades know that listening to one another is crucial toward fostering respect. To show your partner how much you value your relationship, approach conversation or interactions without distraction. If you can't concentrate with OITNB in the background, then hit pause until you and your partner have talked. Most of what distracts us in life can wait; sometimes, however, what your partner has to say can't. According to 74-year-old Myrtle Casey, listening is a generous act: "Listen with your mind, not just with our ear. Listen with your entire self, and not just to say, 'I'm listening to you, okay, what else?'"
Keep Your Conversation Kind
None of the experts Pillemer interviewed describe their marriage as without conflict. Arguments happen: both partners should accept that. But what shouldn't happen, what you should avoid at all costs (especially if you grew up in a household where this sort of thing was common place) is coldblooded cruelty. You know what I'm talking about — those digs that can just slip out of your mouth when you're fired up. The experts have said those mean things, too, and they regret them. "Especially in the heat of an argument," notes Leah Stone, married for 51 years, "you say things and they're never going to get taken back."
Once Again: You're Playing the Long Game.
If you do have a lapse of judgment and fling a harsh insult at your partner, be humble and ask for forgiveness. And if you notice that either of you is engaging in habitual bad behavior, the experts urge you to ask for help. After all, the No. 1 secret to making your marriage last a lifetime is communicating with one another. Those sweet old couples in the world didn't get to multi-decade marriages by sheer adorableness alone.
Images: Garry Knight/Flickr; Giphy (5)