24 Feb Tell Me Your Secret: What Happily Married Couples Say About Long-Lasting Love
I have recently travelled to Israel to visit my family. I stayed with my parents, who have been happily married for 57 years, for a whole month. Growing up, I always knew that my parents shared a special relationship.
They were hard-working, successful, conscientious people who did not stop at anything to make sure that we kids were well taken care of and had all of our needs met. They kept close family ties with extended family members and they helped many relatives and friends.
My parents regularly expressed love for us kids. But I always knew and felt that they shared something that we did not have a part in. They were a couple, and they shared a very special and strong bond.
Staying with my parents in their new home, at the “resort for the young at heart,” has given me a renewed opportunity to look closely at their relationship. This time I observed their relationship as an adult and a psychologist and marriage therapist.
I also met a few of my parents’ old friends; a group of couples who have been happily married for around 60 years. For many years, I have been intrigued by this group of couples who seemed to be happy and content together, despite the challenges of life.
I decided that, while observing these couples who I’ve known since I was 2 years old was important, asking them to explain their own experience of couple’s relationship and their perspective on “the secret” of a long, happy marriage, might add another layer to my understanding of their success.
I am sharing this information with you, my reader, because I think it is valuable, albeit not scientific; I did not conduct a structured, rigorously designed study here. However, I think it is worth noting because couples, who have been happily married for 60 or more years, have become much of a rarity in this day and age.
So here is a list of what these couples believe have helped them stay happily married for all those long years. Some of it may sound familiar, while a few points may be new or even surprising.
• Respect. Always treat your partner with respect, no matter how mad you are. Never resort to put downs, name calling or dismissive language. Whereas having differences of opinion or even an argument is a part of any relationship, the way you disagree or argue will determine how much damage your relationship will suffer. So saying “I disagree with you” is acceptable. Saying “you’re stupid” is not.
• Be honest. A relationship can never thrive on deceit, dishonesty and the inevitable lack of trust that follows. Even if you have something you’re not proud of to share, it’s better than the alternative. Your partner will eventually find out, and the result might be much more serious.
• Express your love often. Use loving words, affectionate touch, gestures and gifts regularly and often. Physical touch should be regular and not only as a part of sexual intimacy. Sex is an important ingredient in a happy marriage but don’t give up on physical touch even a times when having sex is not possible.
• Speak your mind and don’t stonewall. If you were hurt, disappointed or angered by something that happened, talk to your partner as soon as you can. Don’t clam up and avoid them for days because this kind of behavior increases the tension and distance in your relationship. If you feel flooded with emotions, take a little bit of time to calm down and then go back to your partner. If you need to walk out in order to calm down, make it as short as possible and let your partner know you will be back. You are not leaving or abandoning them but only taking time to calm yourself down. When you are ready to speak, speak in a way your partner can hear you. Blaming, yelling and swearing never help a relationship, so avoid those behaviors at all cost.
• Give your partner the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assuming that your partner wanted to hurt you in some way, assume that they were forgetful, preoccupied or made an honest mistake. If you believe your partner loves you and if you love them back, don’t use every little incident to question their love and good intentions.
• Look out for your partner. One of the most precious things about couple’s relationship is knowing that your partner has your back and is going to be there for you because they love you and want the best for you. Reciprocate!
• Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m sure we’ve all heard that one before. Choose your battles. Not every little disagreement is worth a fight. Learn to give in sometimes. It’s not all about you getting your way. It’s about your relationship being a source of love and comfort. It makes sense to sometimes sacrifice for the good of the relationship.
• Learn to forgive. Nobody is perfect. Not even you. Just like we all need to learn to forgive ourselves for our mistakes and imperfections, we have to be able to forgive our partners. If you continue to be in a relationship while holding a grudge (or grudges), there will be distance and barrier to real happiness.
• Don’t hold your partner accountable for the behaviors of others. You may not always like your in-laws or may be hurt or angry because of their behavior, or the behaviors of his/her friends. Your partner does not have control over other people’s behaviors and therefore should not be held responsible for them, let alone punished by you because of others. You can share with your partner how you feel about others’ behaviors but never in a way that is putting blame on your partner. If you do, your partner is likely to become defensive and you are likely to lose their empathy.
• Create your own culture. You and your partner come from two families, which are likely to be completely different. Avoid arguing about whose family is better or superior to the other. Together, discuss the things that you appreciate in each other’s family and choose to adopt or reject certain behaviors or traditions. Remember; you are creating your own new family, your own culture.
• Consult with your partner. Before committing time, money or other resources in a way that may affect your partner or your family, always consult with your partner and come to an agreement. For example, if you would like to do volunteer work two evening a week, take on a job which involves a lot of travel or, if you would like to make a big purchase, consult with your partner first.
• Focus on strengths rather than on shortcomings or weaknesses. Partners usually differ in their strengths and weaknesses. Rather than criticizing your partner or focusing on the ways they fall short in certain areas, focus on and celebrate their strengths. If one of you is a good cook but is quite disorganised or if one of you is a social butterfly and the other has a green thumb, then rather than trying to change your partner to be more like you, take advantage of their strengths. You are stronger as a couple if you respect your differences and cherish each other’s special gifts and talents.
• Make time for one another. Life can be hectic, especially if you have children, jobs, family members to take care of, chores, etc. Nevertheless, you need to make time for one another. Nurture your relationship by spending time together, just the two of you. Quality cannot happen without quantity, so don’t expect that a peck on the cheek and a brief “good night” at bed time will sustain your relationship. Give priority to your relationship; after all, it’s the most precious asset of your family!