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Diane Mufson: Longtime married couples share advice

Apr. 02, 2013 @ 10:47 PM

It’s the week of April First, which to me, is a romantic time because April Fools’ Day is the day Maury and I chose for our wedding 51 years ago. As each year goes by, we often ask ourselves questions, such as, “Why are some long-term marriages great while others fail?”

Recent studies show that there is an increase in divorce rates for older Americans. While experts give a variety of explanations for this, my romantic mood prompted me to find some real-life answers to factors leading to happy long-term marriages. So, I asked some “old” friends who have been married for many decades to share their views on achieving successful marriages.

Their responses were varied and inspiring. Communication, compromise and a willingness to forgive (Congress are you listening?) were mentioned often. A person in North Carolina replied, “Don’t suffer in silence — nobody loves a martyr” and a Huntington friend recalled the Biblical quote, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”

Almost everyone affirmed that marriages take work. A friend from our area noted that perseverance, determination and commitment are key. Almost all wrote that marriages have problems and life is never a “bed of roses,” but as one husband said, “Well, we just don’t call it quits the first problem that comes along.”

A couple from Montana, as well as one in our area, both agreed that caring about each other is vital, and one way it is shown is to help and encourage your spouse to develop as a person and “achieve his/her dreams.” “Nurture and celebrate your love,” said a local friend.

An Illinois couple felt that shared goals and values were key. Some people suggested that having separate interests and even time away from each other was positive. Being joined in matrimony is good, but being joined at the hip isn’t.

A sense of humor and a joy in being together were noted often. A husband from North Carolina wrote that he gave 90 percent and she took the other 10; his wife emailed back “It is 80/20 and I give the 80.” A couple married over seven decades suggested, “One does all the talking and the other doesn’t listen.”

Being faithful and having a faith were identified as essential for many. And yes, even though my sample of couples included no “spring chickens,” quite a few brought up the importance of sex, their attraction to each other and still being thrilled by being with the person they married years ago. A few suggested that luck might be helpful, but wealth and material objects weren’t even mentioned.

Today’s American way of life is very different from when these couples tied the knot. Divorce, once a rarity, has for better or worse become part of the American fabric. Social, religious or economic reasons are no longer adequate to hold marriages together.

Longevity is also playing a role in the divorce upturn. At ages 50 or 60, people sometimes think, “I’ll probably have another 30 years with my spouse and the last 30 haven’t been so good, so I’ll leave.”  The “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” phenomenon may lead to divorce. Unfortunately, remarried folks sometimes discover that they aren’t looking at green grass but rather the crabgrass of life.

My unscientific survey of friends with long and happy marriages indicates the importance of finding someone with compatible values and lifestyles, but also that treating each other with care, fun, respect and love keeps a good marriage alive forever.

Diane W. Mufson is a licensed psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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