As we approached our 50th wedding anniversary, we were asked countless times for the secret to our long relationship. In the interest of full disclosure and the hope that others can benefit from our accumulated experience, here goes 10 tips for marital longevity.
- Don’t die young. Yes, do marry young as we did but try to stay healthy. Nagging a spouse to eat well, exercise and go to the doctor is a proven, and yes annoying, longevity tool.
- Do go to bed angry. The worst marital advice we got on our wedding day was never to go to bed before resolving an argument. Nope! That is just a sure recipe for staying up late and saying more things that you’ll regret in the morning. A good night’s sleep makes the worst fight less awful. You may even wonder what all the fuss was about.
- Everything changes, including your spouse. We were like Hansel and Gretel – two innocents in the woods–when we married at 19 & 20, respectively. There was no women’s lib, no #metoo, no equal pay, no internet and no Nespresso®. We had childish ideas of how we’d make our livings as artists. Government food surplus and food stamps were not in our plans. Yet, there we were on the dole for the first few years. Over the decades, we changed careers, residences and cities numerous times. Along the way, Hansel and Gretel grew up, had kids and put money in the bank for retirement.
- Stick it out through the tough years. This is the ultimate truth. Long marriages have good years, bad years and, sometimes, very bad years. Whether the problem is financial, personal or health, the only way to get to the other side is to tramp through the muck. Together.
- Create a spending plan. In most couples, there is a saver and a spender. Create a budget that respects both. If you pool your incomes as we do, set aside a personal “allowance’ for each so that you don’t need permission to spend your money on your whims or stock tips. Joint money takes joint agreement on spending. Always.
- Figure out what makes YOU happy and do more of it. Marriage is not a 24/7 command performance. If you like sports or ballet or the opera (or whatever) and your spouse doesn’t, let each do what they like sometimes. Just not all the time.
- One (or both) of you will screw up. Big time. Whether it’s a business failure, a personal failure or a “what were you thinking (or smoking)” failure, you need to ultimately forgive and move on. Sulking, yelling and grieving are all permissible in the short run, however.
- Do nice things, unasked. Whether it’s doing the dishes on their night or buying their favorite treat or sweet, it’s the unexpected acts of kindness and generosity that keep the wheels of marriage greased.
- Keep the kids out of it. If you have kids, love them unreservedly. If you have issues, don’t use them as pawns or intermediaries. They have long memories. Make them good ones.
- Don’t undertake a major home remodel. Possibly ever. We recently moved to a house that needs a lot of work. We don’t fully agree on what needs to be done or how much to spend. So, what did we do? We decided to put this project on hold until after we hit our 50th anniversary milestone. Just to make sure we made it. And we did!
Advice for the next 50 years? If you’ve made it this far, you don’t need my advice! Except maybe about the remodeling part.