According to the couples who have done it themselves.
You come across a 90 year-old couple canoodling in the park (aww!). But what, exactly, did it take for that relationship to last so long—and still maintain some spark? How can you get that for you and your partner? Karl Pillemer, gerontologist and author of 30 Lessons for Loving: Advice from the Wisest Americans on Love, Relationships, and Marriage, set out to answer exactly that. He interviewed more than 700 people who have been married for a total of 40,000 years as part of the Cornell Marriage Advice Project. Here's what he has found to be the most common advice from elderly couples who have stayed together for 30, 40 or even 50 years of marriage.
Only get married if you’re in love. Like, butterflies in your stomach love. For the both of you. The feeling won’t last forever, of course, but it helps your marriage tremendously if you don’t feel like you’re settling when it begins.
It might sound like a cliché, but Pillemer finds constant communication is the key to a lasting relationship. Before you get married, discuss your values and make sure they’re compatible. Don’t just talk about if you want to have kids—discuss how you will raise them. Talk about money—how you plan to afford things and when you want to retire. Then, once you’re married, communicate when you’re happy and unhappy, what feels good and what doesn’t, what turns you on and off. Don’t make excuses that you’re the “strong silent type.” Those people are in long-term relationships, too. But they learned how to talk about their emotions.
Put your partner before your kids
When kids come along, it’s easy to get sucked up in the “middle aged blur,” or the part of your life when career and kids can command all of your attention. Don’t wake up at 50 asking, “Where did my life go?” Carve out time for your partner now. Happy couples know that maintaining an intimate relationship benefits you, your relationship and your kids.
Don’t fight when you’re hungry
Surprisingly this tidbit came up often in Pillemer’s interviews. Avoid anything nasty coming out of your mouth by putting something yummy in it.
Be willing to change
As time goes on, situations shift. Successful couples are willing to adapt when obstacles, both small and large, come their way.
Prioritize your partner's needs
Many couples Pillemer interviewed understood the benefits that came from paying attention to their partner’s satisfaction. They were focused on doing what would help make their partner’s life a little easier and enjoyable, knowing it would make life better for the both of them.
Take care of yourself
Focusing on your partner doesn't mean neglecting your own needs. People in long-married couples tended to stay fit and well-groomed, recognizing the importance of well-being for both themselves and their relationship.
Treat marriage as a long-term commitment
This might seem like a no-brainer, but those who stayed together were committed to the idea that a marriage should last. That means couples would persevere, even if they had to go through years of relationship hardship. But they’ll agree—sticking through it was a smart decision.