How to Stay Happily Married for 40+ Years
Guest Column By Michael J. Lyons
My wife and I recently celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. It has been a really fun ride and we feel blessed that we found each other way back in 1973. Like many couples who have been married as long or longer, we have settled into a happy lifestyle that allows each of us to have our own independence and hobbies. Yet we are happiest when we spend time together, such as on our morning walks with our two poodles Ruby and Lena, and being with our kids and grandkids.
Some people ask how we have stayed married this long, as if it’s a major accomplishment. Our answer is straightforward and simple: if you married the right person in the first place, and are committed to the relationship – the rest falls in line naturally. That’s not to say you sail through married life without challenges and ups & downs, of course. But if you love and respect each other (and can still make each other laugh every day), you develop a deep desire to continue the relationship. Over time, the bond grows stronger and stronger and you become even more comfortable with each other. We have also found that being each other’s best friend is a necessary component as well.
As I look back on all these years there are a number of “C” words that, when applied, contribute to successful marriages that stand the test of time:
Of those words, three stand out the most to me: communication, consideration and compromise. If a relationship starts to get stale, it may require a focus on the part of both partners to give each other more attention. If you are the guilty party and tend to be a self-centered partner, over time your partner will begin to drift away. Communicating regularly and being considerate of your partner’s situation and needs at all times (and consistently) can be challenging. But if both partners approach it in the same way – the marriage will remain on solid footing and continue to mature and grow.
Our experience in balancing the demands related to raising three children and keeping on track with our own relationship has been to not sweat the small stuff. Inevitably, all couples will have arguments, but it is important to “fight right.” Fighting right means staying focused on the issue at hand and respecting each other’s perspective. Couples that fight right also find ways to defuse the tension (often with humor), and don’t let the disagreement drag on and on. They end it as quickly as possible, apologize, “kiss and make up”, and move on. In my case, my wife and I tend to argue very little, and when we do, we never raise our voices or say hurtful things to each other. Usually, the disagreement is over in a few minutes – which is where compromise comes in. And we learned long ago to never go to bed angry.
A very important thing I appreciate about my wife is her gentle way of pointing out my faults and weaknesses without being critical or nagging. Yes, sometimes she has to remind me more than once to change a bad habit, but eventually I get the message and try diligently to correct my shortcomings. And she responds in kind when I point out little things that may annoy me.
A simple way to describe a strong marriage is to use a house metaphor. Like any house, a marriage requires a strong, lasting foundation. To build one, every couple needs to work together to turn the two of you into we, not just you and me. You have to have a shared vision and shared values and goals, and that has to start early on in the marriage.
Another important thing in a good marriage is to give each other enough space. It’s great to spend a lot of time together, but we all have a need to go to our “separate corners” from time to time. Allowing your partner to have that alone time to do the things he/she likes helps to maintain a healthy balance in the relationship.
Lastly, life will pose some serious challenges along the way: A serious illness. Unemployment. The loss of a loved one. Helping each other cope in these difficult scenarios will only strengthen the marriage and help you weather other storms. All relationships get tested in these difficult times and it is important to provide mutual support. But the reward - the edifice you built together that shelters you through the tough times - is more than worth the effort.
Good luck on your journey!