By Jamie C. Williamson, PhDCheers! This month my husband Larry and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Ours is a second marriage for both of us. And, even though the 25th is traditionally considered the silver anniversary, we feel “golden” pretty much every day.
Younger couples often tell us that they want to know our secrets to staying happily married. They are painfully aware that one of every four divorces in the U.S. is a “gray divorce” involving people over 50 ending a long-term marriage. They don’t want to be one of those statistics.
I am always eager to explain the secrets to our happy 25-year marriage with younger couple friends (when asked, of course). And, in honor of our 25th Anniversary, it seems appropriate to share our approach more broadly. We learned from social science research and our own personal experience that couples can stay close and protect their marriage against the “gray divorce” phenomenon by adopting these four practices.
Our Four Secrets to Staying Happily Married
(1) Treat your marriage as the foundation of your family.
If you allow your marriage to erode in the early years, you, your spouse, and your children will feel insecure, unsettled, and tense. Without deliberate care and attention, a once intimate, loving marriage could become conflictual and distant. Even if a distressed marriage survives until children are launched or careers have ended, the kids will likely be troubled, and the couple will likely opt for divorce as a relief from their unfulfilling relationship.
When it comes to family priorities, put marriage stability first, whether you are a family with children or without. Make time for date nights out or at home each week. Have relationship talks and routinely kiss each other goodbye and hello. Show affection often, voice your genuine appreciation for each other’s contribution to your daily life together, and sincerely say “I love you” at least once every single day. And, if you start drifting apart, double down on these important habits of connection.
(2) Create a long-term goal and work toward it together.
Young adult couples are less likely to divorce if they are well educated. Older adult couples, however, are less likely to divorce if they are financially secure.
It’s not because they have money. It’s because financial security typically results from a shared commitment to a long-range plan. To achieve financial security couples must define their financial goals and form a joint commitment toward them. Working toward shared goals requires constructive discussions about conflicting priorities. However, establishing shared goals also creates shared interests, a joint commitment, mutual respect for each other’s contribution, and reasons to celebrate your success – all components of a satisfying marriage.
Whether your goal is to buy a beach house, start a business together as we did, pay off your debt, save for college, or take a dream vacation, once you set a shared goal and start working toward it, you will grow closer, feel proud of your joint progress, and enjoy celebrating your success together.
(3) Be your best physical self.
Despite the stereotype, divorce for older couples is rarely connected to male sex enhancement drugs that allow men to satisfy younger women. But physical appearance is still important to keeping sexual intimacy alive for couples in long-term marriages.
Fortunately, satisfied older married couples don’t expect their partners to conform to an unrealistic, unnatural standard. Instead, they expect each other to show affection and make the most of what they’ve got.
So, work toward a shared goal to stay fit and healthy, clean up each day even when you’re just hanging out at home, hold hands, kiss regularly, and occasionally, share physical intimacy any way you still can, whether that’s dancing on the kitchen floor, rolling like thunder under the covers…or anything in-between.
(4) Be your partner’s best friend. A romantic spark ignites initial attraction and typically only continues to burn through the first few years of marriage. Couples who have shared interests and a true friendship are the ones most likely to stay married and thrive when that romantic flame becomes embers.
The single most distinguishing characteristic between happy couples and distressed couples is that happy couples are more likely to be best friends.
These married friends truly enjoy each other’s company and embrace their partner’s interests. They routinely create opportunities to do activities they both enjoy and alternate between each other’s favorites. So, if your husband loves to watch football, get excited about the game. If your wife loves musicals, take her to the theater.
To sustain a happy long marriage, show an interest in what interests your spouse and treat each other with mutual respect. When you are upset by something your spouse has done, focus on the friendship and not the incident. Talk to your spouse as you would your best friend. That is the single most important habit of couples who remain golden, until their silver anniversary and beyond.
So, the next time you worry whether your marriage will last your lifetime, remember these four habits of couples who stay golden up to and beyond their silver anniversary and “Work it Out”.
Let me know if I can help.
You’ll find me at Amity Mediation Workshop where we facilitate divorce, family, and civil mediation. We also use the Gottman Relationship Checkup as we conduct transformative, psycho-educational Marriage Refresher Courses for groups or individual couples who want to stay happily married ’til their silver anniversary and beyond. We call this class “Let’s Stay Together!”