Old Couples Tell Researchers the Secrets to a Happy Marriage

How does one make a marriage last? Researchers interviewed and surveyed over 700 people with a combined 40,000 years of marriage experience.

How do you make a marriage last? Or what might be an even better question: How do you find that special someone?


A team of researchers sought to find the answers through surveys and interviews. Cornell gerontologist Karl Pillemer headed up the study, which comprised of data from 400 Americans age 65 and older. This set of people engaged in a random national survey about how to find a compatible partner along with other questions about love and relationships. Researchers also conducted more intimate, in-person interviews with over 300 individuals that had been in unions for 30, 40, 50, or more years, as well as a group of divorced individuals to figure out what went wrong.

Pillemer explained the reasoning behind such a large, in-depth study:

"Rather than focus on a small number of stories, my goal was to take advantage of the 'wisdom of crowds,' collecting the love and relationship advice of a large and varied cross-section of long-married elders in a scientifically reliable and valid way."

You could say Christian Rudder, co-founder of OkCupid, took advantage of a similar aspect of his dating site when he wrote the book Dataclysm. He harnessed user data collected from dating websites to analyze human behavior, which he believes tell a larger story about why relationships form.

Rudder's analysis of how relationships spark online sounds more like a lesson in relationship statistics, whereas the nuggets of life advice Pillemer learned from his study are a little easier to digest. We begin with the oldest advice in the book: communicate. He said in a press release:

“They believe most marital problems can be solved through open communication, and conversely many whose marriages dissolved blamed lack of communication."

Wait to get married, and this advice is coming from elders who had married young.

“They strongly advise younger people to wait to marry until they have gotten to know their partner well and have a number of shared experiences.”

Approach a marriage as a life-long commitment:

"Rather than seeing marriage as a voluntary partnership that lasts only as long as the passion does, the elders propose a mindset in which it is a profound commitment to be respected, even if things go sour over the short term. Many struggled through dry and unhappy periods and found ways to resolve them — giving them the reward of a fulfilling, intact marriage in later life."

It's all about teamwork:

“Any difficulty, illness, or setback experienced by one member of the couple is the other partner's responsibility."

Similarities will help bond you to your partner:

“The most critical need for similarity is in core values regarding potentially contentious issues like child-rearing, how money should be spent, and religion."

What about you? Any sage advice for how to keep a marriage going?

Read more about the study at Science Daily.

Photo Credit: Jamie Rector/Getty Images

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