Advice for Long-Married Couples

Here's how to get even closer.

By Sarì Harrar and Rita DeMaria | Ph.D. from The 7 Stages of Marriage

Most of us are guilty of taking our spouses and marriages for granted; that’s why we’ve woven this piece of solid-gold advice into just about every marital stage. Veteran couples were unanimous in saying that appreciating each other is key to a happy Completion-stage union. “I get so much energy when someone appreciates me,” Michael Hoxsey says. “And yet, it’s so easy to forget to give appreciation or to hold back because you don’t want someone to get a big head. But why hold back — especially with your own spouse? Why not give them a greater sense of their own personal strength and value to you?”

Feeling appreciated can be life-giving. In one study from Finland that tracked 206 women and men ages 80 and older for 10 years, researchers found that those who had the strongest sense of emotional closeness, belonging, and reassurance of their worth were 2.5 times more likely to be alive at the end of the study than those who didn’t receive the same reassurance and nurturing.

Reconnect. You’re spending hours and hours together, but that doesn’t mean you’re pouring out your heart and soul to each other 24/7. (Nor should you!) Setting aside a few minutes each day to focus on each other can keep you feeling close and clued-in to each other’s feelings and plans. “We have a sharing time of about 10 minutes a day to get ‘in touch’ with each other on our thoughts and feelings for the day,” says Barbara Christensen.

Laugh.“Since 1997, I have had nine major operations, and Chris has almost died twice in the last two years due to his diabetes, heart surgeries, and organ shutdown,” Barbara says. “All of these things have put a huge strain on our relationship for weeks at a time. But we use a lot of humor in all of these situations. We do tend to look on the ‘up’ side of life, and we have a great sense of humor about our lives and our circumstances.”

Laughter works even if you weren’t born with a funny bone. “Chris is a natural pessimist, so he has had to teach himself to find the bright side of things,” she adds. “We believe that we can meet any challenge to our relationship by digging deeply and finding a bright side to things happening to us. We use humor constantly.”

Don’t sweat the small stuff. “My husband, Bob, and I have been married 60 years,” says Bette Richter. “At this point in our lives and in our marriage, you don’t fuss about little things.” Adds Bob Richter, “We’ve learned how to listen to one another, to compromise, to let whoever is the best at doing a certain thing be the leader. That’s something we would have argued about in the past. We still have issues — we’re still growing and changing as people and as a couple. But instead of arguing or being stubborn we say: In five years will it really matter? The answer is usually no.”

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