by Julia Malacoff: When you first walk down the aisle, tons of people give you marriage tips like “never go to bed angry” and “remember that you’re on the same team…”
Of course, during the honeymoon stage, that advice for a long, successful marriage doesn’t seem very pressing. But with the rising number of couples over 50 calling it quits—these “gray divorces” now account for 25 percent of splits—it seems harder than ever to make a marriage really last until death do you part.
So, what do those couples who do manage to make their unions last for decades know about love that the rest of us don’t? From the small gestures that keep the romance alive to tips on overcoming the challenges most couples face, we’ve gathered the best marriage tips from those who’ve stuck it out for half a century. These are the keys to marital success. And for more marriage advice, check out the 50 Best Marriage Tips of All Time, According to Relationship Experts.
If you want your partner to feel both desirable and desired, make sure you’re letting them know just how often they’re on your mind. “Let your partner know you are thinking about them and putting them first in your mind,” suggests Beverly B. Palmer, PhD, a professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, and author who has been married for 50 years. And if you’re worried about your marriage, check out the 12 Real People Share the Ways They Saved Their Marriages From Divorce.
Instead of always letting your partner know exactly how you’re feeling first, make space for them to express themselves before you start sharing. “Understand your partner’s point of view and let your partner know that,” says Palmer. “After that, you can express yours.”
Houses are fixer-uppers, but viewing your spouse that way is a recipe for disaster. “Accept your partner just for who they are. Don’t try to change them,” Palmer recommends. After all, people can only change if they want to. “Just accept their strengths and weaknesses that make them unique and that you love them for that.” And for more marriage warning signs, check out The 33 Most Common Reasons Why Relationships Fail.
Just because your relationship gets rocky from time to time doesn’t mean you and your spouse aren’t a good match—just try imagining life without them and you’ll realize how important they are to you.
“Sometimes, when I have a couple in counseling who are either antagonistic toward one another or apathetic, I tell them: ‘Think about that you may not have tomorrow with the one you love,'” says Palmer. “‘What would you wish you had said or done today that would have made a difference?'” And for more on the long haul, here are 40 Marriage Mistakes No One Over 40 Should Make, According to Experts.
Listen, all couples fight. But half the battle of marriage is knowing which fights to pick and which ones you should meet your spouse on halfway. “We compromise,” says Anna Pallante, who has been married to her husband Aniello for 58 years. “When you love each other, you commit to make the bumpy road of life smoother together. When you do that each day, you put the love and each other first, instead of yourself. That keeps things peaceful.”
Making your spouse feel loved sometimes means more than just listening to their wants and needs—physical affection is important, too. “A hug and a kiss go a long way,” says artist Sheilah Rechtshaffer, who has been married to her husband, Bert, for 56 years. And for some words of wisdom you should ignore, check out the 50 Relationship Tips That Are Actually Terrible Advice.
Before you turn in for the evening, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page about the disagreements you had earlier in the day. “Don’t go to bed angry,” says Bert.
With work, social commitments, and other family members competing for your time, it may be difficult to allocate one-on-one time with your spouse. But making a point to do so—and enjoying it—can make your relationship stronger in the long run. “One of the very most important things is enjoying doing things together,” says Tom Wilbur, who has been married for 49 years.
As your relationship progresses, don’t forget to maintain your friendship along with the romantic side of your relationship. “We have always been able to spend a great deal of time together and a true friendship was easily formed,” says Barbara Adoff, who has been married to her husband Bill for 47 years. “Best friends are there for each other, support each other, and like to have fun together. I often tell my hubby I feel like we’re having one very long sleepover.”
Turning otherwise boring activities into small romantic opportunities can keep the passion alive, no matter how long you’ve been together. “Simply stopping at Wawa for a coffee on our way to run errands makes it special,” says Barbara. “We often take time to make things fun, or enjoy the moment. If a good song comes on at home we’ll stop and dance, we go to the movies and for walks.”
Self-care is important—and performing those restorative acts with your partner can often make your relationship stronger along the way. “We manage to get in to our hot tub most days and this relaxing down time is a treat,” says Barbara. “Treats are being good to yourself and to each other.”
Want to keep your marriage strong? Take any opportunity to spend time together. “Just going to the grocery store together should be treated like a date,” says Barbara’s husband, Bill.
While savers and spenders can happily coexist, it’s important to see eye-to-eye on your longer-term financial goals to keep your marriage on steady footing. “The biggest problem long-term couples have is finances,” says Bill. “Get on the same page right away. Don’t let money get in the way.”
Sometimes, things don’t work out the way you’d planned. Instead of picking a fight with your spouse or getting down, try having a good laugh about things. “Laugh at yourself and at each other,” suggests Barbara. “Laugh with each other. Humor is the way to enjoy a marriage and to raise children.”
Space doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Just because you want to spend time away from your partner doesn’t mean you love or cherish them any less.
“I credit still being married to living in a big house,” Maureen McEwan, who’s been married to her husband Tom for more than 50 years, told Good Housekeeping. “I need space. I need to know that I can be by myself and [have room to be] artistic.” And for more relationship advice delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Many people end up unhappy in their marriage because they wonder, “What if there’s someone better out there for me?” or “What if this is not the right path for me?” But, most of the time, the answers to those questions are: “There isn’t” and “It is.”
“My grandkids won’t settle down because they think the grass is greener,” Sheldon Y., who’s been married for 50 years, told Elite Daily. “I met my wife and asked her to marry me three days later. When you know someone is right for you, settle down with them and don’t let them go. The grass is never greener than love you foster over many years.”
Seeking outside help is still a bit taboo in some circles where people assume marriage counseling insinuates their relationship is weak. However, it’s actually quite the opposite.
“I’m not Cinderella, and he’s not Prince Charming,” Sherri Sugarman, who’s been married to her husband Charlie for more than 50 years, told Good Housekeeping. “Glitches along the way are normal because it’s hard to live together all these years. We went to a marriage counselor at one point because we were going in different directions and needed professional help. You always have to keep working on the relationship.”
Sometimes, people have an idolized view of marriage and think that one fight means the end is near. But the truth is, all couples fight—even the happy ones.
“It’s not all been easy years. Young people will say, ‘Oh you almost never fight.’ We say, ‘No, au contraire, we fight all the time,'” Jim Owen, who’s been married to his wife Stanya for 50 years, told Fatherly. “You can [keep your marriage alive], but it takes a lot of work. It’s not just something that you can ho-him through life.”
While it can be nice to envision your future with someone, if you’re always focused on what’s to come, you won’t actually be appreciating your partner in the now—which leads to problem in the future.
“I’m always surprised that young people who date for two weeks say, ‘I think I finally met the one that I want to spend my life with!’ It’s almost like they visualize the next 5, 10, or 20 years. I don’t think we’ve ever done that,” Owen told Fatherly. “We don’t live in the future. We don’t think, ‘It’s going to be so much better once this or that event happens.'”
Basing your marriage off the marriage of anyone else can be a recipe for disaster. The only people you need to prove your marriage to are you and your partner, not the world.
“I think one of the issues that young people face is that they look at social media, they listen to celebrity stuff, and they think that somewhere out there is a possibility of marriage made in heaven, where there are no issues. Like some people have the perfect marriage. And that’s simply not true. Every family has issues,” Owen explained to Fatherly.
The world is full of surprises, and not all of them good, so make the most of every moment with your partner—especially at the end of the day. “Always kiss each other goodnight because you never know what tomorrow may bring,” Joyce Smith Speares, who’s been married to Benny DeWitt for more than 60 years, told Southern Living.
It’s true. If you hope for anything out of your spouse, hope for patience. “Patience has made our marriage resilient, and has been one of the most important reasons that we are still living happily ever after, enjoying our gold years,” Ann Yedowitz, who has been married to her husband Joe for more than 50 years, told Southern Living.
The secret to a happy, loving marriage? Knowing that you’re in it together, as a team, no matter what either of you face individually. Once you’re married, everything should be faced together.
“I know Alan is there for me,” Evelyn Brier told Good Housekeeping about her husband of more than 50 years. “I was sick with breast cancer [eight] years ago, and he was right there. It was important, and satisfying, to know that there’s someone who genuinely cares about my wellbeing. That’s what loves does.”
Being friends before you enter into a romantic relationship can help cement your bond decades down the line. “We were friends for several years before we started officially dating,” explains Silvana Clark, an author and speaker who has been married for 42 years. “This gave us time to know each other and have a realistic understanding of our personalities, strengths, and weaknesses.”
If you want your relationship to last, make “yes” a priority. “Marry someone who is fun to be with. Then throughout your marriage, say ‘yes’ to each other,” suggests Clark. “‘Yes, we can paint be dining room red if you want.’ ‘Yes, we can go to a musical, even though I don’t like singing and tap dancing.’ ‘Yes, let’s get a sheep to mow the yard because it takes too long to use a lawn mower.’ We’ve found, by saying ‘yes’ to each other, our lives have been filled with new experiences and amazing times together.”
Your spouse isn’t likely to change just because you got married, so it’s important to know what your dealbreakers are before you walk down the aisle. “Of course, we all have problems, but if you are thinking of marrying someone who drinks heavily when upset, is moody and has fits of rage, stay away!” says Clark. “Those traits won’t disappear when you get married. Even marrying someone who is a homebody while you love to travel can be a factor in causing stress in a marriage.”
Your passion for one another may wax and wane over the years, but remembering why you first fell in love can help pull you back in when you feel like you’re drifting away from each other.
“Keep close in your mind some poignant memories of the first rushes of love—when you knew that you never wanted to be far from this person, when your heart felt a physical jump at the sight of them,” say Lewis and Marsha McGehee, who have been married for 44 years. “The daily obstacles will work out if the resolve to hold on to your love story is strong.”
Knowing (and regularly hearing) that your spouse loves you is important, but knowing they want you can make your marriage last a life time. “Being attractive… means doing little things for each other and feeling needed and desired,” says Lewis. “I want my spouse to want me.”
Codependence can quickly sour any relationship—and maintaining your personal interests outside the marriage might just be the key to enjoying a solid union. “I want my spouse to be engaged in a productive life and care about herself,” says Lewis.
“I think that maintaining physical attractiveness is also important,” Lewis adds. “I don’t mean just in a superficial way. Being attractive to your spouse means multiple things, like trying to stay in shape by working out. This has the added benefit of keeping one’s mental attitude strong and positive.”
Throwing out the “D” word in arguments—or even thinking that this fight might be your last one—will inevitably cause tension in your marriage that you may be unable to fix. “Never go into an argument thinking that it could be the end of the relationship,” the McGehees advise. “That means speaking your mind, but not saying or doing anything that is not recoverable. Healthy marriages are not always smooth, but should always be respectful.”
You shouldn’t wait for holidays or anniversaries to celebrate all the wonderful things you love about your spouse.
“I have always celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and it simply being a Wednesday on what started as a crazy work week,” says Carol Gee, author of Random Notes (About Life, “Stuff” And Finally Learning To Exhale), who has been married for 47 years. “Celebrate occasions, big and small. These celebrations don’t have to be big deals—a cake and coffee to celebrate a birthday, or because it’s Friday and you simply love being together.”
Keeping your spouse on their toes can go a long way. “One day I asked my husband what he thought the secret to our marriage was,” says Gee. “A quiet man of little words, he said, ‘I never know what you are going to do from one minute to the next, and I find I like that.'”
Having an amazing sex life can keep both partners interested, but exploring intimacy outside the confines of the bedroom is equally important. “Intimacy is more than sex,” says Gee. “It’s holding hands, it’s kissing each other good morning and goodbye. It’s spending time together without outside distractions, cell phones, televisions, that sort of thing.”
Over time, many people get so used to their partners being around that they no longer feel the need to perform those little acts of kindness, like pulling out chairs, holding an umbrella for one another, or tackling a chore just so their significant other doesn’t have to. “No matter how long we have been married, my husband holding doors open for me makes me feel special,” says Gee.
Sharing at least one daily device-free meal can make all the difference when it comes to the health of your relationship. “We have always tried to eat at least one meal together daily,” says Gee. “As a working couple (before both retiring) with different work hours, it’s typically dinner. Not only do we enjoy a meal together, but we also use this time to talk about our day.”
Even if you’re just heating up last night’s leftovers, you can make meals with your spouse feel like a special occasion every night of the week. Light some candles, open a bottle of good wine, or put on a romantic playlist to set the mood. “Casseroles more often than not are served in our dining room on good china,” says Gee.
Sweeping your significant other off their feet is something that can keep those fires lit even after you’ve been together for decades. “I plan trips where he only has to pack his bag,” Gee says. “He, on the other hand, will surprise me by bringing home dinner, or buying the lottery scratch-offs that I adore, and hiding them where I can find them. The unusual locations—such as in the dishes in the cabinet, or hidden in our bed—show the thought he puts in just because it tickles me when I find them.”
If you want to keep your relationship strong over the years, make sure you’re letting your partner know what you want in the bedroom—especially if it’s changed over time.
“We have learned how to excite each other and how to please each other,” says Beverly Solomon, a creative director who has been married for 44 years. “As your love grows, so does the quality of your sexual intimacy. As you age, you really appreciate the shared pleasures of true love.”
Being thankful can help put things into perspective, keeping you and your spouse from spiraling into despair just because things aren’t going the way you expected. “[We] give thanks everyday for the blessings we have and for the blessings to come,” says Solomon.
Want to see your relationship through a rosier lens? Try spending time with friends who share your positive outlook on life. “We avoid negative people and negative situations,” Solomon notes. “Being around negative people with negative outlooks can poison your life.”
If you find yourself getting a little bit too passionate during an argument with your spouse, it’s often better to back off for the time being and return to the discussion later when you’re feeling calmer.
“We have disagreements—as all couples do,” says Solomon. But, she adds, “if one or both of us feels that we are too upset to discuss an issue in a sane and respectful way, we give ourselves some time to cool down.”
While venting to your friends about your spouse’s seeming inability to pick up their socks may be cathartic, spilling the intimate details of what’s going wrong in your marriage every time you and your partner disagree may do more harm than good. “We never badmouth each other to others,” says Solomon.
Learning to not let others’ opinions and advice infiltrate your marriage will keep you and your spouse in sync as time goes by. “When we were first married, there were many expectations placed on us by our parents,” says Dana Kichen, a real estate agent who has been married for 42 years. “After four years of tug and pull, we moved out of state and learned to totally rely on each other. This has continued throughout our marriage.”
Instead of enumerating the many ways your partner has upset you, present those issues from your perspective using “I” statements, like, “I feel hurt when you’re on your phone when I’m talking to you.”
“This allows discussion without putting the other person on the defensive, and therefore avoids the escalation of an argument,” explains Kichen.
Apologizing to your partner is essential for keeping your marriage strong and healthy over the years—but that doesn’t always mean concession after a big fight. “Saying ‘I’m sorry’ does not have to mean ‘I was wrong,'” Kichen points out. “It can refer to being sorry for hurting feelings, shouting—anything. This allows you to put hurt feelings aside and go on without one person being right and the other wrong.”
When you’re having heart-to-hearts with your spouse, it’s important to make sure they’re your number one priority—not what’s on TV, not the laundry in the dryer, and not what’s on your phone.
“What makes our relationship work is trying not to multi-task when we are communicating with each other,” says author Bracha Goetz, who has been married for 40 years. “And when we try to focus on each other completely when communicating, it’s like we are in the middle of a first exciting date forever.”
When work stress spills over into your relationship or relationship stress spills over into your work life, it’s a recipe for disaster. “We both did our own thing,” says Gayle Carson, a life coach who was married for 45 years before her husband passed away. “I had my own business and eventually my husband had his. We didn’t interfere with each other and when we came together, it was glorious.”
Having a few activities you both love can mean the difference between decades of marital bliss and seemingly endless strife. “We did have common interests for entertainment,” says Carson. “Every weekend was spent water skiing, swimming, and out in the boat. We loved going to movies, eating out, and watching TV.”
While enjoying some of the same things certainly makes it easier to spend time together, don’t operate under the assumption that you have to share a personality to happily share a life together. “Although I was the extrovert and he the introvert, it worked because we didn’t push each other in either direction,” says Carson. And for more things you shouldn’t tell your partner, check out the 65 Things No Spouse Ever Wants to Hear, According to Relationship Pros.