The Secret to a Long, Happy Marriage: 14 Tips from Happily Married Couples

Lately, I’ve noticed more and more 20+ year marriages ending in divorce – my parents and many of my friends’ parents included. The statistics are staggering; over the past 20 years, the divorce rate among baby boomers has increased by more than 50%, even as divorce rates overall have stabilized nationally. As a newlywed, it’s easy to get frightened or discouraged that our own marriages could one day see the same fate.

{Photo by Candida.Performa. Used under Creative Commons.}

With this in mind, I recently chatted with some couples who have been happily married for 25+ years to see what their secret is, and here’s what they told me…

1. Set the right expectations of your marriage.

First thing’s first, know that every single day of your marriage won’t be a happy one. It’s important to set that expectation now but understand that it’s completely normal. If you expect to have to work through tough stuff, it won’t be so discouraging when it happens.

“No couple is ‘happily’ married every day for decades. There will always be moments when we’re not so happy in the marriage, and I’m sure that’s true for most, if not all, long-married couples. We all have certain expectations of marriage at the beginning, and when they’re not met, we wonder why we took the vows.” – Susan Hawkins, celebrating 45 years of marriage.

2. Commit to your marriage 100%.

Adding to point #1, you need to fully commit to being together and working through problems.

“We have been challenged in ways that would have broken most couples up. We were committed to stay together because we both came from divorced parents and we didn’t want to repeat the cycle.” – Sheri Goldberg, celebrating 40 years of marriage

3. Allow your spouse to be himself/herself.

“Don’t try to change them. Don’t try to fix them. Don’t try to make them like the things that you like. Celebrate what you have in common, and respect your differences, and you’ll be amazed how long a marriage can last.” – Janet Oberholtzer, celebrating 27 years of marriage

4. Support each other’s unique interests.

“Support each other in your hobbies and passions, even if it means [you] spend less time together because of them.” – Deb Keirce, celebrating 29 years of marriage

5. Pick your battles.

“Let the little stuff go, and only argue about the big stuff.” – Carol Bloom Stevens, celebrating 38 years of marriage

6. Don’t let your ego ruin your marriage.

“Never go to sleep angry; stay up and fight. And when you’re certain that you’re right and they’re wrong, ask yourself, ‘Do you want to be right or do you want to be married?’” – Elisabeth Morrissey, celebrating 27 years of marriage

7. Respect each other, and fight fair.

“One of the secrets to our successful marriage is quite simply, respect. We decided that there would be no name calling, no telling each other to ‘shut up’ and any other language we deemed disrespectful in our communication with each other. We respect each other’s opinions, thoughts and perspectives…even if we don’t always agree!” – Danielle Miller, celebrating 29 years of marriage

8. Forgive.

“We forgive often, realizing that the other one didn’t wake up planning to offend the other.” — Diane Morrow, celebrating 30 years of marriage

9. Don’t cheat or betray your spouse.

“Avoid temptation. Do not put yourself/selves into situations which could have a negative impact on your relationship.” – Beverly Solomon, celebrating 38 years of marriage

10. Appreciate each other…and make sure he/she knows it.

“Everyday, when I wake up, my first words to my wife are, ‘Good morning, beautiful.’ I tell her often how beautiful she is, how wonderful she is, how good she is with our daughters (we have 5), and how much I appreciate all that she does. I tell my wife ‘I love you’ multiple times each day. There should never be a time, even a moment, when she has to doubt that, and I try to show it through my actions as well.” – Michael Morgan, celebrating 29 years of marriage

11. Keep things interesting.

“Over the years, I have worked hard at shaking things up, not letting things get stale. This might include enjoying home made hamburgers and french fries in our dining room using good china by candle light. It’s my planning trips to Aruba or local areas when I felt we both needed to get away. It’s doing things for each other simply because. For me, it’s cooking something he likes. For us, that old wive’s tale that the way to a man’s heart is thru his tummy is true. For him, it’s his hiding the lottery scratch-offs that I love around the house. The most original place thus far? Wrapped in the toilet paper in the downstairs bathroom.” – Carol Gee, celebrating 40 years of marriage

12. Remember that little things (and dating) matter. 

“We’ve always said, why celebrate just an anniversary? So we have celebrated 396 ‘monthiversaries’ on the 19th of every month, ever since our wedding day. (We wake up and say, Happy 19th!). It’s never anything big; in fact, it’s usually ice cream or dessert at some café we like, but it gives us a definite mini-date night when we can take a breath, relax and talk and maybe go for a walk. Sometimes when the children were small, we did the date in our living room at 11:30pm. There were also definitely difficult times when my husband had to move months ahead of us to take a job, so the monthiversaries were celebrated with phone calls, but I truly believe this simple gesture has helped.” – Pam Waterman, celebrating 33 years of marriage

13. Have his/her best interests at heart.

“Have the other person’s best interests at heart. If they’re not happy, you won’t be happy. Even when I could not tell my husband I really didn’t want to move to a farm because I knew he really did, he ultimately knew me well enough to know my heart wasn’t in that move and abandoned the idea.” – Carol Covin, celebrating 45 years of marriage

14. Seek out the good.

“I always look for her good qualities. They are many and easy to find, and since I don’t look for the bad qualities, they become much harder to find.” – Michael Morgan, celebrating 29 years of marriage

Huge thanks to all of these wonderful couples for sharing their thoughts and tips with me! What others do you have?

About Nicole Denton

With a love of planning just about anything — from her own wedding, to bridal and baby showers, to dinner parties, and more – Nicole is the Plunge Project’s founder and former editor-in-chief. A New Jersey native, Nicole has called Chandler, Arizona home since 2013, where she currently lives with her husband Michael; two pit bulls, Shelby and Link; and cat, Kity Perry. A University of Tennessee graduate, Nicole has a bachelors in communications and a career at a rapidly-growing digital marketing firm.

6 Comments on The Secret to a Long, Happy Marriage: 14 Tips from Happily Married Couples

  1. Traci
    May 10, 2013 at 10:56 pm (2 years ago)

    I think you left out affection and its importance in a relationship. That (loving) physical contact is very important to staying intimate and close emotionally.

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