Secret to Long-Lasting Marriage Revealed

By on August 19, 2013
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Secret to Long-Lasting Marriage Revealed

How to stay together forever (by the people who’ve done it)
The secret to a happy marriage might be arguing well and staying friends…

The other day a couple celebrated their platinum wedding anniversary and revealed the secret to their long and happy marriage.

It’s arguing.

Yep, Kath and Bill Shevels, both 91, reckon they’ve had 25,550 disagreements so far, which equates to about one barney a day.

Mrs Shevels said: “You have got to get everything out in the open and take the bad with the good…We’ve lasted 70 years, we must be getting something right.”

So are good, air-clearing rows really the secret to a lasting relationship? We discover what other long-married couples – and science – has to say on the matter.

Yep, it’s arguing

To be fair, Kath and Bill Shevels are not the only long-lasting couple to claim – counter-intuitively, you might think – that the foundation of a happy relationship is bitter, albeit temporary, disagreement.

A Birmingham couple, Harry and Floss Lucas, celebrated their platinum anniversary last year, and also said that arguing had been good for them. And their fighting even turns violent.

“I’ve lost count of the plates and dishes I’ve thrown at him,” said Floss.

“We love each other, of course, but we’re fighting most of the time – at least once a day for the last 70 years we’ve been married. Having said that, I do love him to bits.”

“All our fights have only been over little petty things, it’s never been about either of us running off with other people.”

So is fighting the key? Not everybody agrees…

Communication, laughter, compromise

Not everyone agrees that starting the day with a right old ding-dong is the best way to keep a relationship fresh and happy. Maurice and Jean Young, who are from Lincolnshire and celebrated their diamond (60th) wedding anniversary earlier this year, put their longevity down to “give and take”.

Meanwhile, a Plymouth couple who celebrated 60 years of wedded bliss this year put their success down to talking. Frances Carthy, who has been married to Derek Carthy since 1953, said: “Any problems that come up we always discuss them.”

Other long-lasting couples, married or otherwise, put their happy relationships down to laughing together, not taking life too seriously, compromising and being friends as much as lovers. David and Victoria Beckham have said that the secret to their successful and, in celebrity terms, long-lasting marriage is spending quality time together, despite their hectic globetrotting schedules.

So what does science have to say?

Erm, don’t argue

According to research published earlier this year, the bickering-but-long-married couples described above may be the exception rather than the norm.

The research, carried out by psychologists at San Francisco State University, found that, although young couples tended to argue, happy couples later find ways of avoiding arguments rather than becoming confrontational. As their relationships mature, they evolve strategies for avoiding rows.

In fact, what successful older couples routinely do is change the subject, the researchers said, steering conversations away from toxic areas before arguments break out.

Lead researcher Dr Sarah Holley said that over time both husbands and wives “increased their tendency to demonstrate avoidance during conflict”.

So despite the experience of Kath and Floss, after the extreme emotions present in the early years of any relationship, learning to avoid full-on conflict – most of the time at least – may be one key to a lasting relationship.

Conversations, cuddles and holidays

But there’s more to it than that, and last year a study was published that hoped to uncover the other secrets to successful long-term love.

The research, carried out among 2,000 married couples for walking holiday specialist www.headwater.com, found that the occasional argument can be healthy, as long as other factors that make up solid relationships were in place.

They included regularly getting away together along with regular nights out together back at home. Among couples interviewed for the survey, a majority said that getting away brought them closer.

Spending time exclusively with each other is important, then, and the rest of the findings were similarly obvious. Happily married couples tended to swap romantic gestures, say “I love you” fairly regularly, and have sex on at least a weekly basis.

The importance of intimacy was born out by another study, this time of 4,000 married couples, which found that couples who cuddled at least four times a day were happier than those who didn’t.

Friendship and familiarity

But cuddling, sex and nights out may be symptoms of a happy marriage, rather than its cause.

Science has also found, more fundamentally, that the most happily married couples tend to consist of partners who are quite like each other. They share lots of likes and dislikes, and have similar core values.

According to Karl A Pillemer, a professor of human development at Cornell University, “opposites may attract, but they don’t make for great and lasting marriages. You are much more likely to have a satisfying marriage for a lifetime when you and your mate are fundamentally similar.”

And according to Pillemer’s research, one important key to a successful long-term relationships is friendship. In fact, after collecting the experiences of hundreds of couples married for 30 years or more, he thinks that friendship is crucial: “if you don’t have it, don’t get married – it’s that simple.”

Pillemer reckons that, before they get married, couples should ask themselves one essential question. If you didn’t have the love and lust, would you still be friends? If the answer is yes, you have a good chance of a happy long-term relationship.

So argue if you want, but not too much. Talk a lot, about the trivial and the important. Do lots of things together. But before any of that, choose your potential life partner wisely. If you want a long and happy marriage, you have to have similar outlooks on life, and you have to be friends.

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