What is the secret to a long marriage?

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I hate that question...a long marriage could mean years of misery. I appreciate that relationships take work and that means a commitment by both partners to stick it out when the going gets tough. But I don’t want an award for years of service--I want a relationship that is satisfying, fulfilling, contented, connected.

Recently I watched an interview where President Jimmy Carter talked about his more than 69 year marriage to Rosalynn. The love he felt for her shone in his eyes and his affection for her in the tone of his voice. Here are the five things he said made their marriage work:

  • The right person;
  • Shared values (they read the bible together and share the same faith);
  • Respect for different interests and the freedom to explore them individually;
  • Having fun and finding new fun things to do with one another (they started downhill skiing at age 62 and fly fishing even later!); and
  • Resolving differences and issues as they arise.

While fate may take a hand in finding the right person, making sure you have shared values before you commit is really important. You don’t necessarily have to read the bible together, but if your core values and beliefs are vastly different, the blush of new love won’t see you through when the rough times come (and difficult times will most assuredly come at some point!).

Assuming you found the right person and your values are shared or at least reasonably similar, I think the next three items on the list are what take a relationship from simply “being” to being great!

Everyone needs their own interests. A relationship is about choosing to be with one another, not about needing one another. Neediness feels like the proverbial ball and chain. When both people are free to grow and explore it enriches the relationship. It keeps it fresh by giving both of you time away to miss one another and excitement about sharing what you’ve done and learned apart.*

*A special note to caregivers--it is hard to choose to care for someone else when it feels like they do need you. It is not wrong to want and need time for yourself. You are choosing in your relationship to provide care for the person you love and you cannot give that sustained love and care without caring for yourself.

Relationship is also about connecting. Finding and trying new things together allows time to bond. This doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Maybe you start mall walking, read the same book, explore new towns, learn to compost...Get creative!

The last item on the list can make or break a relationship. During my more than decade as a divorce mediator, it was the number one reason people ended up in my office. If differences and issues are not resolved as they arise, they don’t go away. Instead, a wall built with anger, resentment, sadness, longing, and hopelessness grows between the couple until they can no longer find the reasons they chose to be together in the first place. If they are addressed, shared vulnerability, trust, intimacy, and love grow. Learning the skills to communicate honestly and manage difficult issues as they arise is key to having the relationship you deserve.

Bobbie L. Dillon, M.S., empowers people to create Peace-Full Relationships™--fulfilling authentic relationships--as a Peace-Full Relationships™ Coach, Trainer, & Relationship Mediator™. Check out more resources and on-line and in-person classes at BobbieDillon.com. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, & LinkedIn