How to stay happily married for decades

Jean and Doug are soon to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary. They met as teenagers at their church choir and later married at the same church. They have two children and three grandchildren. Married before the age of self-help guides, marriage counselling and social media, this successful couple tell us what they have learned by experience (trial and error) to have a long-lasting happy relationship

Love is a verb

Love is not just a feeling. Feelings fluctuate. True love is based on the vows of commitment. “We married for better or for worse and we both take that seriously.” says Doug. “We express our affection to each other at least once a day” says Jean. “We don’t have to say ‘l love you’ all the time” she laughs, “we snuggle on the sofa to watch our favourite television programmes and he surprises me with little gifts or some luxary gift like this real gold dipped rose to say thank you for being his wife.” Doug agrees “We make an effort with gifts on birthdays and anniversaries to show how much we mean to each other”.

Always be there for each other

Jean says “Things got tough when Doug was undergoing cancer treatment, I didn’t know what to do, but I made sure that Doug knew that I was there for him. We take our vow ‘in sickness and in health’ seriously. In time, we were able to work things out to reduce the stress we were under. I believe this was helpful in getting Doug back to health and the experience brought us closer together.”

Be open to change

If you do what you always do, you will get same result. Approaching problems differently makes for big differences in their marriage. Doug “I used to roll my eyes when Jean would talk about her knitting, but I stopped when I realised how important Jean’s hobby was to her. I changed. I told her how proud I was of her work and showed a genuine interest in what she was making. It was simple and really strengthened the bond we have.”

Fight Fair

There will be times of disagreement within all marriages. Jean “I used to act defensively when we first argued, but then I realised that the outcome wasn’t really that important, so we choose our battles now” she continues “If either of us is upset, the other diffuses the tension by keeping things light-hearted, we compromise and hug when it’s sorted”.

The grass is greener myth

“The grass is greenest where you water it” say Doug and Jean. Both have put their energy into making themselves and their marriage better. “We make time to talk each day. We also try new things together. And we give each other surprise gifts when they’re not expected to show appreciation.”

You can’t change your spouse

The only person you can change is yourself. If you try and change your spouse it is likely to lead to resentment and arguments. “I always wanted Doug to join me at the concerts I like, but he hates crowds and is a bit shy” says Jean. She continues “I accept that and go and enjoy myself with friends.” Doug agrees “I like to see Jean happy and I’ll support her with her interests. I’ll drive her to her concerts and we’ll chat about it when she comes back. I love to see her happy.”

Happiness is not the most important thing

Despite what you might think, happiness is not the most important thing. Happiness comes and goes. Doug says “Try and be light-hearted even in difficult situations. Don’t make situations worse by being critical or by acting defensively.”

Marriage imperfect

Don’t hold grudges and leave the past in the past. “Think positive” says Doug. “We all make mistakes, but if we learn from them, apologise for them and don’t repeat the mistake, then that’s the end of it.” It works for both of them to accept their own and the other’s humanness. “We drive through the storms in our lives. Though they may be scary, loud and seemingly dangerous, storms always pass and we have come through these crises with a stronger bond than we had before” says Jean.

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