Too often, we overlook the wisdom of the elderly and the advice they give us. The fact that they’ve had 70, 80, 90 years, or more on this earth isn’t respected and we just brush them off.
Karl Pillemer, Ph.D., began The Legacy Project in 2004 when he started collecting practical advice for living from America’s elders.
Using a number of different methods, Dr. Pillemer’s research team systematically gathered nearly 1,500 responses to the question, “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?”
America’s elders provided a bounty of lessons, tips, and advice about all manner of subjects, but it’s their advice on relationships and marriage that really stood out.
What old people want young people to really understand about marriage:
1. Marriage is hard
When you’re engaged or even married already and your family and friends are glowing with happiness for you, probably the last thing on your mind is that marriage is tough. Marriage is especially difficult due to the range of problems and stresses that confront all couples.
Also because of the basic challenge of putting together two very different individuals into one single life.
Marriage is just as much a discipline as is being a musician or a long-distance runner — you keep working at it and you never reach perfection, but you have to keep learning and sacrificing short-term gain for a long-term reward.
2. Marriage for a lifetime is worth it
Being with someone for 50 years or more is an incredible and meaningful experience. Having a connection like that to another person is truly an experience of a lifetime and like none other. Making marriage last may be difficult but it’s worth the effort.
3. Marry someone who’s a lot like you
Sure, we’ve all heard that opposites attract and make good partners. Every other romance novel has the theme: people from two very different backgrounds falling in love.
America’s elders disagree with this and say that their strongest recommendation is that you marry someone who’s similar — not someone who’s unlike you.
As we now know, marriage is hard for anyone, but it’s much easier with someone who shares your same values, inteRELATEDrests, and background. Maybe you should reconsider marrying the boy next door.
4. Think small
Marriage is made up of hundreds of teeny-tiny actions, emotions, and interactions. If you choose to be supportive, cheerful and look at things with a positive viewpoint, it will keep your marriage interesting and vital.
Do your partner’s chores for them, or cheer them on when they get a raise. Small gestures add up to a happy marriage.
5. Talk and listen to each other
Many problems in a marriage can be solved just by having open communication. Besides, if you love them you probably think they’ve got some pretty interesting things to say.
6. Don’t try to change each other
When you’re starting to get serious about someone, never think to yourself that once you’re married they’ll morph into a better version of themselves.
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If you can’t accept your partner as they are, don’t get married. If you made your partner your DIY project, you’ll only become angry, resentful, and disappointed.
7. Never argue on an empty stomach
That’s right, long-time married folks say that sometimes, when you’re having an over-the-top argument, what might be driving you is hunger. If your partner is about to lose it, offering them a sandwich will diffuse the situation. A full belly can make things seem a lot less dire.
I can’t even imagine being friends with someone for 60 years, let alone being in a state of matrimony. But these elders have lived it and by their living have valuable lessons to impart.
Christine Schoenwald is a writer and performer. She’s had articles in The Los Angeles Times, Salon, and Woman’s Day. Visit her website or her Instagram.