By Gina B.
Whenever I meet a couple who has been together (either married or similarly committed) for over 15 years, I get a kick out of asking my favorite question: What’s the secret? I’m curious to know how they’ve stayed together, what’s worked for them and what hasn’t.
I’ve learned a lot.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned over the years is that all advice isn’t created equal.
I split couples between those whose relationships are enviable and those whose aren’t. The fact that a couple has managed to stay together for a long time is no indication that they’re happy. Their longevity could be a symptom of staying power, tendency toward complacency, or an indication that remaining married is the lesser of all evils.
My questioning began long before I became a dating columnist. It began in my days of management consulting, when I had a miserable 100% travel schedule. I was curious as to how my married colleagues managed to sustain relationships with such chaotic schedules (especially considering the lack of men who were willing to even date me under those circumstances).
I asked one of my most insufferable, annoying coworkers who had been married for 10+ years. It was the very first time I had asked the question, largely because I found it amazing that anyone would have ever looked at him lovingly and said “I do.” He said: “I find that couples who don’t get along seven days a week, get along just fine on two.”
Which probably meant: “My wife hates me, and would like for me to come home for one day each week, drop off my paycheck and leave.”
I asked another woman, who sighed and said: “All men are basically the same. Just pick a nice one and try to have a good life.” A glowing endorsement.
I asked more people, and finally received positive responses.
“What’s the secret?” became a routine question for long-term couples, and I’ve received a lot of fascinating answers over the years. Some helpful, others scary.
I began to notice the differences in replies from the couples that had something special, versus “the tolerators,” my moniker for those who seemed to be merely co-existing.
The Tolerators will stress the importance of giving each other a LOT of space. Some have even advised me to think long and hard before getting married, and say that they wouldn’t do it again if they were granted a do-over.
The special couples prescribe laughter and emphasize increasing the quality of the time spent together. They will also insist that they picked the right person, and many will name their spouse as their best friends.
I’ve also learned that there is not one secret, but a collection of practices that work in concert to form a strong relationship.
I remember some of my favorite answers:
- “We are committed to having a fun life together. Whether that means laughing a lot on a daily basis or taking vacations, we like to create great memories.”
- “We share similar goals.”
- “He/she is my best friend.”
- “Know that in any given situation, it’s never 50/50. Someone always gives more. But over time, it should average out to 50/50.”
- “I try to put a smile on her face whenever I can.”
- “Don’t let your friends and family get in your relationship.”
- “The person who’s the best with money should manage the money.”
- “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
- “Know that, at some point, he will do something that will piss you off. Don’t be spiteful or vengeful.”
- “Don’t try to change them. Know the difference between circumstances that will change over time, and things that won’t. Try to accept both.”
- “If you have kids, always remember that the relationship began with the two of you. Don’t let children overshadow your relationship.”
- “Make your spouse your number one priority, and have his/her back at all times.”
- “He deals with his family; I deal with mine.”
- “Build trust, and make the right decisions. Tell the truth, even when it’s hard.”
- “Understand the concept of compromise.”
- “Always keep The Golden Rule in mind.”
- “Know the other person’s boundaries and don’t test them.”
- “There is no room for your ego in your marriage.”
- “Choose laughter over argument.”
- “Pick the right person. Check out the family and make sure they’re good people.”
I will continue to ask my favorite question, and continue to learn with the hope that 15 years from now, I’ll be able to give good insights.