What does it take to keep a marriage happy, vibrant and enduring?
I'm asked that question all the time. And while I think couples all have their own unique recipes for success, I've noticed that most include these five essential ingredients:
1. The ability to apologize
Every person in every marriage makes mistakes. Some big, some small, but always some you wish you could un-do. That's only human, but happy couples admit to their mistakes - and apologize. Just as important is being able to gracefully accept an apology. Yes, you've been offended or hurt, but you have to be able to let it go and move on.
2. A little respect
It's OK to get angry, but the happiest couples I know always watch their tongues. In fact, I'm surprised there aren't permanent indentations! It's okay to get mad, but it's never okay to say something contemptuous and denigrating - that is, aimed at a person's dignity and self-image. Happy couples might say something like, "You drank too much last night and it bothered me." They would never say, "You're a cheap drunk and I was embarrassed to be seen with you." Even in anger, happy couples treat one another with respect.
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3. A lot of affection
It's hard not to feel close to someone who takes your hand, even when you're busy, bored, angry or stressed. It protects love to hug, snuggle, tousle your partner's hair or stroke his back. It turns out that you can't say "I love you" too often or in too many ways, but it is easy to say it too little. In really happy marriages, partners say those magic words almost all the time.
4. A measure of novelty
Relationships can get boring even when partners deeply love each other. But the thrill of a trip to an exotic destination, taking a class together on something novel, or pulling up stakes and moving to a new town are all adventures that create excitement and build an even stronger bond. Relationships can get stale, but innovation now and then makes a good relationship feel alive and energized.
5. Plenty of gratitude
We all like to be thanked for what we do. Whether it's drying the dishes or planning a birthday party, even the littlest thank you makes our effort seem like a gift rather than a chore. When we feel our partner is grateful for what we do, we want to do more. Happy couples are always feeling thankful for one another and for all the things, large and small, their partner does to make their life better.
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OK, that's my take on what makes a happy marriage. If you're a happily married Baby Boomer, we'd love to hear from you about what you think contributes to long-term relationship success. Use your camera or smartphone to take a short (15- to 30-second) video of you (and your partner) telling us your secret to a happy marriage. Get right to the point: Say, for example, "We're Sue and Sam. We've been married 25 years, and the secret to our happiness is (fill in the blank!)" Or "Tom and I got married right out of college, and we're still married because (fill in blank!") You get the drift. Deadline for submissions is February 4.
We'll be compiling these videos for possible use on NBC's Today show. Email your videos to us at BoomerLoveStories@aarp.org.
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