According to the Bowling Green State University National Center for Family & Marriage Research, only 7 percent of current marriages have made it to the 50-year mark, and only about 26% of adults aged 70 and older have been married for at least five decades. And while the country's divorce rate — an apparently difficult number to pin down — seems to be on the decline, it's safe to say that a much higher percentage end in divorce. With age comes wisdom, and luckily for younger lovers, many seniors whose marriages have endured the decades have gifted us with tips to make our own marriages last.
find inspiration in the fishers
It is not possible to talk about long, happy marriages without mentioning Zelmyra and Herbert Fisher, who both died at the age of 105, Herbert in 2011 and Zelmyra in 2013. Married in 1924, the couple stayed together for 86 years, earning the Fishers the Guinness World Record for the world's longest marriage. Before they passed, they participated in a Q and A session on Twitter, to share the secrets to their long marriage.
remember to be friends
Although there's no rule that says strong marriages must be preceded by friendship, that dynamic certainly helped the Fishers. "We grew up together and were best friends before we married," the Fishers tweeted. "A friend is for life. Our marriage has lasted a lifetime."
focus on what needs to be done
While lust and romance often dominate the early stages of a marriage, relationships endure when both people focus on the day-to-day must-dos. "There's no secret to our marriage," the Fishers tweeted. "We just did what was needed for each other and our family."
agree to disagree
When asked about the kind of fighting that breaks up so many marriages, the Fishers tweeted, "NEVER physically! Agree that it's okay to disagree and fight for what really matters. Learn to bend, not break!"
don't keep score
The Fishers were deeply religious, but whether or not you share their beliefs, the point they make about the dangers of interspousal competition is universal. They wrote: "Remember marriage is not a contest, never keep score. God has put the two of you together on the same team to win."
respect each other
The finest piece of advice the Fishers gave reflected classic, Valentine's Day card advice that everyone knows by heart, but often fail to do in their own relationships. The Fishers tweeted "Respect, support, and communicate with each other. Be faithful, honest, and true. Love each other with ALL of your heart."
don't let age get in the way
The Fishers were close in age, but many couples separated by many years and even decades boast long, happy marriages. Among them are Hollywood legends Annette Bening and Warren Beatty — Benning was 21 years younger than Beatty when they married more than a quarter-century ago. In an interview with People, Benning said, "There are times you just have to address it because you're at different stages of life. You need a foundation of fundamental love and mutual respect and understanding."
Karl Pillemer, a Ph.D. gerontologist at Cornell University, recently released a pair of books based on interviews with nearly 2,000 older Americans who had long marriages. He found that worrying often ruins marriages and rarely makes things better. Older couples listed counterproductive rumination among their biggest regrets because of the time it wastes and the stress it causes.
listen as much as you talk
Hollywood icon Meryl Streep has been married for more than 40 years to sculptor Don Gummer. She's credited with summing up the secret to a long marriage with a blunt and often-repeated quote: "Goodwill and a willingness to bend — and to shut up every once in a while."
take up your spouse's interests
If enough time passes, it's inevitable that people's interests will change, and when they do, relationships can strain. Pillemer found that one of the most common threads among long, successful marriages is an openness to divergent interests. From golf to ballet, when one partner suddenly developed a new passion, the marriage strengthened when the other gave it a try.
have fun together
In 2016, the Brainerd Dispatch reported that a Minnesota couple was celebrating 75 years of not just marriage, but very happy marriage. One of the keys was simple — they enjoyed themselves as much as possible. "They always did things together as a couple or with friends," the paper reported. "They also had a lot of fun over the years with their friends as they all played jokes on each other."
support each other until the end
In January 2019, a Newport News, Va. couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary. The elderly couple, however, soon both suffered serious medical problems. Their daughter released a statement that read, in part, "They still hold hands, and my dad up to three weeks ago still called my mom Honey. She now has to visit him every day in the hospital and with his recent stroke he can't say much but as soon as she comes in and sits next to him he smiles the biggest smile and looks so intent at her and can still say 'I love you.'"
think long term
The Washington Post recently profiled several marriage experts who found that the mentality of "marital permanence" is a nearly universal theme. Those who, from the very beginning, take their wedding vows as binding and lifelong promises are the ones who tend to make it through the long haul. In the words of the Fishers, "Divorce was NEVER an option — or even a thought."