Is living happily ever after only the stuff of fairy tales? It IS possible to have a happy, fulfilling, lifelong marriage, but you have to nurture it every day. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist in Cornell University's College of Human Ecology, conducted interviews with more than 700 older people, asking for their advice on marriage.
1. Friendship is as important as love.
The romantic spark is important, but over the long term there has to be something more, and that is friendship. One thing this means is the ability to embrace your partner's interests, even if you aren't particularly interested. Rather than fighting about competing interests, figure out how you can share them in a meaningful way.
2. Think small.
Make it a daily habit to perform small, positive actions. The elders offer a key tip: Do your partner's chores unexpectedly. It's your husband's turn to pick up the kid at day care, but you know he's had a hard day, so you offer to do it. Or the dog is scratching at the bedroom door on a freezing winter morning; it's your wife's turn to walk him, but you quietly get up and take him out. Those small, kind gestures are "money in the bank" for a relationship. Don't forget things like simple politeness--the good manners we use with others but forget at home. A marriage is made up of hundreds of micro-interactions every day. The elders say keep them positive and kind and you're likely to last as long as they have.
3. Intimacy grows.
The elders are mystified about why young people worry about sex in the later years of marriage. For many older couples, intimacy doesn't die and sometimes gets better. And as people grow older, the concept of sex expands to include many kinds of intimacy, like the importance of touching and holding. When you are changing together, the spark changes too, but doesn't die. Here is one recommendation for keeping the sexual spark alive: stay in shape!
4. Is he or she right for me?
The elders have clear tips for deciding whether a person is the one with whom you want to spend a lifetime. Before you commit, do something challenging that takes you out of your comfort zone, such as a strenuous camping trip or painting a room together. They also suggest asking old-fashioned questions once you decide you are in love: Do we share similar values? Will he or she be financially responsible and able to hold down a job? Do we both want children? And they offer a warning sign: If no one else likes your prospective partner, be sure to find out why! Elders in troubled marriages wish they had listened to others' warnings before committing.

5. Lifelong marriage is hard but worth it.
The elders want young people to be optimistic about marriage, since it should be the best part of your life. When you are starting out, know that marriage for a lifetime is hard; it takes spirit, discipline, and resilience. But such a marriage is incredibly good and worth striving for.


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