What Makes Long Relationships Successful?

Long term relationships fascinate me. How people stay together for a long time is a mystery to many. This week one of my good childhood friends posted that she has been dating her husband now for 33 years. My husband and I have been together for 25 years. This means that this year I will have been with him longer than without him.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalyn recently celebrated 75 years of marriage — talk about a lasting commitment! This makes Carter the longest-married president in US history. If you are curious, they have a great interview on Hulu “Love and Service: The Carter Story”.

Of course years together do not equal a good marriage. Yet, there are a few secrets to being successfully together for years. Here are a few things that the Carters have shared that have been keys to success in their marriage.

President Carter stated “Choose the right person to marry….., give them plenty of space, help when you can, share things, do things together.” He also stated that they expect ups and downs in their life and relationships. Over the years they had several setbacks from external events and from interpersonal fights. Yet they have been able to work through all those hurdles. Both shared that “every night we reconcile our differences and read the Bible.” Even if physically apart, they will read the same passage.

As a couples therapist, I found their interview insightful. I recognize that an interview is a one-sided and often superficial look at someone’s life. Yet, they shared golden nuggets that called my attention. They have rituals and common values. They have humor and physical touch. Besides this sense of “we-ness” it is also easy to see that they respect and accept each others opinions and views.

Anecdotal stories of long and happy marriages are heart warming. But do they line up with research on what good marriage looks like? It turns out that most of the Carters’ advice does. Happy couples share trust, honesty, belief in a higher power and make decisions together (Assodeh, Khalili, Daneshpour & Lavasani, 2010). Noted relationship expert John Gottman frequently highlights the importance of rituals. Positivity is also encouraged. Actually most of what Carter shared is reflected in Gottman’s research findings.

So what does that actually have to do with you? If we want happy and long relationships there are a few things we have to do:

  • Be positive
  • Be thankful
  • Practice touching
  • Remind yourself of why you choose that person to marry
  • Treat your partner the way you want to be treated.
  • Know that there are bigger things in life than you or your partner. A belief in God is often helpful.
  • Engage in activities together (volunteering, giving, attending events). Plan for time together. Develop a list of joint activities.
  • Be disciplined and consistent as much as you can
  • Be human and know that your partner is human. This means that life and your partner will have ups and downs.
  • Finally know that we are all a work in progress. Hang tight and work through your own humanness. If your partner does the same, your marriage will be better.

Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office and virtually to clients located in the State of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Sabrina!